Michael Gove made no announcements about youth initiatives when he attended the Schools Prom, but from the talent on show it's obvious what needs to happen
Alright, so if you're going to do Land of Hope and Glory, this is the only stomachable way to make it work: have an audience of schoolchildren and their teachers and about 1,000 performers giving Elgar's tune gigantic, enthusiastic welly with the expert accompaniment of the Wessex Youth Orchestra. Every night of Music for Youth's Schools Proms ends with Elgar's tune, and I admit it was impossible to resist the energy and excitement in the Royal Albert Hall at the end of three hours of the most inspiring music-making I've heard this year. I mean, not that I joined in with the chorus myself – that's still a bridge too far for my delicate Scottish sensibilities – but I did observe education secretary Michael Gove in the box next to me mouthing the words, though not giving the tune a patriotic standing ovation.
Gove was there to hand out two of the Music Teacher of the Year awards – and to give away precisely nothing about the national music plan, which could have been announced on the very day he made his visit to the Schools Prom, but for which we'll have wait … well, who knows? A few days? A week? Gove was booed by the audience – or the teachers at least – as he took to the podium, and Classic FM presenter Margherita Taylor tried to help him out with a spot of "We're in this together, there'll be some good news soon"-style rhetoric.
Kudos to Gove for going along to the Albert Hall knowing he'd probably get some flak from the assembled masses of music educationalists. His was by far the most disappointing spot in an evening lineup that featured a cross-section of some of the most talented young musicians in the country. From the Devon-based klezmer fanatics the Klezbians (yes, really) who got the crowd going, to the Brighton Youth Orchestra String Ensemble, who choreographed Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Cellos with a chutzpah Bob Fosse would have been proud of – and played it from memory too; from the subtle strains of St Aidan's High School Chamber Choir singing Eric Whitacre, to the nearly 1,000-strong Islington Massed Ensemble: this was as good a musical night out as you could hope for.
From which two obvious lessons flow. First, the national music plan needs to do justice to the huge, diverse, enthusiastic talent of Britain's young people. Second – and I've said it often, but it needs repeating now just as much as ever – more needs to be done to promote the brilliance of our youth musicians in this country. I've had enough of hearing about how marvellous Venezuelan, Brazilian, or wherever else's young musicians are. We have enough musical talent and visionary community and music education projects to fill any venue up and down the country, night in, night out, and it's these individuals who deserve the exposure the Simón Bolívar, Teresa Carreño or whichever other international youth orchestra or ensemble gets instead at the moment.
Talking of which: Marshall Marcus has left his role as head of music at the Southbank Centre to become "special project adviser" for the centre's El Sistema collaboration, and to run the baroque orchestra in Venezuela. The special project adviser bit means, apparently, organising a "research programme aimed at deepening the long-term partnership" between Southbank Centre and El Sistema's Centre for Social Action Through Music in Caracas. And that rather suggests El Sistema and its ensembles could have a guaranteed foothold at the Southbank. But why not a research programme or partnership with one of Britain's youth orchestras, ensembles or education practitioners (and not just the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, marvellous as they are)? What about a celebration of the "social action through music" programmes that have been going on for decades in Britain?
As the three days of the Schools Proms demonstrate, our young musicians are the ones who really deserve the Southbank, Barbican and Albert Hall gigs, and who would really benefit from guaranteed exposure in all of our biggest venues. The Schools Proms are on until Wednesday. Go if you can.
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