Primary Robins at Grange Park Opera

Primary Robins: End of year report 

2019 Primary Robins end of year report

It has been another great year for Primary Robins. There are now over 2000 children involved at schools in Surrey, Hampshire, Durham, Nottingham and Newcastle.

Last summer we had a wonderful concert at The Theatre in the Woods. Ninety Primary Robins sang a selection of songs that they had learnt over the year, including Do Re Mi, Consider Yourself, Danny Boy and, to finish the concert, Let’s go Fly a Kite when the stage was filled with 90 hand-made kites (see attached photo).

The children were accompanied by members of the Southbank Sinfonia and so had the opportunity to hear different orchestral instruments. The soprano Claire Rutter also performed and, for many, it would have been the first time they heard a professional opera singer.

Last term members of the Berkeley Ensemble visited a few of the schools.

John, on clarinet, and Andrew, on bassoon, played a Poulenc duet. The children sat mesmerised and, when it had finished, a hand went straight up in the air. “How do you do that?”

“Practice.” was the reply.

“When did you start?”

“When I was ten.” John answered

“So I could do that?”

Inspiring stuff!

One child with ADHD who has trouble sitting still, sat spellbound for the whole 30 minutes and, at the end, simply said, “Wow, you are very talented”.

This summer we will have another concert at The Theatre in the Woods and two Primary Robins will perform in Grange Park Opera’s production of Porgy & Bess.

Below are some reports from some of the Primary Robins teachers and some comments from children and teachers at the schools we go to.

Eleanor Garside teaches at four of the Surrey schools: Pyrcroft Grange Primary, New Haw Community Junior School, Ongar Place Primary and Sayes Court Primary.

“In every one of these schools over the couple of years I’ve known them, every single one of the children I have had the pleasure to teach and spend time with have all blossomed as a result of their weekly singing sessions.

When I first started working with the children, there was a clear divide between the girls and boys in terms of engagement in the lessons. As one might expect, the girls mostly threw themselves into singing whilst the boys held back. In every school, basically in every class, there was at least one boy pointed out to me to keep on eye on for their behaviour. In the relatively short time I’ve worked with them, these same boys have become some of my most enthusiastic and engaged singers. One particular year 4 class always begins their lesson with this group of boys jostling for position to sit in the front row of class nearest to me and the piano, and singing everything I throw at them with gusto.”

Elizabeth Curry teaches at the three schools in Durham.

“I have been involved in Primary Robins Durham for two years now and seeing the progression in the pupils I teach each week has been really encouraging. In all of my schools the pupils have improved their diction and breathing which has enabled them to attack each song with vigour and enthusiasm.

One of the best things about this project is that it enables me to engage with pupils who perhaps otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to show their singing abilities.

All of my pupils enjoy the singing we do and over the time we’ve been together they have become confident in how to sing in parts, which is something we do frequently and really gives them a real sense of achievement. I really enjoy my time with the pupils and it never fails to entertain me when they get to grips with a new song and I can hear the enjoyment in their voices.

Here are some comments from some of my schools and teachers:

“Each week the children look forward to their singing sessions. They have had the opportunity to learn songs which they would not have previously been exposed to from a variety of cultures and genres. Many of the ‘old favourites’ prove to be the most popular with the children and they have firm favourites from musicals and Beatles songs!

Elizabeth’s expertise has enabled the children to gain in confidence and has developed their ability to sing songs which at times can be quite challenging. The sessions have benefited singing performance in general and children’s singing in Christmas and other productions has been commented upon on numerous occasions. It has undoubtedly become a strength of the school. For many of our children exposure to music and performance is limited to school, therefore the sessions are essential in building upon their understanding and allowing for skills acquisition.”

Helen Walters Deputy Head Laurel Avenue Primary School.

“Our singing lessons are lots of fun!”

“We’re lucky because not everyone has the chance to do singing lessons.”

“I now feel more confident when I’m singing.”

Gaynor Davison (HT)

Since Elizabeth has been teaching in all classes across school, singing has certainly gained a much higher profile and children’s enthusiasm has soared. Many visitors and parents/carers comment on how well the children sing now. It is always a pleasure to walk around school each Monday afternoon to hear a wide range of songs and the wonderful interaction between Elizabeth and all of the children, from aged 3 to 11. Thank you to Pimlico Opera for allowing our school to have this opportunity. Every school should have an Elizabeth!

Leo Nelson teaches Primary Robins in Newcastle (South Tyneside)

I have been going into Dunn Street Primary (Jarrow) since September 2018 and Jarrow Cross Primary since January 2019. Dunn Street is a small primary school and I work with a Year 3-4 group, a Year 4-5 group and a Year 5-6 group. In Jarrow Cross I work with three different Year 4-5 groups. Although both schools come from a more disadvantaged area and are very close to each other every class has its difference and brings something new to the experience.

Singing in groups gives people the opportunity to work as a team. Before I arrived at Jarrow Cross one of the classes had been told I was coming and several of them had said ‘There is no way I’m singing’. It took me about five minutes of having fun and I now have them all singing and they are by far my favourite group. Within that group is a boy who is autistic and has his own assistant. He does not join in every session but did once tell me ‘that was great fun!’. In many of the groups the students frequently come up and tell me how much they have enjoyed it.

As well as developing vocal skills I try to give the students a head start in their musical education in secondary school and try to use as much technical vocabulary as possible.

When I asked for feedback to write this report I was given various comments from the children themselves including:

‘We have more confidence when we sing… we like to sing… and sing the correct notes!’

‘You teach in a fun way…you let us laugh but work us hard having a joke whilst working.’

‘The session sets the tone for the day… it gives a sense of freedom – knowing that I can achieve and showing us to have the confidence to deal with mistakes.’

‘The warm-ups are good getting you to think like a tongue-twister.’

‘We have learnt about musical scales, use of dynamics and tempo changes… and we can take what we have learnt to Secondary School.’

In the short time that I have been with both of these schools I have seen a great change.

When I asked one head teacher for feedback she said ‘Can’t I just say F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S as the children all seem to enjoy it?’

Primary Robins gives the students the chance to do something different and gain skills and confidence that they may not get from other subjects.

Annabel Larard – Project Leader