Let the Music Play!

Since last Autumn, my girls and I (now ages 2y and 3.5y) have attended a Mini Musicians class, run by the Redbridge Music Service. Each week, they sing, play instruments (simple percussion like drums or wood beaters, bells, and chimes), interact with classical, traditional, and modern music, and dance along. All the while, we learn to appreciate music, listen and follow along, and have some fun together.

And so I was delighted to attend the Redbridge Music Service’s 2014 Chorale Festival at The Royal Albert Hall onalbert hall Tuesday March 18th. RMS Director Eric Forder and Festival Coordinator Caroline Morris (our Mini Musicians teacher who also spearheads the RMS’s Early Years programme), along with a very dedicated and able team of music educators and musicians, shepherded some 1900 of Redbridge’s primary and secondary school students on a very creative, months-long-in-the-making musical journey. Attended by many proud family members and supporting friends, the event also was a fundraiser for the Redbridge-based charity, Hopes and Dreams, which grants wishes to very ill children.

Primary and secondary school choirs were accompanied by the Redbridge Music School Symphony Orchestra, taking the audience through centuries and continents of music. Classical and traditional favourites included selections from Holst’s “Jupiter,” from The Planets; George Butterworth’s “The Banks of Green Willow,” part of the evening’s World War 1 commemoration; Johann Strauss’s “The Radestsky March,” which was cheerily arranged with a bright pom-pom dance; Glenn Miller’s Big Band hit “In the Mood.”

red chorale festival flyerMusic was spoken, sung and signed and many of the world cultures living in our very diverse borough (the 4th most diverse in the country!) were represented. We heard a composition of two Gujarati songs, which was presented with a traditional Hindu dance, two soloists on recorder and tabla (drum); the primary school choirs also played recorder in this arrangement. And the second interval began with a rousing African drumming and dance number featuring children from four of the borough’s primary schools.

Contemporary music also were included in the programme, with Ashford and Simpson’s soul smash, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and Bob Chilcott’s popular children’s chorale composition, “Can you hear me?”

Notably, three original compositions, joyfully expressing the theme of ‘Hopes and Dreams’, were commissioned for the night’s performance. Written and conducted by Chris Wilcox (also a teacher, composer, conductor, performer), the pieces were entitled ‘What If’, ‘Be the Change’, and ‘My Dream’ and were inspired by the lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and ordinary children.

Artwork and words by children throughout the borough’s schools were presented on the screens as visual accompaniment to some of the pieces. The children were incredibly engaged in the performance, enjoying the spotlight and putting their hearts and voices into the effort.

It really is an immense accomplishment in this age of austerity, that the Redbridge Music Service and Redbridge Council is able to create such a night for our families. Redbridge’s Mayor, Felicity Banks, is very proud of her ability to support the music program, as she so warmly communicated in her personal remarks and in the Programme address:

Redbridge is the only Borough in the country that regularly fills this great hall with pupils from its schools and it is a wonderful demonstration of the musical tradition we have here in Redbridge.

I was fortunate to have been seated in a box with a family whose two children have been participating in the festival since primary school. Both now in secondary school, Lara plays the violin and James, the tuba. Their mum remembers how music was introduced to her children at Snaresbrook Primary school and how they chose their own instruments. They practice each Friday evening as the Redbridge Music School Symphony Orchestra at the John Savage Centre.These parents were simply beaming with pride at what has now become a lifelong commitment for their children.

It is absolutely evident that music unites families, fosters creativity and intellectual and emotional development in children, and can provide a basis for a strong community where diversity can be expressed and mutual values affirmed, a project that the London Borough of Redbridge is so obviously committed to doing.

There was so much happy and proud energy in the Hall; even Albert must have been smiling, surely. As our compère, Vivyan Ellacott, noted and thanked Albert for the loan of his beautiful hall, so do I, on behalf of all of the families in Redbridge.


