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Music is for Life 2009 at the Royal Albert Hall

Photograph by Andrew Furst

Schools from the London Borough of Merton joined forces with professional musicians and actors to stage a spectacular ‘Music Is For Life’ concert at the Royal Albert Hall on Monday 30th March 2009.

Organised by Merton Music Foundation, this event has proved to be a huge success since it was first staged at the Fairfield Halls in 2004. Now in its fifth year, ‘Music is for Life’ returned to the Royal Albert Hall where over 1,450 young people gave a dazzling performance to a capacity audience of over 3,500 people.

The Merton Massed Primary Schools Choir included whole year groups of KS2 pupils from 23 primary schools from right across the diverse borough of Merton. They were joined by the Merton Young Voices, the Merton Youth Singers and the London Vocal Project forming a choir of over 1,200 singers. Before the concert began, whilst the singers and audience took their seats, drummers led by Mestre Mags from the London School of Samba and musicians of St. Mark’s Church of England Academy filled the hall with their exciting sounds of Samba.

At exactly 7pm the lights dimmed, an expectant hush filled the Royal Albert Hall and a single spotlight fell on two young singers from the Merton Youth Jazz Orchestra as they began the opening call from ‘Adiemus’ from ‘Songs of Sanctuary’ by Karl Jenkins. On cue, the lights went up and the Merton Youth Concert Band joined by the Merton Massed Primary Schools Choir filled the concert hall with music in a spectacular arrangement specially written for this event by MMF Chief Executive John Mander.

Further Samba music followed this atmospheric opening as drummers from St Mark’s Academy, St. Ann’s and Cricket Green schools combined their creative talents in a piece entitled Samba Sunshine!

The award winning and highly acclaimed Merton Youth Jazz Orchestra then played part of their set which they will be performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 2009 – ‘The Pink Panther’, ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’, ‘Witchcraft’ and ‘Spain’. Conducted by John Mander, the band demonstrated why they are one of the best youth jazz orchestras in the country.

The Merton Massed Primary Schools Choir conducted by Soo Bishop then gave a moving performance of the ballad ‘Believe’ by Lin Marsh. This was followed by the Merton Youth Concert Band, directed by Norma Whitson, giving a powerful rendition of Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture’. ‘Bugler’s Holiday’ then followed, with confident performances by members of the brass and percussion sections, and then the set finished with excerpts from the ‘Lion King’, which went down particularly well with the large audience of parents and children. All three of the Merton Music Foundation’s concert bands then combined forces in a memorable performance of the ‘Radetzky March’ and highlights from the film ‘Mamma Mia’.

The second half of the concert was devoted to the world premiere of a new work ‘The Journey’ for massed choir, vocal soloists and a unique jazz/folk/string ‘fusion’ band by award winning educator and jazz musician Pete Churchill. Charting the history of immigration over the last one thousand years, this piece was an inspirational ‘lesson’ in history and musical styles. To learn the work from memory the primary choirs and their teachers had received a series of nine half-day workshops in cluster groups over half a year, working intensely with Pete Churchill and Soo Bishop. The workshops focused on building up real vocal and musical skills as well as developing a strong identity and sense of community, which shone through as the choir performed with shared purpose, power and pride. The professional soloists taking part in this performance - Nia Lynn, Guillermo Rozenthuler, Gary Palmer and John Parricelli - are all well-known and much respected members of the music profession and they joined in with local folk musicians alongside the MMF jazz and string players who formed the fusion band.

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Feedback from Monday night’s concert has been highly complimentary:

Monday's concert at the Royal Albert Hall was an absolute tour de force - my congratulations to you and your legion of helpers for putting on such a stunning show. I can think of no other event in the annual life of the London Borough of Merton that succeeds in bringing together so many talented performers and so many proud parents to celebrate their achievement in pursuit of a shared goal - and what more fitting venue than the RAH! (Councillor, London Borough of Merton)

Amazing, wonderful, spectacular, stunning, exciting, exhilarating, emotional, fabulous, fantastic, awesome, inspiring. We felt privileged to be there. (Parent)

Just wanted to say again how fantastic the event was last night - MMF really excelled. So glad too that we were able to take part. We greatly appreciate our links with your Music Service. (Headteacher)

Thank you so much for the experience you and Pete Churchill have given the children (and all the staff) …… The children came to school today so proud. I must also say how impressed I am personally with the whole of MMF – it is great to see such a range of young people, engaged in such productive and obviously enjoyable activities in music. (Headteacher)

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