A couple of months ago I went on a nostalgic trip to my primary school. It wasn’t a special occasion, I had just written an article about my past and got an urge to go to see it again. I was one of the first pupils in the building being there on the day it opened in 1956 and leaving in 1961 for grammar school. I did get to go home at the end of each day, so that was cool.
The first thing that hit me was the size of the place, it has probably more than doubled with an increased footprint and an additional storey. The second thing was the teaching methods.
In my day we sat on chairs at tables with forty-two pupils to a class and did formal hour-long lessons, the only variation being PE, sport and music. Music was in the hall where we would sing folk songs with the teacher accompanying us on the piano although now and again we were issued with recorders to play. As Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis or even Tommy Steele didn’t utilise that particular instrument on any of their records it seemed totally irrelevant to us, we might just as well have been given a sackbut. Imagine my surprise then when I was shown into a classroom with no chairs but about a dozen children standing in a circle playing brightly coloured trombones! The headteacher, Mrs Mackenzie – she is about half my age but I still can’t bring myself to use her first name, it’s just not what you do with teachers – told me that the tuition for this activity was provided by musicians from Opera North.
The school in question is Richmond Hill Academy, or County Primary as it was back in the mists of time, which is not in the most salubrious part of the city, but I must say that the area is better than the slums round about in which I was brought up. Were it not for schemes like this then I doubt that many, if any, of the pupils would have known the joy of playing an instrument and have a chance of a productive leisure pursuit or, who knows, even a musical career.
Richmond Hill Academy is one of several educational institutions which are benefitting from Let Music Inspire a part of In Harmony Opera North and seeing the joy and sheer triumph on the children’s faces when they managed to turn out a tune, was brilliant. I was told that they were all beginners which made it even more astonishing.
Each week over 1,800 pupils’ lives are being enriched in this way in six schools throughout east and south Leeds with more signing up all the time. The latest is The Stephen Longfellow Academy which works with students of all ages and backgrounds who have found it difficult to maintain a full-time place in mainstream education.
Alright, you know where this is going. I would not dream of telling you what to do with your money over the Christmas period and beyond, but merely ask that you give some consideration to making a donation to this worthwhile charity, who knows, I might just have seen the future brass section of the Orchestra of Opera North.
It is up to you, obviously, how much or little you give but here are some examples of what various sums could provide:
£15 – a year’s worth of music books
£50 – a set of percussion for a class
£150 – one child with their own clarinet
£500 – transport for 50 children to perform in concert
£25 – a set of ear defenders for a parent. Sorry, that was me being mischievous, looks like another trip to the headteacher’s office!
If you would like to contribute to this method of instilling a feeling of wellbeing and confidence into our young people, please go to https://www.operanorth.co.uk/support-us/donate or ring Opera North on 0113 223 3553. I am sure that the children will thank you for it. I will.
Now, where is that tissue paper and comb?
All photographs provided by Opera North