Rapture as children discover classical music

Jonathan Willcocks, SPM childrens' concert conductor
Jonathan Willcocks, SPM childrens' concert conductor
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The rapture on the children’s faces is part of the huge reward for the performers as Southern Pro Musica return to Chichester Festival Theatre with their Children’s Concerts.

They are promising the perfect introduction for children aged five to 11 to live music played by a full professional orchestra.

The concerts include musical classics and lots of audience participation packed into one hour of exciting musical mayhem, compered by magician-extraordinaire Neil Henry and conducted by Jonathan Willcocks, who lives just outside Chichester and is known to many as the musical director of the Chichester Singers.

“You can see the look on the children’s faces when they hear live orchestral music for the first time,” Jonathan says. “It is that excitement of bringing something new into their lives. All children are exposed to so much sterile canned music as background music to computer games and so on, so to experience live music, to see live musicians in front of you is so important.

“The concerts are mainly for school parties, and some schools come back year after year. Some schools bring the whole school. It’s a great event. We time the concerts to avoid drop-off and pick-up times and lunch time. We make it as easy as possible, and the schools all think it is absolutely wonderful. The challenge is to persuade other schools to come along that think it is a bit too much bother. We have got to persuade them that there are so many benefits in bringing this extra dimension to music.”

The Chichester Festival Theatre concerts are on Tuesday, January 16 at 10.45am and 1.30pm – one third of six concerts in three days at three different venues for Jonathan and the performers. Concerts are also taking place in Guildford and Southampton.

“We began the series right back in 1994, so this is our 25th series. We work in collaboration with a registered charity called Children’s Concerts, for which I am one of the trustees. The aim is to present orchestral concerts for children, and since 1994, we have done more than 120. This time we are doing two at the CFT. We have done one at the CFT for quite a few years, but they sell out each time. We are increasing it to two this year.”

The programme is designed with fun, impact and participation in mind. As Jonathan says, they will get children up to play percussion and even to conduct. This year they will be offering Strauss, Rossini and Handel among the delights, plus Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty and the rousing Liberty Bell March from Souza: “What we are looking for is a variety of music that will really engage the children and give them pictorial images of all levels of the orchestra. Some feature the strings, some the brass, and I give a bit of an introduction to the various instruments. And the great thing is that our three venues all have excellent visibility for the children, particularly Chichester Festival Theatre with its thrust stage… and the children absolutely love it.”