Bringing children "the buzz" of live orchestral music!

Jonathan Willcocks
Jonathan Willcocks

The buzz is huge when young children hear an orchestra perform live before their very eyes for the very first time.

And that, as conductor Jonathan Willcocks points out, is the whole point of the Children’s Concert which returns to Chichester Festival Theatre for two performances on January 15.

Mostly the audience is made up of school groups, but Jonathan stresses individuals are very welcome to book (01243 781312).

Aimed at ages five to 11, the entertainment comes from Southern Pro Musica who are promising the perfect introduction to live music played by a full professional orchestra.

The concerts include musical classics and lots of audience participation packed into one hour of exciting musical mayhem, compered by magician extraordinaire Neil Henry and conducted by Jonathan.

The programme will be J Strauss – Overture (from Die Fledermaus); Rameau – Dance of the Savages; Albinoni – Concerto in D minor (3rd movement); Jonathan Willcocks – The Theatre Ghost; Tchaikovsky – March and Russian Dance (from The Nutcracker); Leroy Anderson – The Syncopated Clock; Offenbach – Can-Can; J Strauss – Radetsky March; and Jonathan Willcocks – It’s an Ark (for audience participation).

For the show, Southern Pro Musica are working with a charity called Children’s Concerts, a tradition that goes back a quarter of a century now.

“We did our first concert for children in Petersfield, and it was very successful. We developed it from there to include more venues. We have now settled into a pattern where we do six concerts in a season.”

Often it will be two concerts a day over three successive days, but this year there is a gap before Jonathan and the orchestra move on to Guildford and Southampton.

For Chichester, they will be expecting to play to something like 2,800 school children in the day: “And again we have got an established pattern. Most of the pieces are relatively short and audience friendly. We have a wonderful compere Neil Henry who is an actor but is also a magician and will be doing conjuring tricks for the concert. We always have one piece that is a musical story, something with a narrator and orchestra, and there is always a song that the children will join in with, accompanied by the orchestra. This year it will be It’s an Ark, a piece that I wrote myself.

“We tend to know what works from experience. We have been doing this for 25 years, and we have found that slow gentle pieces are quite difficult for really young children. The pieces tend to have to be lively and upbeat, but there is a great range of them. Towards the end, we really involve the children. For the Offenbach Can-Can we get a dozen children up on stage doing the Can-Can! And the Radetsky gives wonderful opportunities to clap along. We get the children up on stage to play percussion instruments.

“We have found what works and what makes a nice contrast. We also receive feedback from schools and we try not to repeat anything within three or four years. Neil introduces the pieces and tells the children what instruments to look out for, and quite a lot of schools do quite a lot of preparation work beforehand in class. They look at the pieces and talk about them before they come to the concerts.”

“And the children absolutely love it. It is increasingly challenging for schools to take big groups out of school for child protection and health and safety reasons. But we have also discovered that the big hazard is the cost of coach travel, but we subsidise the cost of it for state schools. We are constantly looking for more finance. The cost of tickets is relatively small, but the travel can be the big problem, and we are happy to subsidise state schools because those are often the schools that will benefit most from the experience.

“For us, the concerts are hugely enjoyable. The sense of buzz from the children at that age when they hear live orchestral music for the first time is huge. Just to see their eyes is wonderful. It is just the sheer excitement of hearing that sound that is great. It is a completely new experience for so many of them. They are surrounded by canned music the whole time. Actually to see the players perform is great.”

Financial assistance is available for coach hire from admin@childrensconcerts.org.uk.

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