Daniel is eight years old. Sometimes when he wakes up early in the morning he goes into the garden to play his recorder, if it’s not too cold. If it is, he plays it softly in the kitchen. In March, he told me, he could be playing in the Albert Hall.
‘Who was Albert?’ I asked him. He didn’t know. I explained that he was a prince who married Queen Victoria and found himself to be without a job. So he and his friends devised the Great Exhibition of 1851. Built for it in Hyde Park was the first glass prefabricated building in the world, like so many of the later glass station canopies joined together to arch over a large area in the park. No trees could be cut down, so they were included in the space inside. Appropriately this amazing building was inspired by the gardener Paxton’s glasshouse for exotic plants at Chatsworth, the country seat of the Dukes of Devonshire. Thomas Cook organised profitable train excursions to the exhibition to carry visitors from all parts of Britain and abroad. It was a huge success and made a profit. What could the prince and his friends do with the money? They decided to spend it on a domed concert hall, the Victoria and Albert and the Science museums and a university called Imperial College, all flourishing today. Not too bad a result for the unemployed prince’s idea of an exhibition!
The rehearsal began. Daniel had never been in anything like it. Each of the groups from fifty schools in the Camden area of London, both primary and secondary ones, were laughing, tuning up their instruments and chattering away – just having fun and a day off from classes! There was a break for lunch and to scamper around in Hyde Park. Fortunately it didn’t rain, but my thoughts went out to Rod and the other teachers. If there were fifty schools with twelve musicians each, they would have to keep track of their groups in a crowd of about six hundred children!
Back after a packed lunch in Hyde Park came the children for the afternoon rehearsal, and out again for an early supper, both meals brought with them. Then in flowed the audience which packed every seat in the upper rows – places were rationed, one for each performer and a limited number for each school. Buzz and excitement. Each school’s orchestra was at the front with its own conductor, Rob standing out because of his mass of white hair, and the choirs radiating out behind them. Above them was the expectant audience – a thick mass of heads!
The programme must have been chosen long beforehand. It ranged from Purcell to film music and currently popular songs. I was amazed to see a woman combining sign language with conducting – for deaf musicians? How long did the groups have to prepare the programme and who chose it? Some music was played by each individual school; other pieces were played by all the orchestras and the choirs were invited to clap. A song called ‘Mind the Gap’ was especially composed for the event and sung with gusto by all. It was so much more positive than the toneless, nasal computerised voice in Underground stations!
Not one child was mislaid. Rod’s group and the others played at the right moment. Who masterminded all this? Who wove this exciting tapestry of sound out of fifty school orchestras and choirs, neatly avoiding potential cacophony? Daniel didn’t know. ‘All went off well,’ he announced, ‘and I enjoyed it!’