West Everton Children’s Orchestra joins the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in a groundbreaking concert
IS IT the loudspeaker announcing the Liverpool Philharmonic Music Express train at Lime Street Station or the first note struck upon the Royal Albert Hall stage?
Or is it the sight of a chaotic conga weaving its way around a usually sedate Proms audience, or the parents’ proud homecoming cheers as the performers walked down the railway platform back in Liverpool after an exciting two days.
Whichever of these moments makes the deepest impression in the memories of members of the West Everton Children’s Orchestra and the Liverpool Philharmonic Children’s Choir – and I suspect it is all of them and many more – it may take years before they look back and realise the extent of their achievement.
Because Sunday’s Big Proms Bear Hunt concert was not only about each individual child’s courage and skill that it took to play on that stage in front of 6,000 people and a live Radio 3 audience of many more, but it was also a huge statement about the power of music to change lives, about the success of the Phil’s In Harmony social project and how vital it is that funding should be found to continue it past 2014/15, when its current tranche runs out.
“Now West Everton is known for a children’s orchestra, which four years into our programme is absolutely fantastic,” said Rod Skipp, artistic director of In Harmony Liverpool in a break from rehearsing.
“It means a lot to the community – a real symbol of pride.
“The children have had some fantastic performance opportunities already – they’ve played at the South Bank Centre, they play regularly at the Philharmonic Hall – but this takes it to a whole new level, performing in the world’s biggest classical music festival. It’s incredible.”
It was cellist Julian Lloyd Webber who initially lobbied ministers to create a UK version of Brazil’s outstanding Il Sistema scheme. The Liverpool In Harmony project, which launched four years ago to place music learning at the heart of the curriculum of Faith Primary School in West Everton and to enable every single pupil there to learn at least one instrument, has since been held up as a flagship model for the UK.
During a reception held by the Liverpool Philharmonic at the Royal Albert Hall before Sunday’s matinee Proms concert, Lloyd Webber said: “When we sat through all those, sometimes boring, committee meetings at the start of In Harmony, this is the day we dreamed of.”
And then came the concert - the second of this year’s Proms events to sell out. The Doctor Who Prom was the first.
A stage packed with adults and children in brightly coloured shirts – the world famous Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Liverpool Philharmonic Children’s Choirs and West Everton Children’s Orchestra all together as one vast ensemble.
An ebullient Michael Rosen narrated an extended version of his much-loved book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, encouraging the audience to join in the chanting, slap their thighs and copy the choir’s actions as they sploshed through mud, waded through rivers, ducked through gates, avoided pirates and danced with Mexicans on their mission to track the bear.
Childrens books illustrator Tony Ross sat on stage drawing pictures of the journey – shown on giant screens around the hall – that were thrilling to watch unfold. And the music took us from location to location – Under the Sea (from Disney’s The Little Mermaid), through an enormous gate (Mussorgsky’s The Great Gate of Kiev from Pictures at an Exhibition), into the Hall of the Mountain King (Grieg) – to the grand finale of Stravinsky’s The Firebird.
The atmosphere spilled outside the hall, where autograph hunters holding teddy bears awaited Rosen’s exit from the stage door.
“Pirates of the Caribbean was my favourite bit because I play the bass drum and it was loud,” said 10-year-old Faith Primary pupil Louise Currie, on the specially chartered train back to Liverpool.
“It was scary because everyone was there and I might have got it wrong. We feel proud of ourselves.”
Eight-year-old Children’s Choir member Emily Spitzer, from Wavertree, found the experience of playing in front of 6,000 people “freaky”.
“I had eight people listening to me on the radio at home,” she added.
Alex Jabakhanji, 10, from Beacon Church of England Primary in Everton, said: “I got nervous at the beginning but at the end I felt proud.”
Joe Houghton, 11, from Crosby, who is in the Phil’s Children’s Choir, agreed: “I have done a few concerts before so I was nervous but I heard that if you're not really nervous it's not normal.”
While the children were busy taking the whole experience in their strides, the adults in the audience knew that they were witnessing a moment in musical history. And, if funding continues, it will also be the future.