“A young mind is not a vessel to be filled, rather a fire to be ignited.”
This is the message which everyone leaving the ladies toilets at Gallions Primary School in Beckton will see. Beckton, known for gasworks, dockland and processing sewage; one stop from the end of the DLR line and defined as an area by its trunk roads to the north, south-east and west. It doesn’t seem to promise much and walking from the DLR station to Gallions on my visit to Musical Rumpus this afternoon, I was struck by how grey and soulless the route was. But the sign in the ladies toilets reminded me of two things: firstly that I was in a place where it was assumed that anything is possible for a young mind and that secondly Spitalfields Music is there in the spirit of partnership, to serve the local community. And indeed this is the spirit in which Musical Rumpus is made and which led us to tour it to some of the most challenged areas in the UK, places where mobility is very low, engagement with the arts almost zero and unemployment as high as it gets.
Over the past couple of weeks we have been touring to libraries and children’s centres in Barking & Dagenham and Newham with our latest show in the Musical Rumpus series. Based on Monteverdi’s music, adapted and staged magically by Sam Glazer and Zoë Palmer, the piece is designed for the very youngest ears (0-2s) and their parents.
The idea behind the series is to give young children the highest quality music performed by the highest quality musicians (The Sixteen, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Early Opera Company) and to fuse artistic and early years practice so that the children are allowed to respond individually to what they see, hear and touch. There’s no sitting on laps quietly – in fact there is often a ‘pitch invasion’ in the first five minutes – and children can touch the set, singers and instruments. Our aim is to put children and their parents in a position where they develop independence, confidence, resilience, creativity and skills which they can use to learn.
The children’s play shapes the show and their parents learn songs and rhymes which they can take home and use. Yesterday afternoon’s performance, with its babbling brook and croaking frogs, was as enchanting and colourful as ever. Hopefully it ignited some fires. Certainly it reminded me that the landscape of the mind is infinitely more important that our immediate geographical environs.
Chief Executive, Spitalfields Music