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Celtic fringes claim the Songs of Praise choral crowns

29 April 2013

The High School of Glasgow and St Patrick's Primary from Pennyburn, County Derry, in Northern Ireland, have won the senior and junior sections respectively of the BBC Songs of Praise School Choir of the Year Competition 2013. Three schools in each category took part in the competition final, which was held at the BT Convention Centre, Liverpool, and was broadcast in BBC One on 22 April.

Each choir sang a hymn in the semi-final round and an inspirational song in the final. St Patrick's, conducted by Ursula Cullen and accompanied by Trevor Burnside, gave a moving performance of 'On eagle's wings' by Mark Joncas in their semifinal and then left jury member Suzi Digby with 'nothing to criticise' in a performance of the spiritual 'Joshua fit the battle of Jericho' which she described as 'loaded with drama'. The other two schools in the junior final were from Putney High School south London, and Hymers College, Hull. Glasgow High School, conducted by Frikki Walker and accompanied by Neil Macfarlane, sang 'O God you search me' by Bernadette Farrell in their semifinal round and 'Praise his holy name' by Keith Hampton in the final. They competed against Grosvenor Grammar School from Belfast and Tonbridge Grammar School from Kent. David Grant and Myleene Klass were on the judging panel alongside Suzi Digby for both categories. 

International music educators honoured by RPS

24 April 2013

British viola player Rosemary Nalden, founder of Buskaid, is one of five music-makers working on four continents who are to receive honorary membership of the Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) at the society's awards ceremony, the 'Oscars' of live classical music, on 14 May at the Dorchester Hotel. 

The International RPS Memberships are part of the society's bicentenary celebrations and are given in association with the British Council and in partnership with the Guardian. They acknowledge inspiring individuals who have put music at the heart of sone of the most challenged communities in the world, supported young musicians and made a profound difference to diversity in music-making. 
Through the Buskaid Trust which she set up in 1992 in response to a BBC TV programme highlighting the difficulties it faced, Rosemary Nalden persuaded distinguished musicians to busk at British railway stations to raise funds for the string project in Soweto, South Africa, which she now directs. In 2007 the Buskaid Ensemble was the first South African orchestra to perform at the BBC Proms and three Buskaid students have taken up scholarships at the Royal Academy of Music.
The other recipients of the rarely-awarded honorary RPS memberships are Armand Diangienda, a former airline pilot who founded a symphony orchestra in Kinshasa, DR of the Congo, one of the poorest cities on earth; Ahmad Sarmast, founder of Afghanistan's first national music school, in Kabul; pianist Ricardo Castro, a former winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition, who established a flourishing youth music programme in Bahia, Brazil; and Aaron P. Dworkin, founder of the Sphinx organisation, which gives opportunities and assistance to aspiring Black and Latino musicians in the USA. Sphinx's mission is for classical music to embrace the diversity of the society inherent in the society that it strives to serve, and Mr Dworkin was President Obama's first appointee to the US National Council on the Arts.

Andrew Lloyd Webber backs secondary schools music

24 April 2013

Andrew Lloyd Webber has launched the Music in Secondary Schools Trust, which will roll out a new music education programme in secondary schools across England. The 'Andrew Lloyd Webber Music Programme' will be supported by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation and the Charles Wolfson Trust, to the tune of £2m over its first four years. It will give every child at participating schools the opportunity to study a musical instrument as part of a compulsory curriculum.

The programme is based on the music scheme developed by Truda White, former headteacher of Highbury Grove School, Islington, North London. It aims to improve discipline and the students' commitment to learning; develop team working skills; and enrich the lives of students by providing regular music tuition and performing opportunities as part of ensemble and orchestra groups. Before implementing the scheme Highbury Grove was judged to be effective and improving but had an Ofsted rating of 4 (in 2002); one year after beginning the programme (in 2007) it was judged to be good and three years later it received an Ofsted rating of 1 (outstanding). Ms White believes the programme demonstrated that music can transform the entire academic experience of students.
Schools will be selected for the new scheme through an application process, with top priority being given to schools in areas of deprivation or communities where access to high-quality arts projects is limited. Other criteria include an Ofsted 3 judgement of 'satisfactory - requires improvement' and having high aspirations for all.
The Lister School in the London Borough of Newham will be the trust's first partner school for September 2013. Both the Lister School and Highbury Grove will run the programme during the 2013-14 academic year, with a further two schools for 2014-15. Lord Lloyd-Webber notes that this is not about creating performing artists, but about changing the lives of secondary school students. Asked by the Guardian at the Highbury Grove launch about the reaction of government to his plans, he said that at the moment he finds it difficult to get a returned phone call from ministers. 'They all pay lip service but I wonder if any of them have been to a place like this.'
The composer's wife, Madeleine Lloyd Webber, said: 'This is one of the most exciting projects the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation has been a part of.'

Gareth Malone to create new-style British Youth Choir

24 April 2013

Gareth Malone has launched a UK-wide search for accomplished singers aged 18-25 to join a 'ground-breaking' new British youth choir with the aim of 'celebrating the amazing talent in our country' and initiating 'a new choral style that is fresh, modern and utterly unique. Our aim will be to inspire a whole generation. Regardless of background, if you have the voice and the vision, I want you,' he said in a launch statement on 23 April.

Speaking on Classic FM Malone added that his intention is to form a professional choir of young singers who are already highly accomplished and ready to tackle recording projects using contemporary recording techniques and exploring a range of repertoire including both classical and pop. Sight-reading skills would be important but if there are impressive singers who lack some of the relevant experience it may be possible to draw them in.
Applications are invited through a new website, The closing date is Friday 26 April and auditions will be held on 1 and 2 May at the Royal Academy of Music, London. More information from

Latest education U-turn: ABacc plans revised

15 April 2013

The government has dropped plans which would have prevented arts and creative A levels from counting in the proposed ‘ABacc’ league tables, modelled on the controversial EBacc performance measure at GCSE.

Under the proposed ABacc, schools would have been measured by the number of students achieving ABB at A level in three of the five EBacc subjects (maths, English, science, a language and history or geography). Now, only two out of three A levels need to be in these subjects to qualify for the ABacc, leaving room for one creative subject such as music.

The Incorporated Society of Musicians, which has campaigned against the EBacc, said: ‘It is vital we now show MPs that the anti-arts Ebacc and ABacc measures should either include creative subjects or be dropped – because the Department for Education has shown how easy it is to change big things without a word.’

The Institute of Career Guidance recently called the ABacc ‘a very crude measure’, saying students ‘may be persuaded to take subjects not because they are right for the individual, but because it may lead to a higher percentage in the performance measures for the institution, regardless of the pupils’ aspirations.’

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