Phil Kids

The next generation of choral champions

There are few concerts which will guarantee an audience quite as successfully as those involving children. So when the Belfast Philharmonic Society introduced its 'younger arm', or indeed 'arms' a couple of years ago, it must have known it was on to a winner.

But even parents won’t give up most of an evening for a concert, and regular evenings throughout the season for rehearsals, unless they think the venture is of benefit to their offspring. The old regimen of choral tuition so cherished in centuries gone by and still available alas only to a lucky few provided and can still provide the sort of musical foundation which nothing else can.

All this nonsense about freedom of musical expression and so-called creative composition, devoid of any knowledge of technique and history is as nothing to the discipline and rigour of singing together in a high quality choir with high quality direction. Add to that sufficient academic training in the basics of music and you have a good recipe for future musical interest.

Belfast-born Christopher Bell is the obvious driving force behind the development of the Phil Kids and Phil Youth Choir. Ably assisted by a team of dedicated volunteers, including strong connections with the Ulster Youth Choir, he has managed to offer something exciting here in Belfast - and the response of the parents proves that they can recognise a good thing when they see it.

The proof of this particular pudding is a concert in the Ulster Hall in which the Phil Kids and the Phil Youth Choir are accompanied by the Ulster Orchestra, all under the colourful and capable control of Christopher Bell.

The music is entirely light and mostly none the worse for that. Notable, however, are the orchestral arrangements by Stephen Doughty who also acts as accompanist for the choirs. He shows a real flair for deft and defined instrumentations which never outweigh the youthful sounds of the choirs.

The chosen pieces on the programme provide ample opportunity for the young choristers to get enthused. At the same time the music allows them to show off the rounded tone of their choral sound, never forced or raucous even at the loudest moments, and their incipient choral technique based largely on the Kodaly method – of which we are afforded a short demonstration as part of one of the songs.

I'm not completely convinced by the largest collection of songs on the programme - the 'Saga of the Seven Days' - which strikes me as being too wordy even for the capabilities of these youthful memories and rather banal in musical terms. But it is tuneful enough at times and provides a focus for the programme if nothing else.

All in all, the Belfast Philharmonic Society should be pleased with itself and must be looking forward to a new generation coming through, as its older members inevitably give up their prized places to those coming through the musical system the society has now established for itself.

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