Special feature: Students showcase diversity at London’s Royal Albert Hall

Hundreds of Calderdale children of different faiths, cultures and ages gave a dramatic musical reenactment of a piece of Muslim literature in one of England’s most historic and prestigious concert halls.

Just under 700 children from various primary and secondary schools performed as the Calderdale Massed Ensemble in the national Music for Youth Schools Prom at the Royal Albert Hall.

Over 650 Calderdale children performed at The Royal Albert Hall in Music for Youth School Proms 2014

Over 650 Calderdale children performed at The Royal Albert Hall in Music for Youth School Proms 2014

‘Metamorphosis’ was the theme for musically attuned children from across the country and on the first evening of the three night scheduled concert on one of the world’s most famous stages, Calderdale’s performance epitomised transformation.

From what began as Halifax’s Parkinson Lane Community Primary School’s annual community play, of the famous thirteenth century female empowering Indian literature, Tumhein Dil Lagi, was adapted to incorporate hundreds of local children as part of a culturally cohesive project, promoted by Calderdale Music Education Hub.

A year of hard work and dedication from staff and students, a Halifax town centre flash mob and a Hyde Park public performance, and the Calderdale Massed Ensemble culminated in a powerful grand finale of the piece of Qawwali musical drama and dance at the Royal Albert Hall.

Pupils’ from Luddenden CofE School, Luddenden Foot, along with children from Halifax primary schools: Parkinson Lane; All Saints; Holy Trinity; Mount Pellon; St Augustine’s; St Mary’s; and Warley Road were joined by older students from Halifax high schools: The Crossley Heath School; The North Halifax Grammar School; and Halifax High worked together to perform as the largest and most diverse ensemble.

Over 650 Calderdale children performed at The Royal Albert Hall in Music for Youth School Proms 2014

Over 650 Calderdale children performed at The Royal Albert Hall in Music for Youth School Proms 2014

The story of the female warrior Razia Sultan in her battle with Malik Al-Tunia for the throne of Delhi was told through music of the late master Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; taught by Calderdale and Parkinson Lane music teachers Bobby R.S. and Shahbaz Hussain.

The musical drama uses a mix of Eastern and Western influences with tabla, brass and guitar instruments conducting the overall performance. The children, representing the two sides of good and evil, demonstrated the horrors of war through singing, chants and clapping in Qawwali style.

“From day one it’s been a challenge for some of the kids involved who have had to learn a new language and different styles of music and dance. But the benefits have been massive. Children have made new friendships and formed understanding. Some pupils’ who have never really sang have found confidence through performances and this will stay with them for a lifetime,” said Bobby R.S.

Parkinson Lane head teacher Gugsy Ahmed, said: “I think what we all achieved collectively really fulfilled the goals we set ourselves, namely: community cohesion; women’s rights and the study of equal opportunities; cultural musicality and awareness; national exposure and high aspirations; community cohesion in working with a variety of schools and children from different backgrounds.

Over 650 Calderdale children performed at The Royal Albert Hall in Music for Youth School Proms 2014

Over 650 Calderdale children performed at The Royal Albert Hall in Music for Youth School Proms 2014

“I would like to congratulate everyone on a fantastic journey. It was one mixed with emotions for everybody: music service, music for youth, teachers and staff at schools, parents and children. Everybody coped with the intense pressure exceptionally well. I was amazed and personally really pleased with how schools made this their own project.

“I would like to thank the many staff and head teachers who supported the project, allaying children’s fears and that of parents. The old adage of united we stand still rings true.

“The hard work amongst staff has been incredible and the true friendships and professional contacts made will stand the test of time.”

Kevin Rivett from Calderdale Music Education Hub who helped push the performance onto the world’s stage, said: “Educationally, it ticks every box - children came together to learn about each other’s culture. Crossley Heath students have sang in Urdu; breaking down divisions and giving children a wholistic experience.”