‘Splosh’: A Theatre Taster for Under 5s

“Hip, hip hooray” for this lovely, bubbly show! The Sixth Sense Theatre Company is touring the country with its production of ‘Splosh!’, a short musical play for audiences aged 2-5 and their families. We were lucky to have four shows in Redbridge, on 13th and 15th March. (You can watch a taster of the original 2012 production here.) And thanks to the folks at the Redbridge Drama Centre, live theatre for this age group looks to be a reoccuring offering. Hip, hip hooray!

SploshA bathtub, aptly named ‘Mr. Bath’, is the centrepiece of this 30-minute production. It’s his birthday and his friends, Zak and Ellie, are trying their hardest to make it a happy one, despite the appearance of one Slippery Sid the bath sponge. In the live show, the audience sits on bath mats in a semi-circle around Mr. Bath. There’s a little live music–Zak strumming the mandolin whilst sitting in the bath–and loads of action. Children are encouraged to join in to help Zak and Ellie find Little Duck, elude Sid the Slippery Sponge, and celebrate Mr. Bath’s birhday.

It is high drama in the most commonplace of settings, the family bath. And this is the point of it really. As the Theatre Company intends, ‘Splosh!’ uses “multi-sensory design, music and puppetry to help children and families explore communicative play at bath time.” My girls have been talking about it for days now. My older daughter, three and a half, was completely engaged in the action, and though it was a little too much excitement for my shy two year old, she is asking for Mr. Bath now all the time and walking around the house with the little book she was given at the end of the show. This is a booklet of activities and fun things we can try at home to prolong the Sploshy fun.

This was our second ‘multi-sensory’ adventure this month–last week we saw Spitalfields Music’s excellent production, Musical Rumpus. Though these productions were quite different in nature–one traditional storytelling with classical music and the other a noisy, modern kiddie drama–both have brought a three-dimensional sense of art to my children (and to me), experiences which will go a long way towards their appreciation for drama, storytelling, human action, participation, and creativity. In short, really good stuff!

Singing and bubbles: A date with my baby

Spitalfields Music brought their Musical Rumpus show on tour to libraries in our neighbouring borough, Barking and Dagenham, this month. It’s a show made just for babies and toddlers (0-2 years of age).

Comprised of six actors and a few more cast members to keep stirring up the action, the Musical Rumpus took place on a colourful floor-level stage, the audience seated on comfy cushions and sheepskins (there’s a reason why. . .) all around. Handel’s Acis & Galatea was played live on cello, violin, and flute and enacted for the sheep (. . .played by the children in the audience).

If that sounds a little confusing, it’s not meant to be. This art really is for the children. You really just have to believe that and let these folks take you on the journey.

spitalfields music

charming, natural, amazing: ‘a multi-sensory, interactive opera for babies’

The actors were amazing at interacting with the children, getting them engaged and involved with beautiful sounds–mellow chimes, soft voices, a little sing-along. Not a push as with most children’s entertainment, just the gentlest of invitations to listen, smile, and be a part of something magical.

As Liesl sat in my lap, hardly venturing past the sheepskin at her feet, the gentle grasp of her hand told me all: it was wonderful for her. And for me. Time well spent this morning.

From the Spitalfields Music website:

Our opera series for 0-2 year-olds hit the road again in March 2014 as we head on tour to libraries and community venues in the London Boroughs of Barking & Dagenham and Newham with a brand new adventure set in a world of mountains and lush green fields.

A sleepy giant strides through the fields, in search of a space to rest; meanwhile a young water nymph tries to make rain, although things don’t quite go according to plan. Join these characters on a journey through a mysterious world of giants and mountains, sound and colours that will leave you and your baby enchanted. Handel’s rustic and much-loved opera Acis and Galatea is transformed into a multi-sensory, interactive opera adventure for babies and toddlers to listen, touch and explore.

Musical Rumpus creates early experiences of opera and adventure for babies and toddlers. Taking celebrated baroque operas and re-imagining their stories and music specifically for the youngest of ears, we give children the opportunity to explore sounds, instruments and objects throughout the performance including a specially-designed free-play session.