It’s Friday night and we are sitting in a massive theatre in deepest North London, there are teenagers everywhere shrieking, whooping and shouting. I have just been to the Ladies and have never seen so many girls in front of one small mirror applying so much make up. It’s the night of the school concert and this year teen daughter is taking to the stage as part of the steel band.
The is an air of anticipation and emotions are running high. The X Factor – whatever – this really matters, reputations are made or ruined, depending on your performance as there are no harsher critics than teenagers.
The show opens with the school orchestra, which includes local musicians who have supported the school for years. The double bass player looks fabulous in a dinner jacket and bow tie. They take us through a medley of classics and Christmas tunes and the evening is well under way.
Next up is a year 11 girl, she has the voice of an angel and I can already feel myself welling up. Since the children were 4 and appearing in the Nativity play (well I say Nativity, it never really was traditional, once my daughter played a muslin grandmother, this is Stoke Newington, after all!) I am overcome with emotion when watching any collective celebration involving children, even school assemblies make me weep and there is something about this 16 year old girl, who I have watched grow from a cheeky 4 year old in reception, to a lovely young woman, which gets to me. Her beautiful voice, unique sense of style and amazing confidence makes me think how exciting it is to be on the cusp of adult life and how lucky these teens are to be so assured and together. When I think back to my own awkward teenage years and I’m so glad that times have changed.
The rest of the evening includes more singers, some brilliant musicians and a couple of classical numbers. Every single act good or not so slick, receives the most amazing reaction from the audience. There are hugs all round every time someone leaves the stage and the kids tell each other how good they were. It’s such a lovely thing to see.
Half way through the evening, a boy takes to the stage with a guitar. He looks every inch the awkward teenager, like someone has forced him to be there. His pain isn’t eased by the amp not working and he has to sit alone on stage doing nothing until it’s fixed. He strums his guitar and starts to sing and the room goes completely silent as we listen to an amazing voice. He sounds like a cross between Will Young and David Grey. The crowd goes mad, girls are screaming, ‘ we love you……..’. He still looks slightly uncomfortable but his confidence is visibly growing. He finishes to a standing ovation and as he leaves the stage, the only sign that he is pleased, is a very small awkward smile. On the way home, teen daughter tells me he is in her music class and his mum and the music teacher have been trying to get him to sing in public for ages, but he is painfully shy. This time the teacher told him, he had no choice, he was going to sing and he was going to be brilliant – and he was. He is going to be a celebrity on Monday morning at school.
The penultimate act is a rock band who the crowd love, they have trademark sunglasses, huge hair, black nail varnish and play long guitar solos and quite frankly it sounds like a right racket to me, Job done then! I know the guitar player’s mum and hope for her sake they don’t do band practice at her house.
We finish the evening with a tiny year 8 girl, singing. She is introduced by the music teacher, who informs us that we are to finish the evening on a camp note. Said music teacher has pioneered LGBT (lesbian, gay and trans gender) month in the school and has a poster over her desk saying ‘some people are gay, get over it.’ All the kids love her. The tiny girl sings ‘I will survive’ and the head of music pops up out of a gold box to play the sax. He is wearing a suit with fluoro pink tie and matching trainers! You don’t have to be gay to work in the music department, but it helps!
A quick chorus of Merry Christmas everybody and we make our way out. I discuss the evening with a friend, who’s a teacher at a suburban school with amazingly high results. She is overwhelmed and full of praise for the school and the pupils. ‘At our school. all we do is hothouse the kids to get good exam results and we pay no attention to the things that make a child well rounded. Your kids are so lucky to go to this school’.
I sometimes have moments when I doubt our decision to send our children to an inner city comprehensive, but this is defiantly not one of them.