This week over 1,000 students and staff from United Learning schools across the country sang in premiere performances in Southwark Cathedral in London and the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.
The students performed “Wassail! Carols of Comfort and Joy” – a brand new musical score composed by renowned composer Alexander L’Estrange. The piece was commissioned by the United Learning Partnership Fund which seeks to enhance the opportunities available to students. In commissioning the piece, United Learning wanted to open up the world of choral singing to all students across the Group – the piece itself draws on folk traditions with a modern twist influenced by both jazz and modern choral music.
This week’s performances were the result of months of intensive rehearsals. Students had been learning and practising the piece in their individual schools since the beginning of term but only came together as a full choir on the day of the performances. In preparation, students had participated in singing and performance workshops led by the VCM scholars and performers from acclaimed choral ensemble, Apollo 5.
Catherine Barker, Head of Music and Performing Arts at United Learning, said:
“This week’s performances have been absolutely spectacular. The sound of 1,000 students from across the country singing together has been truly moving and I am thrilled that the students received such a resounding round of applause from the audience.
“Not only has this project introduced our students to a vast array of different types of music, it has given them the chance to collaborate with their peers from across the country. These performances showed that music can unite us all – wherever we live and whatever our background. It has been incredibly poignant to see our choirs comprising students from a diverse range of cultures and I hope that Wassail! will continue to bring such enjoyment to all schools throughout the country.”
Anna Jenkins, Head of Music at Kettering Buccleuch Academy, said:
“We have been so excited about this event, as the students gain so much from participating alongside other schools in United Learning to sing in a large scale performance. Alexander has composed a work that has an authentic and traditional feel whilst being accessible and enjoyable for less experienced singers to perform. This was a great way to kick off the festive season!”
Northampton Academy student Kirsty Goodman said:
“This was a great experience and something I have not done before. The atmosphere was great and working with the actual composer and arranger, Alexander L’Estrange was fantastic. The choir worked for weeks learning the pieces and I am really happy we got to perform this.”
North Oxfordshire Academy student Jamie Neath said:
“I really enjoyed being part of the Wassail! project as it gave me a chance to learn how to read music better and gain an appreciation of folk-style and choral pieces. As a guitarist, the score wouldn’t be something that I would normally be drawn to. That said, I would definitely like to sing this kind of music again and found the experience of singing at Southwark Cathedral really amazing. It was incredible to perform at such a historic and impressive venue with so many other talented singers.”
Chris Latimer, Head Teacher at Grange Primary Academy, said:
“In 11 years of being a Head Teacher I have never been more proud of a group of children. To see them perform in such a setting was amazing. The impact upon their self-esteem, well-being and future aspirations has been fantastic to see. They are still smiling days later!”
Grange Primary Academy pupil Sophie added:
“It was the best day of my life, ever!!”
At the performances, the students performed side by side with Apollo 5, and were accompanied by the Call Me Al Band. The concerts were also greatly enhanced by original dances, choreographed by Richard Rose Central Academy and Barnsley Academy.
Anneka Read, Performing Arts Co-ordinator at Barnsley Academy, said:
“This was another fantastic opportunity for our students provided by the Partnership Fund! Working alongside professionals and students from other schools across the Group has been an invaluable experience. Our students continue to make us proud of their continuous commitment and drive to achieve their very best.”
Barnsley Academy student Kate Gerdena said:
“I feel so much more confident from being able to take part in performance projects like this. It’s opened up more performance opportunities for me and I have met some amazing people.”
Barnsley Academy student Amelie Perry added:
‘Thank you to United Learning for giving us this opportunity. I love being a part of team Barnsley Academy and showing off the amazing performance work that we do. I can’t wait for the next project!’
Students from United Learning schools also feature on CD and online release of the work, where the composer himself visited schools across the group to record different songs from the piece; this ‘virtual choir’ has been mixed with the professional singers on the final recording and is now available on general release.
This project has recently been shortlisted in the Best Classical Music Education Initiative category at the Music Teachers Awards 2018, sponsored by Classic FM. The winner will be chosen by a public vote on www.classicfm.com.