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Stage / 1 June, 2008

Confucius and Chinese folk tales form Hackney childrens’ opera

Hackney Music Development Trust discuss their latest project with Matt Hanley

Confucius Says... - schools' rehearsal

Confucius Says... - schools' rehearsal

For over a decade the Hackney Music Development Trust has been at large in Hackney, bringing together people, communities, schools and colleges through the rich prism of contemporary arts and music productions.

The altruistic aim of the charity, based above Hackney library, is to broaden the role of music in the educational and cultural life of communities, while creating capacity to make music and art an integral part of the national curriculum through combining it with the academic subjects.

For this, the organisation sets out to bring together schools and community groups from across the borough to design, write, act and play an artistic creation, be it an Chinese opera involving 9 primary and special learning schools (Confucius Says), an open music programme for under 5’s to begin exploring rhythm and melodies (Music Box), a series of community operas staged at the Hackney Empire (Operaction Hackney) or a cheery choir for the over 60’s (Hoxton Singers).

There is also the Hear Our Voice music education project that set out to use the arts to increase young people’s awareness and understanding of the dangers of persecution and prejudice, and the Special Schools Project which is specifically aimed at tailoring music al projects to Hackney’s special schools, and the Centre for Young Musicians, offers 200 5 – 14 year olds a wide range of musical classes at a plethora of venues across the borough.

“One of the huge problems with learning in the UK is that the curriculum is very rigorous and limited,” says HMDT project director Tertia Sefton-Green over a cup of hot chocolate in Café Bohemia in Hackney Central.  “By introducing learning through the arts you’re reaching a whole different way of learning.”

HMDT director Adam Eisenberg agrees:  “Different children learn things in different ways.  Some like to sit down academically and read and write – some like to do things practically, some visually, but the curriculum doesn’t allow for that range of learning.  Bringing the arts into learning inspires the children in different ways than academia – it expands the  learning tools.

“Our work allows kids to take responsibility for their actions, maybe for the first time in their lives.  Rather than just sitting at the back of a stifled classroom, they are suddenly relied on by a host of other people to deliver part of a creative project.  It gives them a tremendous sense of self worth and confidence.”

As well as introducing inner city kids to arts that they otherwise might not come into contact with, the projects that HMDT runs are helping break down prejudice and social and cultural barriers, whether it be between race, ethnicity, personal ability or musical assumptions.

“Opera has terrible pejorative in society, but it doesn’t necessarily have to mean buxom ladies in Valkerie costumes wailing about rings,” muses Tertia.  “The reason why we choose opera is because it’s the only art concept that embraces every art form possible, so it has an amazing learning capacity and is wonderfully inclusive.”

Indeed, such is the creative and disparate arc of opera that recent HMDT projects have seen schools and community groups creating and redefining ‘opera’ to include Georgian acapella minstrels, a swing jazz band, an Africa drum and dance troupe, a powerful community gospel choir and the good old Salvation Army brass band.

“People are suddenly working with people they never would have normally associated with.  They suddenly take pride and ownership in what they are creating.  Hackney has such a creative potential.”

The scope of HMDT’s ideals is breathtaking.  In one of the most deprived districts in England, in a nation where community and society have been reduced to a quaint, nostalgic oddity, an organisation like this is a rare and cherished commodity. Hackney should be glad to have them.

Confucius Says…
One of HMDT’s Olympics-themed operas (to be followed by The Odyssian Tales), this production has involved nine primary and special schools from across Hackney, incorporating whole school involvement in cross-curricular work, art and design and dance.

The opera is based on the analects (words, wisdom and acts) of Confucius and blended with Chinese folk-tale to create a totally new children’s opera, staged at the Hackney Empire on July 3rd & 4th to not only create an active, engaging and above all fun addition to Hackney kids’ education, but also a cracking night out.

Tickets here.

/ 1 June, 2008

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