Thursday, June 18, 2015


Chelmsford Junior Music Festival

I still clearly recall my first schools' choir festival. Conducted by the formidable Dr WH Swinburne, with local celebrity, Gielgud's first Juliet, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies the guest of honour.
Nearly sixty years ago, now. Hard to tell at this distance, but I don't think we had as much fun as this year's Civic massed choirs, and I'm sure we weren't nearly as entertaining.
The Civic was packed for four nights with proud parents and restless siblings. And the stage was packed with 150 or so youngsters, from six schools on the night I looked in, with 27 schools taking part over the four nights of the Festival.
They trooped on to Heigh Ho from Snow White, and show tunes made up most of the programme. A finger-snapping Singin' in the Rain was followed by a beautifully disciplined Over The Rainbow. Grease, Dirty Dancing – hand-jive was as dirty as it got – and, most impressively, The Rhythm of Life from Sweet Charity.
After the obligatory thank-yous, everyone took to their feet for an arm-waving encore of Fame.
The core work this year was The Return of the Glass Slipper; not a sequel, but a mini-musical with narrators. Mostly forgettable in the company of Disney, Bart and the rest, but a nice Calypso This Generation and a Spanish I'm Lovely.
No interval, but two breathers for the singers, with charming novelty numbers by an eleven-year-old trombonist, and accompanist Danielle Harding-Smith joining MD Natalie Thurlow at the piano.
Natalie's infectious enthusiasm and solid direction were key factors in the success of the evening. All 150 pairs of eyes were on her, as she guided them through the changes of tempo and key, and some brilliant dramatic pauses.
A real pleasure to see these youngsters experience the thrill of singing together, and the contagious joy of performance.

photograph: Val Scott

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