ZIMBE! At Orchard School

By Sharon Crawford.

In two terrific concerts at Orchard School, members of the Bristol Choral Society joined more than 300 children (over the two nights) from Orchard School and eight local primary schools to perform Alexander L’Estrange’s Zimbe! They were accompanied by a jazz quintet made up of players from Bristol Plays Music.

Zimbe! is a sequence of choral arrangements of traditional songs from all over Africa in a jazz style. This is a work which forges links between adult choirs and massed childrens’ choirs, placing singing at the heart of the community, as it always has been in Africa.

Zimbe! is at times touching and moving, at other times funky and grooving, and all of the time incredibly uplifting both for performers and audiences alike.

I was at the Wednesday evening performance and was impressed not only by the quality of the singing by the children, and of course by the Bristol Choral Society, but also by the slick management of what must have been well over 100 children by their teachers and by Hilary Campbell, the musical director of the Choral Society, and the conductor for the concerts. The children certainly stole the show.

Having said that the whole evening was a pleasure.

The audience were greeted with authentic drumming from boys from Orchard School’s drumming group who also started the concert with a display of very talented beating!

Then to the main performance which was truly spellbinding. From the haunting gospel cry “Njooni! Zimbe! Nyimbo  za  Afrika” (Come sing songs of Africa) through a very moving rendition of Thula Mama, Thula, Hush Mama (Xhosa lullaby for mothers of imprisoned sons) with the children’s voices and the jazz quintet coming onto their own. Another upbeat and rhythmic “Haleluja” had us all beginning to move with the music, and by the time the last movement came “Hamba vangeli” (Freedom is coming) we were all clapping in time with the choir and band. Zimbe! does have more movements – these were my highlights.

This event involved eight local schools, Orchard School, St Teresas RC Primary, Little Mead Primary School, Stoke Park Primary, Fonthill Primary, Filton Avenue Primary, Glenfrome Primary, Upper Horfield Primary, and Horfield CofE Primary. As Orchard School’s Partnership Manager said, “It just couldn’t have happened without all the hard work of the teachers in these schools and Caro Barrett, Chair of BCS, who went round eachschool rehearsing with them and then bringing them to a final rehearsal, en masse.

Also thanks were given to Laurie Stewart from Bristol Plays Music – another key person in making this happen. For more information on Bristol Choral Society’s work with young singers, visit www.bristolchoral.co.uk/young-people/