The Grange, 13 July 2016
Primary Robins is a project set up by Pimlico Opera with the aim of “using music and theatre to expand the outlook and enrich the lives of schoolchildren who have little exposure to songs and music”, as part of their own aim “to advance personal development, particularly with younger people”. Pimlico Opera is one of the two opera companies founded by Wasfi Kani (in 1987), the other being Grange Park Opera (in 1998). As part of Primary Robins, musicians have been working with schools in Hampshire, Durham, Kent and Nottingham to provide weekly singing lessons to some 1600 children.
As an afternoon curtain raiser to Grange Park Opera’s performance of Tristan & Isolde, a group of 120 children (all year-5, aged 10-11) from three of Hampshire primary schools crowded onto the Grange Park Opera stage to present some of the work they have been doing under auspices of Primary Robins. Directed by conductor David Gibson, and with the six players of the Berkeley Ensemble (a string quartet, horn and bassoon), they sang their way through a selection of popular songs ranging from extracts from Oliver to Yesterday by The Beatles, taking in Gilbert & Sullivan’s A Policeman’s Lot is not a Happy One on the way. They opened with their usual warm up song, Supercalifragislisticexpialidocious from Mary Poppins, a number that they were clearly very familiar with, and sang with commendable gusto.
As well as their collective songs, each individual school had the chance to sing on their own, starting with Tanners Brook’s delightful version of Fat Sam’s Grand Slam, from Bugsy Malone). After the Berkeley Ensemble played their arrangement of the William Tell Overture (a favourite of their school visits), Stanmore School sang the very apt Tim Minchin song When I grow up. They were followed by Winnall School’s take on Wouldn’t it be Loverly, from My Fair Lady.
All three school choirs combined again at the end for Cy Coleman’s The Rhythm of Life, another favourite of theirs, and giving them the chance for some two and three-part singing. All the instrumental accompaniments had been arranged by members of the Berkeley Ensemble, who also played one of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances. The children all sang from memory, and made a splendid sound. They would have had very limited time to all sing together, or with the Berkeley Ensemble, make their achievement all the more impressive. Only one child seemed rather distracted, a rather restless young man at one side who spent most of his time trying different positions for his feet, include trying to stand on one leg, not very successfully. But everybody else had perfect stage manners.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said of two members of the audience (I assume, parents) who insisted on taking flash photographs throughout the concert. Apart from showing a singular lack of knowledge about cameras, and the distant that a flash would extend, it was distracting to the rest of the audience, and presumably to the children. One of them even used redeye reduction, resulting in a whole sequence of flashes! Their photographs would have shown the brightly illuminated heads of those people sitting just in front of them, leaving the children in distant darkness. I hope they learn something about camera technique – and manners. By contrast, a very professional looking official photographer stood quietly to one side, silently taking photographs without flash or any other distraction.
It was a shame that there were not more people there to hear this young people, and to witness these impressive young people singing their hearts out for the sheer joy of it. A great experience for them, and for me.