Our Music Service is off to the Albert Hall for a special Buddy performance with 600 Oxfordshire children

Striking a chord in the lives of 8,000 children each week, Oxfordshire County Music Service is about to stage its most impressive and inclusive concerts ever.

Around 600 talented youngsters – half of whom have special educational needs – will soon be heading off to the Royal Albert Hall to put on the show of their lives.

The Buddy Choir and Orchestra will be performing on the last night of the Youth Proms on November 7. Around 300 of the children attending will have special needs and disabilities and will be buddied one-on-one with youngsters who are from mainstream schools.

There’ll be singers, performers and an orchestra. The tempo will be set with an opener by the English composer Karl Jenkins, followed by a piece composed by the children, some of whom are severely autistic for example. For youngsters not able to travel to the famous London landmark, a film will be shown of them participating while the musicians play.

And then the performance will conclude with all the youngsters performing This Is Me from The Greatest Showman. “There probably won’t be a dry eye in the house,” says Angela Turton, the council’s Head of Oxfordshire County Music Service.

“They all know and all love This Is Me. It’s like their anthem. It’s about them as individual children, ‘standing up’, being counted and being able to reach their potential whatever difficulties or problems they have.

“OCMS has a history of going to the Royal Albert Hall but this, undoubtedly, will be our biggest and most challenging event yet.”

Rehearsals have been going on for weeks with the help of Oxfordshire’s own John Lubbock OBE, of the famed Orchestra of St John. He founded ground-breaking charity Music for Autism with his wife after discovering the transformational impact that music had on the their autistic son.

There’ll be a 60-strong orchestra with strings, brass, woodwind and percussion plus a rythmn section of bass, keys and drums. One of the performers is a young student who has a cleft hand for whom the music service has paid to have a specially adapted instrument. The student is “so delighted to be there to play.”

Oxfordshire County Council’s music service epitomises the authority’s vision for thriving people and communities and as a traded service, whilst supported by the county council, its funding is derived from income and grants including the Arts Council

Says Angela: “OCMS good for the mind, body and soul, transforms the lives of 8,000 Oxfordshire school children each week, and cuts across all social and cultural divides.

“And you’ll find it in all parts of the county, in 265 schools and happening almost every day and evening of the week.”

Although it has been going for 76 years, the OCMS – which adjoins Bayards Hill School in Barton, Oxford ­- is continually evolving to accommodate changes in music, education, the arts and technology and is now considered to be one of the best in the country.

Angela emphasises: “And it’s a service for all. While many may consider music to be elite, our service embraces everyone.”

By that she means it caters for all abilities and pockets. It’s not elitist or for those who can afford it. Children from low income families can access grants and funds to reduce financial burdens while maximising music’s potential.

“Whether you’re a child or an adult, music enhances people’s lives. It gives you a sense of social wellbeing, you mix with others in a shared experience which brings joy, happiness and laughter.

“And it gives you a sense of great achievement in learning skills. It’s good for the memory, cognotive skills, dexterity, co-ordination and creates teamwork and self-discipline,” explains Angela who was a school music teacher for many years.

Oxfordshire County Council Music Service offers a broad range of music genres – among them are three county orchestras, choirs, ensembles for specialist instruments, Early and Baroque music, junior and senior rock schools, music technology, songwriting clubs, Stringbabies and four highly successful Big Bands – including a Dixieland jazz ensemble.

There are lessons – and discounts – for pupils learning ‘endangered’ instruments like the viola, franch horn, oboe, trombone, tuba and bassoon.

And then there are musical theatre groups – Oxfordshire Youth Music Theatres and South Oxfordshire Youth Performing Arts.

There are a plethora or workshops, glitzy gala awards, an Oxford Cambridge Note Race, cultural exchanges and even a Spotlight Talent 2018 contest for 11-18 year olds where the county’s most talented singers, musicians, bands, rappers and instrumentalists turn up and show off (auditions in the North are at the Warriner School, Bloxham, on October 4.)

Angela said: “We offer as many genres of music as we can. Yes we support the very top but we also introduce whatever we can to attract all children and get them through the door so that we can inspire them.”

Recently OCMS held its annual music gala awards attended by 350 people which not only recognised achievement - for instance those who have received distrinctions in grade 5 to Grade 8 - but also leadership.

“We recognise good teachers, directors and student leaders. We’ve got inclusion categories for special needs schools. We celebrate progress, like the Practice Cup, and creativity – especially in projects with our wider-community partners.”

One of OCM’s most popular and most requested groups is the Big Band, which boasts a ‘fantastic Sinatra-style singer’. They performed at Abingdon In The Park this summer and were enjoyed by a 3,000-strong crowd.

"They’re compared with professionals by many of their audiences and at times bring in money as part of our traded service,” says Angela.

OCMS’s work with special needs children is now expanding. It has long taken its teachers into the community in hospitals, hospices and mental health facilities, but following the Royal Albert Hall performance, there will be a fuller provision for special schools.

As well as its state-of-the art Centre of Music in Barton, with its Jam Pods room and hi-spec performance hall, it has centres throughout the county in Wallingford, Thame, Wantage, Witney, Bicester, Banbury, Didcot, Chipping Norton, Oxford and Kidlington

OCMS also strikes a chord with adults every Thursday. Angela explained: “Many adults have reached under their beds or have ventured into their lofts to find treasured instruments they had as children. Once more they are discovering the joy of music.”

If you want to discover the joy of music or find out more about OCMS and its wide-ranging classes, visit https://www2.oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/content/contact-oxfordshire-music-service