Eileen Caiger Gray reviews Opera North’s Little Listeners at Cast in Doncaster (Nov 22nd 2017)
A twinkle of fairy-lit music stands, a bright pink back-glow of moon and stars, and six shiny brass instruments creating stunning music, courtesy of six shining master musicians – what more could pre-schooler, babe, adult, or indeed, anyone else, desire? Colourful, super-sized beanbags to lounge on, perhaps, or multi-coloured, diaphanous scarves to wave to the music or dance with? Well, they can have them, too! Also included in the package is a warm, affable Catherine to take smiling charge of the proceedings. Then it’s laidback fun and interaction all the way as a grand variety of top quality music fills the air, while youngsters (and accompanying adults) are free to move or dance about if they so fancy.
Three trombonists, two trumpeters and a bass tuba player from Opera North’s renowned orchestra form this fabulous brass ensemble (following the previous wind ensemble version of the show.) Starting with a loud, brassy Flourish, the repertoire brings varied delights from energetic jazz styles and comic, trombone-slide fun through to classics like Saint- Saens’ elephant (for tuba, of course!) a Frere Jacques with Mahler in mind, and the extra special treat of a fantastic sonata for piccolo trumpet and three trombones (bass, tenor and rarer alto.) The players, introduced at intervals throughout by Catherine, talk about their instruments and demonstrate sounds, slide and valve mechanisms, mutes etc, which adds interest for older listeners and creates a warm rapport with the audience.
The show bubbles along as questions, comments and interactive games are injected into the mix. Catherine has little volunteers measure out with bright ribbons the comparative lengths of brass tubing needed for curling round to form each instrument, and she crouches down to share a bee rhyme with the children, ending with raspberry buzzes all round, like those needed for blowing into a mouthpiece. (Similar rhyming delights are part of Opera North’s weekly ‘Little Singers’ sessions, also for under fives.) Some tots readily oblige when asked to wave or point at players who have the tune; others don’t. Some babes in arms turn in rapt attention at the sparkle and sound of the spectacle before them; others don’t. Each child responds in their own way and, hopefully, takes away their own particular valuable, long-lasting experience. By the end, a good few kids are keen to have a blow on a purple, plastic trombone, anyway. Lucky little listeners!