There are some experiences in life that just blow your kids minds. That’s exactly how I would describe taking my children to the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Ten Pieces Prom. I have never seen such a look of wonder on their faces and found the whole experience quite emotional if I’m honest.
Let me backtrack a bit in my tale…
Firstly. The Proms.
If you’re British you know about the BBC Proms. They’re an institution and rightly so. It’s likely that people are most familiar with the world famous Last Night of the Proms, but musically that’s just scratching the surface. The Proms actually go on over eight weeks and include daily classical concerts – with most taking place at the Royal Albert Hall in London’s Kensington.
The thing that always amazes me is how varied the Proms programme is. There really is something there to suit all different classical music tastes. From world music to famous tunes that you hear regularly. And hundreds of different pieces in-between. I’m lucky enough to have been to the Proms once before and I’ve always known that it was an experience that I want to share with my kids.
Proms for Kids
When it comes to getting children involved in the Proms there is a whole schedule for families. In the BBC’s own words:
There are regular matinees for all the family to enjoy, with tickets half-price for all young people aged 18 and under. Or for families looking to delve deeper into the music, the Proms Family series offers the perfect introduction to the classical Proms. Whether you play an instrument or sing, whether you are a complete novice or an aspiring virtuoso, come and join in the fun at our family-friendly workshops.
As part of this family programme we were lucky enough to be invited along to the second of the two Ten Prices Prom (Prom 20) and also the accompanying Proms Children’s Press Conference, held at the neighbouring Imperial College Union.
BBC Ten Pieces
The BBC Ten Pieces project has the aim of opening up the world of classical music to 7 – 14 year olds across the UK. To educate and inspire them to develop their own creative response to the music. The initiative was launched in 2014 and has so far reached over four million people across the UK. The project provides an amazing set of teaching resources for this age group, all based around ten pieces of classical music.
They are currently on the third list of Ten Pieces which forms the central core of the programme, with teaching resources arranged either by piece or via other theme. These ten pieces were then included in the Ten Pieces Prom, as ten musical spells to help bring the Firebird back home to the Royal Albert Hall.
BBC Ten Pieces Prom
The Prom itself was a beautiful musical story which not only introduced the audience to the ten pieces, but brought them all together with the firebird story and also dance and poetry. It really was a showcase of the arts, and an amazing way of introducing children to more than just music.
With children’s television’s Naomi Wilkinson as the musical spell-caster, we also had the on stage delights of Shakespearean actor Paapa Essiedu (as composer Joseph Bologne) and the magical Josie Lawrence (as eccentric music bird spotter Molly Finch).
The three of them took the audience on a musical journey to find the Firebird and bring him back home.
With pieces as varied as Aaron Copland’s Rodeo Hoe-Down and Kerry Andrew’s No Place Like the Ten Pieces list really does give children a huge variety of music to help inspire them. I particularly loved Kerry’s vocal composition – full of human observation and humour.
Brave New Voices
Another inspiring part of the Prom for me was the performance of the poem Home by Brave New Voices. Brave New Voices is English PEN’s ongoing outreach programme for young people from refugee and asylum-seeker backgrounds.
The group created this poem having been inspired by Dvorak’s New World Symphony. It was performed in English and Arabic and was, quite simply, breathtaking. There was a lovey clip from this on the BBC News website in advance of the Prom and it makes you realise what an incredibly piece of work the Brave New Voices project is.
The Royal Albert Hall
As if the Prom itself wasn’t enough for the kids, there was also the spectacular Royal Albert Hall for them to take in. None of the three of them had visited before and even as an adult I remember it taking my breath away the first time I went in. It is a huge space. Incredibly impressive. Like nothing they’d ever seen before. The closest Master C could come was comparing it to the circus! I suppose he’s right when you think about it being in the round like a circus is – but it did make me laugh when he kept telling people over the next few days that he’d been to “a concert at the circus”.
BBC Proms Children’s Press Conference
As if a Prom wasn’t enough for a day out in London, the kids also got the excitement of going along to the BBC Proms Children’s Press Conference first. Hosted by Barney Harwood of Blue Peter fame, this press conference gave children the opportunity to pose questions to leading musicians to find out what it takes to make it in music.
On stage with Barney were composer Bushra El-Turk, saxophonist Jess Gillam and clarinetist and composer Mark Simpson. All three of them spoke passionately about how they made it in music. The dedication and determination that they had to show as children and how hard work and practice can pay off.
Whilst none of our three show an interest in becoming a musician (yet!) what came across loud and clear was how the messages that all four of them on stage were giving could be read across to other professions. My step-daughter wants to be an actor, but as is often the case when you’re young, has received some set-backs in her aspirations. The messages that Jess and Mark were giving in particular about not giving up and remaining focussed on an end goal were so important for her to hear from someone other than her Dad.
The girls were also completely starstruck to meet Barney. He’s been a key part of all their Blue Peter watching over the years and they were particularly excited to see him in the flesh, and really that he’s actually a real human being! Little Miss C was incredibly proud to put on her recently acquired Blue Peter badge for the occasion and was thrilled when Barney asked her about it.
A musical education in the arts
I have to say that our afternoon at the Proms was definitely a school holiday highlight for all three kids. Not only did they get the experience of amazing classical music being played by incredibly musicians (the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Rafael Payare and accompanied by the BBC Singers) in a world-class venue, but there were also so many other messages that they took away, especially from the press conference. I feel that it was an important step in their arts education for all three of them, and one which I urge any parent to try to follow.
Disclaimer: We were invited as guests to the BBC Ten Pieces Prom. The accompanying BBC Proms Children’s Press Conference was free of charge to attend. All opinions remain my own.
All photographs thanks to and copyright BBC/Pete Dadds.