On Sunday 5th June, I visited the beautiful St Georges concert hall in Bristol with my three and six year old daughters for the very first time. We were here for a morning of Mini Beats, which is a series of Sunday morning concerts aimed at families. Each session has a different theme that explores a family of instruments often seen in or alongside a symphony orchestra. Through fun interaction, age-appropriate presentation and focused listening, young audiences learn about how each instrument works and sounds, and how each fits within an ensemble and orchestra. Our session today was a little bit different though, as we were going to be treated to a session of African percussion and drumming.
Mini Beats is split into two different sessions so that children can attend the one that is most appropriate for their age group. The first performance was aimed at three to five year olds, and the second was for five to eight year olds. My six year old hung out with her dad, while I took my youngest into the first performance. The main auditorium in the building is very grand and beautiful, and I think my girl was initially a little overwhelmed by it. However, it was clear that careful consideration had been given to making the performance space as cosy and welcoming as possible, with mats on the floor for little ones to sit on, instruments dotted about and no pressure to join in if they didn’t want to. Laura Tanner was the presenter for both sessions; she had a really good way with the children and really seemed to know her stuff. Taking us into the wonderful world of African drumming, dance, music and percussion were an amazingly talented bunch of musicians who clearly loved their genre of music and performing it. Bandleader Rubba has 39 years experience in traditional African dance and performance, and was ably accompanied by Kirby, Blaggy, Celestine and Richard amongst others. My little girl experienced the show in lots of different ways. She danced, she cuddled me if she felt it too loud, she laughed at the hokey cokey that snaked around the hall at the end and then joined in with it despite her initial reticence. She also told me that the music made her tummy feel funny. With the beats resonating around the amazing acoustics of this venue, I understood what she meant when I felt the deep bass notes of the drum coming up through my feet and into my belly
The second performance was aimed at 5 to 8 year olds, so my eldest daughter also got to experience the show. I was excited for her after seeing the first performance; she was having a particularly fidgety and energetic day, so I was hoping she would burn off some excess during the show! Children in this performance were a little more boisterous than the younger age group, but Laura managed to keep them engaged and crowd controlled brilliantly when they got over enthusiastic and wanted to touch her head mic. (Sorry about that Laura, the worst culprit for that was my girl, I think she also talked your ear off at the beginning about losing her first teeth!) It had an air of energy and enthusiasm that could easily have tipped into the kind of mania that some children’s shows can have which leaves parents exhausted afterwards with their kids high as kites. However, Laura was an utmost professional, and managed to keep the energy levels high without it ever getting too manic. A highlight for me was when we were joined half way through the performance by Radio Bristol, and we treated their listeners to a traditional song we had all been taught. It was a shame it wasn’t TV though as they missed the wonderful dancing!
This was first class stuff, a mix of learning and having fun done really well. The best kind of learning is the kind where you aren’t really aware you are being taught anything! Both my girls loved it, and were humming and singing the songs for the rest of the day. We weren’t the only ones; in Brandon Hill Park afterwards, I heard the same familiar melodies drifting from several other groups of children who were enjoying the sunshine after the show. We will certainly be seeking out more performances of Mini Beats, it’s a brilliant, vibrant, wonderful introduction to the orchestra and world music for little ones.
Review by Karen Blake