Last evening I went to a truly wonderful concert at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock. Probably best known as the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, the Blenheim estate has developed a range of different activities over the past few years including many musical events. Last night’s concert was not staged by some mega-star, in fact none of the musicians, singers and dancers were professionals at all.
In the splendid setting of the Palace’s library, the Oxfordshire County Music Service performed their Buddies at Blenheim concert. Last night’s concert brought a flavour of their show stopping performance delivered in the Royal Albert Hall last November as part of the Schools Prom season.
What make Buddies unique as a concert is the fact that the Buddies Ensemble and heart of the concert features a collaboration between pupils from the special schools across the county and pupils from a range of other schools.
Performing as one choir, the Buddy Ensemble sang three pieces, including one of their own composition. At the Royal Albert Hall there were nearly 600 young singers from Oxfordshire, last night the library could only accommodate some 50 or so to provide a taste of what the experience in London must have been for those lucky enough to witness it.
At the end of the evening the Buddy Ensemble joined many of the other young players, singers and dancers in a finale entitled ‘Love can build a bridge’. Not only was this sung, but it was also signed by the whole choir, and the chorus by the audience as well. A fitting end to a great evening.
Music has been an important part of the cultural life of our education system since at least the end of the Second World War. There have been times when it has been under threat; the early 1990s and during the recent period of austerity and the transfer of funding to schools from local government are just two such periods when it has faced great challenges. Oxfordshire has found a way to navigate these crises, and still flourish as a service under inspiring leadership, as the collaboration between pupils with SEND and others in the Buddy Ensemble so clearly demonstrated.
Apart from the wonderful and ground breaking work of the Buddy Ensemble, there was an excellent rendition of Corelli’s Concerto Grosso op 6 No 2 in F Major that was exactly suited to the setting of the library, especially for those of us fortunate enough to be placed directly in front of the musicians. The Oxfordshire Youth Flute Choir also provided a superb performance of the Overturn to the Barber of Seville by Rossini, played on a range of different flutes. But it is invidious to select these examples from a night of wonderful music and ground-breaking originality that show cased the best of the youth of Britain.
On Friday evening, in another wonderful setting of Dorchester Abbey, there will be an end of term concert. But both before then and for long after the bringing of the pupils in our special schools out of the shadows and into the light must be the abiding memory of what education can achieve.