Royal Opera House mounts new education programme

TV bosses may be at loggerheads over the prime time viewing clash between Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor on the nation’s television sets.

One thing is certain, though – the two shows’ popularity has helped spark renewed interest in even what would have once been considered the too highbrow subjects of opera and ballet in schools.

As a result, the Royal Opera House is mounting a major new education programme which will include setting up projects in both arts in more than 120 primary and secondary schools this autumn.

In addition, it is mounting a new competition aimed at encouraging 11 to 14-year-olds to write their own fanfares – the best of which will be recorded by its orchestra and used to replace its historic bell which summons patrons to their seats to mark the start of a production.

As a third strand of the programme, children are being encouraged to write their own operas and perform them in the presence of members of the Royal Opera House,

Paul Reeve, its director of education, said: “We are now witnessing the scene of prime time television on a Saturday night seeing a competition between Strictcly Come Dancing and The X Factor.

“Singing and dancing have become cool again and people generally watch it on Saturday night.”

He added: “Creativity is also something that’s considered more important in schools. It isn’t all geared towards the core skills and the three R’s any more.

“All the research shows that if there’s one skill needed by the 21st century workforce it’s creativity.

“The Government has got it as part of its economic agenda now. Teachers are having to prepare youbngsters for a world in which they don’t know what jobs will exist in a few years’ time.

David Pickering a dancer at the Royal Opera house for the past twenty years, has also detected a shift in attitude in schools.

“I have been going into schools in economically challenged areas for some time,” he said.

“In 20 years, I think we have seen quite an amazing progress from when boys would regard the ballet with a bit of reluctance.

“Now there is certainly not as much reluctance when we go in and I don’t think it is just the Billy Elliott (the film and play about the miner’s son who becomes a ballet dancer)syndrome.”

He said that many of artist at the Royal Opera House relished going into schools to put on performances for pupils.

“It gives you a chance to be a swan – you can take the lead in Swan Lake whereas you might have to spend ten years as a peasant back at the theatre.”

The 120 schools where the projects wuill take place are mainly in the essex area – near the Royal Opera House’s new Thurrock workshop.

The new fanfare competition will be launched online through a website, www.numu.org.uk/fanfare. The winning entries, which must be no longer than thirty seconds, will be played “front of house” before performances from June 2010.

The Royal Opera House has set itself the targetof getting all its inhouse staff involved in its education programme by 2012l

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