Young kids and classical music: it’s a tough sell, but it’s also one of the highest goals for outreach and accessibility. The CBeebies Prom had a good try at it, putting together a TV-based format, featuring a half dozen kids’ show presenters, with a light sprinkling of popular classics. The results went down well with the target audience - I took my three-year-old daughter, who’s been talking about nothing else since and wants to know when we can go again – but the entertainment was at the expense of the music, which had a very small role in the proceedings, and was barely introduced or discussed by the presenters.
The format for the hour-long morning concert followed closely that of the (much superior) Wallace and Gromit Prom last year. Then, as now, large screens were placed above the stage, and the event played out as a narrative, with the presenters in the hall interacting with those on pre-recorded film segments. So we had Robert the Robot, out and about in London, collecting sounds for the concert’s grand finale. In the live-action segments there was plenty of audience participation – singing, chanting, marching, clapping – all of which went down well and succeeded in keeping the kids’ attention. The most popular of the act seemed to be Andy from Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures, with his Velociraptor Rap. The least successful, surprisingly, was Bernard Cribbins, who had difficulty getting the huge audience into the spirit of his cozy, tales-around-the-fire segment.
And what of the music? It was good to have the excellent BBC Philharmonic on board, but the orchestra was seriously underused. An Overture on CBeebies Themes arranged by Peter Willmott was barely audible under the sound effects on the programme intros with which it was performed. The Hornpipe from the Fantasia on British Sea-Songs was more successful, what with all the clapping. Miklós Rózsa’s “Parade of the Charioteers” from Ben Hur had the advantage of being loud enough to hear over the assembled masses, unlike the Dargason from Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite, which was completely swallowed up. And Around Sound, Barrie Bignold’s closing number, was just a series of sound effects and transitions for the audience to shout, sing and clap over.
Given the age range of the target audience, the educational potential of the event was quite limited, and although the music didn’t get the attention it deserved, nor was information about it forced on the audience or given in the reverential tones that often make projects like this self-defeating. In fact, one of the most impressive aspects of the concert was the programme book. Presented in a child-friendly graphic format, each double page spread was devoted to one of the presenters and one of the works, linked with a game to play – counting the trumpets, drawing the violins, that sort of thing. And best of all, it had stickers! They kept us busy all the way home.
Suffice to say, daddy’s reservations about the format of the event and the lack of musical focus were not shared by his companion. Robert the Robert was a big favourite with her, and (stickers aside) the journey home was filled with excited discussion of all the chanting, dancing and singing we had been up to in the “circle” (I tried to explain it is called the Royal Albert Hall, but she seems to think “circle” describes it fine). In many ways, the event seemed experimental, trying to work out how to combine the TV elements with the Proms format. It didn’t all work, but from what did, there is plenty to build on for similar events in seasons to come.
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