On so many evenings like this I return home from a performance at school bursting with pride that my offspring have been lucky enough to attend their school.
Tonight it was a short performance for the Friends of the school (and parents of the performers). There were several dance performances and a couple of music presentations plus an excerpt from a recent gender-blind Henry V. Oh my, but they were good. Everyone did themselves proud and we had a taste of a disco revival that took me back to being a teenager. T’s about time we had more cheerful music. And I managed to chuck sparkling wine all over the new Chair of the Governors, who was extremely gracious about the whole incident.
MsDD has, as you know, given up her ballet lessons this year to concentrate on her academic studies. Heartbreaking though that was, she’s now a member of the senior dance troupe at school (troupe is an odd word, isn’t it, like you wouldn’t want to take it seriously?) and they performed a fantastically professional modern dance piece based around themes of judgement and isolation. I’m so glad that she has managed to carry on her dance as it’s been such an important part of her life until now.
There was a powerful and beautifully-choreographed dance presentation from a Year 10 boy. It’s such a courageous decision of the school to start running a GSCE Dance course when schools all around seem to be deciding that any subject apart from Maths and Sciences is not worthwhile pursuing. Goodness, I’ve heard of so many horror stories where local schools don’t do any music.
Indeed in our local top achieving super-selective state schools in the country (where people start tutoring their children at 4 for the entrance exam – I have seen this with my own eyes ) – one for many months had virtually no music department and the other initially refused to run an A level course in SPANISH. Because Science and Maths are the only subjects that count for anything, apparently. It’s utterly ridiculous.
It’s been our firm belief for many, many years that there is more to life than academic excellence. It’s important for those who are able to achieve it, yes, but education is all about the nurturing of a confident, interesting, well-rounded character, able to express their creativity and explore the emotional as well as the rational facets of their personality. This, and the fact that it was academically excellent and co-educational, were the most important factors in our choice of school.
MsDD faced an embarrassment of creative options as GSCE choices: though neither we nor the school would not have encouraged this, she could potentially have chosen to do GSCEs in Music, Drama, Art and Dance. Just imagine for a moment how lovely that could be!
Anyway, I think I’m rambling so I’ll stop there. Goodnight.
A willowy 15 year old girl, with stupidly long dark hair, nestles in a high-backed armchair in a branch of a well-known coffee chain at a large out-of-town shopping centre. Killing time waiting for her mother to finish having her nails done, she is sipping a large mocha latte and nibbling on a chocolate brownie. Very, very slowly, to make it last for an hour.
As she si[ps her coffee she loses herself in the book she has just bought in the bookshop over the way, a Victorian gothic classic. Sip, nibble read. Sip, nibble read. Once in a while she shifts her position, curls up on the other side of her long legs clad in black jeans. Truly this is her favourite way of wasting time.
Suddenly a braying female voice at a volume loud enough to make sure everyone hears it shatters this cosy reverie.
“Darling, it’s Carol. How the devil are you?”
The immaculately-coiffed blonde woman two tables away carries on her personal mobile networking at this volume for a full half hour Call after call. It’s clear that she’s working through her Filofax, reconnecting with almost-forgotten friends, ensuring that she remains in their thoughts. She’s arranging playdates with suitably-named companions for her children and holiday activity camps. She calls a hair salon to fix a hair appointment for her husband; she complains at a heightened pitch, long and loud, to a cosmetics company that has discontinued her particular shade of lipstick. And then silence falls again as she sips her skinny soy cappuccino, by this time as cold as the smile in her long-dead eyes.
The teenager has been enervated by this very public exposure of a private life. It has interrupted her concentration and she’s had to recommence one particular sentence, with many complicated dependent clauses several times. She’s finished her brownie and her latte has disappeared. She’s tried a crescendo of tutting and a hard Paddington bear stare but the loud blonde woman, wrapped up in her own business, is immune to any outside criticism of her intrusive conduct.
With a sigh, the teenager gathers up her shopping bags and her book, stands up and brushes the crumbs off her jeans, then marches over to the blonde, a huge smile playing on the mouth dressed in her mother’s dark red lipstick., a mischievous sparkle in her dark eyes.
“Oh my goodness, it’s Carol! How are you? It’s been such a long time, I must have grown a lot since you last saw me.” She flings her arms about to express her extreme excitement at bumping into a long-lost friend.
Carol decides she’s going to brazen this out. She has so many contacts, after all, but she can’t quite place this young woman. Perhaps she’s the daughter of a friend, or one of her succession of au pairs. She is annoyed at herself for losing the advantage to this slip of a girl.
“Yes, it’s been ages, sweetie. How are you?”
“I’m fine thank you. It’s lovely to chat with you but I must go: I’m meeting Kevin.”
And with that, MsDD strides out of the coffee shop wondering where on earth Kevin sprang from. She doesn’t even know a Kevin.
This is just a short one tonight. The OH has to get up at 5.20 in the morning so I can’t be long.
We’ve just returned from a concert at school – you probably know that our school has a theatre and concert venue and regularly attracts world-class musicians who usuallyy give a masterclass to pupils during the day and then perform for an audience in the evening.
Tonight was the turn of the fantastic trumpeter Alison Balsom, who invited her top-flight musician friends to give a varied programme and then introduced the Brass for Africa charity in the second half. Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear that tears were soon flowing: it was Alison’s performance of La Vie en Rose with the great Guy Barker that did it for me.
Brass for Africa brings music to severely disadvantaged children on the streets, in orphanages, in young offenders’ institutions. These children are often shunned by local communities even though their only crime is usually to have been born into poverty or orphaned. The brass bands that the charity sets up are invited to play at weddings, fairs community events and slowly these outcast children become accepted and reintegrated as part of the community. The charity trains them as teachers and they pass their skills to the next generation of children.
I strongly believe music changes lives, and this is why I am a strong supporter of our own excellent BYMT in the face of the constant threat from the Philistines at Bromley Council who seem to feel that they should not support “elite” classical music, despite BYMT’s community outreach and the fact that it reaches 9,000 young people every week.
But this concert was something else. Brass for Africa introduced two talented young brass players: a sassy jazz trombonist named Ronald Kabuye and Lillian Uwasse Nagawa, whose story particularly touched me.
Lillian was originally from Rwanda, where she was orphaned in the genocide there. She went to Uganda as a refugees and was found living on the streets at 13, and looking after her younger brother. Taken to the Mlisada orphanage in Kampala, she started to learn the trumpet and soon became a leading player in the orphanage brass band. The Brass for Africa project has now trained her as a teacher and she’s teaching a new generation of musicians.
Six years later she has come to London. It’s her first time on a plane, on a train and in the cold and must be such a shock for her. But here, at 19, she was playing with these glittering star musicians. Music does, truly, change lives.
The audience very quickly warmed to the performers and the aims of the charity and there was a wonderful relaxed but professional atmosphere to it all. I had a brilliant evening and left feeling inspired and grateful that my children have never had to suffer such hardship. I really hope that Brass for Africa brings music, and hope, to many more young people.
It’s not quite the birthday I’d planned for her, but I’m thankful that we at least had a dining table and I could cook a proper meal and some brownies.