Calderdale Massed Ensemble perform Tumhein Dil Lagi at the Royal Albert Hall, London

Calderdale Massed Ensemble perform Tumhein Dil Lagi at the Royal Albert Hall, London

Crossley Heath head teacher Wendy Moffat, said: “When Crossley Heath School was invited to be a part of the Calderdale Ensemble, we soon realised that it was an ambitious project requiring time and commitment from students and staff but we had no doubts that we wanted to be involved. As a school we are always keen to work collaboratively with schools in Calderdale and this was an ideal opportunity. The day itself was a fantastic experience for staff and students alike, one we won’t forget.”

Music for Youth chief executive, Judith Webster, said: “Calderdale stood out and were selected to perform the national massed ensemble as their piece demonstrated inclusive partnership working. It’s a new arrangement; looking at the coming together of Eastern and Western cultures and is representative of the area it was born in.

“The School Proms Series is a real opportunity to showcase the innovative work within music education across the country and the night is attended by Government education ministers and decision makers. The teaching of music is more than music; children learn confidence, discipline, creativity and other values that help shape them into well-rounded individuals.”

The critics review:

The real critics of the show are the children who took part. Here’s what they, and the parents had to say:

The female protagonist Razia Sultan was played by North Halifax Grammar School and former Parkinson Lane pupil, 11-year-old pupil Harisa Najeeb.

Over 650 Calderdale children performed at The Royal Albert Hall in Music for Youth School Proms 2014

Over 650 Calderdale children performed at The Royal Albert Hall in Music for Youth School Proms 2014

“Razia is so powerful; she fights for what she believes in and doesn’t back down. This makes her a good role model to women and girls.

“Working with different schools is important to understand one another and to make new friendships with people we might not otherwise get to know. So many different people have come together for this play.”

Sowerby Bridge High School student Aleyna Ghani, 11, said: “It’s good to understand other people’s views and not just look at things from your own view of life.”

Harisa and Aleyna’s friends who were all patiently waiting backstage said they were nervous but excited about the performance, they all agreed, they were so proud to be a part of. One girl said: “It takes strength to come here and work towards this.”

For most of the children and accompanying parents, and for myself, this was our first visit to what could be perceived as an alienating and austere place for some, if not otherwise encouraged, through education, to go.

Confidence and strength spoken of by the female children was also repeated by some of the mothers as we chatted on the return bus home. Nasreen Ali, mother of nine-year-old Simra, travelled with a group of parents to support her daughter’s school performance.

“For me to organise to come here it would be too difficult to sort and afford. Gugsy [Parkinson Lane head teacher] not only builds our children’s confidence but ours too; to go out and do things - without the school arranging the bus we wouldn’t have been able to come.”

Parent Saima Kamran, sat next to Nasreen, came to support her nine-year-old daughter and Parkinson Lane pupil Maariyaah Bostan.

“My daughter’s confidence has grown a lot - it’s great for her to make new friends and mix positively with children of different cultures and ages. We’re all so impressed with what has been achieved,” she said.

Trumpet player and 15-year-old Brighouse High student Finn Crossley, said: “As I wasn’t part of the main ensemble, I get to do my bit then watch the rest. It gave me goosebumps - it’s such a powerful performance and to be a part of it, no matter how big or small, has been an incredible experience.”

North Halifax Grammar School sixth-form student Amy Lucas, 17, said: “It involves people from various different backgrounds championing women’s rights and it works.”

Hermione Berry, parent of musician and North Halifax Grammar school student Rory Evans, was watching the schools Hyde Park rehearsal performance. “It’s fantastic that children from all different schools have come together,” she said.

The project has not only promoted the similarities shared by children of different faiths but it has also encouraged better communication across same culture and nearby schools. Holy Trinity Primary School teaching assistant, Jane Dunn, said the school she works in has made improved relations with nearby St Mary’s as a result of the initiative.

Hundreds of Calderdale children travel to London to perform at Royal Albert Hall

Hundreds of Calderdale children travel to London to perform at Royal Albert Hall

Over 650 Calderdale children performed at The Royal Albert Hall in Music for Youth School Proms 2014

Over 650 Calderdale children performed at The Royal Albert Hall in Music for Youth School Proms 2014