It might have been winter outside, but there was tropical sunshine in Huddersfield Town Hall this week as 900 primary school children got into the carnival spirit at the Mrs Sunderland Festival.
A morning of mass voices, music and dance for key Stage 2 youngsters, now an annual event at the 128-year-old festival, was themed around Caribbean rhythms and songs. It was led by one of the key figures in Britain’s gospel music scene, Tyndale Thomas, and featured young members of a steel band from Newcastle.
Pupils and teachers spent weeks preparing and rehearsing for the carnival-style concert, which is a popular part of the festival. As chairman Ray Brown said: “The object is to introduce children to music and dance in a fun way. The Caribbean theme is very lively and introduces the children to a different culture. Last year we had a ‘Sing, Swing and Sign’ themed event with 900 children, including the profoundly deaf, signing the words.”
A total of 3,000 performers – aged from five to 80 – will take part in this year’s festival, one of the biggest to date. As well as the many traditional classes for which the festival is known, there are growing numbers of entries for pop, Disney song, film music and jazz classes.
The aim of organisers is to bring the festival into the 21st century while maintaining the traditions. Ray explained: “We picked up on the fact that the festival had the reputation for being rather elitist, only for the best musicians, and we saw interest falling. So we did the re-brand a few years ago and introduced new classes. The festival has to be relevant to now. We are constantly reviewing, to keep it fun and meet the demand that is there.”
As well as a committee of organisers, the festival, named after the famous 19th century soprano, Susannah Sunderland (nee Sykes) from Brighouse, also depends on a team of unpaid volunteer helpers and is always eager to recruit more.
The 10-day festival will end with the Kirklees Young Musician competition on Friday, February 24, and a Last Night Concert, on Saturday, February 25, featuring the winner. All events are open to the public and a programme can be found online at mrssunderlandfestival.com
We’ll be publishing all the results on our website, examiner.co.uk, at the end of the festival. Our website will also feature video and photographs of the classes.