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Behind the doors: Netty Rhodes on Restoring Children’s Confidence This Christmas

“Christmas time, mistletoe & wine, Children singing Christian rhyme…”

"Ahh, Christmas! That time of year when we get to watch our little ones in the Nativity, and hear our older ones performing in the school concert. For every extra-curricular club - ballet, drama, gymnastics, orchestra, choir - there’s often a further Christmas performance to prepare. So for many parents, life becomes a seemingly never-ending whirlwind of rehearsals and costumes and dates and permission slips.

Then there was 2020. The Christmas when live performance was at least difficult, at worst dangerous. The year when what had been so joyous and life-affirming became the very thing which could make you, or someone you love, seriously ill. The year when our children’s talents were heard and seen only in the digital space, their immediate and truest voices silenced.

Now don’t get me wrong - as a parent myself I won’t pretend I wasn’t glad of the slower pace last year. It was good to know my own children’s projects were all ‘in the can’ long before the broadcast dates, and then of course, with the rest of the parents we could just sit back and enjoy the show. But what about the children? How did they feel about not being able to perform to a live audience? How do they feel about getting back to it now?

This last question holds a particular professional interest for me, as the Founding Director of SWeet! Recorder Consort CIC. We are a community ensemble in Streatham Hill, South West London, which particularly welcomes children aged 8 to 18 facing disadvantage of any kind, regardless of their families’ ability to pay. Approaching our Christmas Concert for 2021, we faced a project in which around two thirds of the children have not had an opportunity to perform live for two years. They had not had the experience of tailoring personal practice and team rehearsals to the deadline of concert day. They had not have to steel themselves against nerves while giving it their best shot anyway, for the good of the team. And most importantly, they had not for two years heard the enthusiastic clapping of an appreciative audience, so vital in communicating to young people their worth, and affirming their effort in a job well done.

Unsurprisingly, many of our students lost confidence in huge measure. Some were able to articulate this to us. And of course, the very children whom one hopes would grow in self-esteem by participating in live performance, are also those who can access it in very few places other than our project, because many activities like ours would be simply unaffordable for their families.

So I could not have been more excited for SWeet!’s Annual Midwinter Concert this year! We decided it would be an informal affair. We sought to create a homely atmosphere where every child could feel comfortable to do their very best. The community came together to celebrate the achievements of our wonderful children, who have overcome so much these past two years and are still standing and still making music and still being supportive bandmates to each other.

Best of all, was watching our children enjoy the well-deserved praise and pride of their families, peers and teachers. And when the last chair was stacked, the last music folder collected and the last stand collapsed and in the cupboard, we were exhausted but immeasurably grateful that these life-changing moments are available to us all again this year.

To hear SWeet!’s digital Christmas offering from last year, click here:

To donate to SWeet! Recorder Consort CIC please click here:


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