For any further information about Hackney Music Service, the Festival Events or joining one of our Ensembles, please contact

Click here for the 2023 festival programme

Click here for the 2022 festival programme

About the Festival

The Hackney Schools Music and Dance Festival is the biggest and one of the most popular events in the school calendar. The festival provides an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the musical achievements and progress that our young people have made throughout the year. Each year for two weeks in the summer term around 4500 young people come together at the Round Chapel Performing Arts Centre in Lower Clapton, Hackney for the annual festival.   

What is probably the largest single borough schools music festival in London, started out as a two-day junior singing event in 1997. By 2007 there were three days of each event: junior singing; infant singing; dance; and instrumental days catering for c5000 children across, what was then, a three-week long festival! Several performances also involved working in partnership with external partners. As this work developed, a Partnerships Day was added in 2013 and in 2017 we saw the launch of our Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) singing festival.  

Singing festival events: Infant, Junior and EYFS

The singing festivals are un-auditioned events, which encourage children of all abilities to participate in these energetic and accessible vocal performances. Mindful of the fact that not every primary school will have a music specialist, to ensure that the songs are within reach to all schools who register, they are supplied with a learning pack containing rehearsal CDs, guidance notes, song lyrics, music scores and video clips to support action songs. Over the last 20 years, teachers have been provided with hundreds of songs to add to their singing repertoire – feedback from schools indicate that they greatly value this material and have been able to use the songs with their schools across the curriculum, in singing assemblies, and in their own school concerts.

Although the singing festivals take place in the summer, the work towards mounting the events begins in the autumn term! The vocal repertoire is chosen by a team of class teachers and Music Service staff who check the material for (amongst other things) its suitability and appropriateness, key, complexity and its level of challenge. The song choices range from part songs, action songs and show tunes and cover a range of styles and genres including Welsh, Scottish, African, Ghanaian, Turkish, Chinese, Israeli, Romanian, Spanish, Maori, operatic songs, Irish, English and Peruvian songs, as well as music of the classical tradition. Songs have also been specially written for the event by some of the teachers themselves, including Lorraine Bowen, Jane Morgan and Kate Shortt, as well as Laka D. 

Once this process is completed, it is time to produce the backing tracks for the learning packs. The musical arrangements and backing tracks are produced by Chris Wilson (our band director) as well as members of the team of teachers involved in choosing the repertoire. This is followed by the production of the song packs with lyrics and easy to follow instructions for class teachers.  At the end of the spring term, schools begin work on teaching the repertoire to their children in readiness for the summer term’s events. Support is available and provided by a small team of advisory teachers, deployed by the Music Service, to schools in need of reassurance and guidance. 

In order to provide an additional opportunity for pupils to work with professional musicians, the music service has, over the years, worked with a range of singers of various styles and genres.

Some of these partners have included Voces8, Willie Cochrane – bagpipe player, Welsh Harpist – Rhian Hanson with singer Joe Morgan, as well as opera singer – Susan Stacey, Téa Hodzic – Romany singer and Genco Ozgan, Turkish singer. In recent years, guest performers have been our very own London Music Fund Scholars, or young musicians in receipt of a Hackney Mayor’s Music Award. These performances serve to inspire other young people of similar age and background and have an aspirational impact.

Dance Festival Events

The Schools Dance festival, which began in 1999, is a vibrant grass roots sharing event, which aims to recognise and acknowledge the often “hidden” school clubs and activities that are encouraged and supported from within the school communities by a growing number of enthusiasts, tutors, teachers and volunteers. The Music Service recognises that movement plays an important part in the development of musicianship and is an integral part of the performing arts tradition of many cultures. 

There are a growing number of schools taking part in this event with 800 children from across 37 schools participating each year. Schools present their own set pieces that have been devised either by the children themselves or as part of a project residency or workshop. These dances cover a range of genres including Ballroom, African dance, Irish, Flamenco and street dance. In addition, each year we invite a different external dance group to perform for the children as part of the celebrations. In the past, these have included Meithael Cheoil (Irish dance troupe), Flawless (street dance company) Beeja (Indian Classical Dance Troupe), The London Jing Kun Opera Association (Chinese), Guillermo (Cuban Dance company), Alba Flamenco Dance Company, Balinese Dance and Cairo comes to school, Israeli Dance, Break Dancing and the Lindy Hop.

Instrumental Festival Events

The Instrumental Festival began in 2002 as a one day affair, and much like the other events, quickly grew to a three-day spectacular. These occasions provide an opportunity for those learning an instrument to join a larger community of young music makers to share and celebrate their musical achievements, and to demonstrate their musical skills and progress. Year on year standards have risen and the level of engagement has grown enormously from 17 schools to 38 taking part by 2007 represented by around 900 children.

The energetic and often inspiring performances offer a wide repertoire and range of instruments including steel pans, recorders, woodwind and brass, strings, African drumming, samba, rock and pop bands, mixed ensembles as well as orchestras and classroom music. In the last few years, we have seen an increase in the number of primary school bands, string quartets, jazz and world music groups as well as school and borough orchestras. A tremendous amount of collaborative work takes place between all concerned to produce what has become a huge showcase of talent – indeed, music tutors often bring pupils together from across their school’s to perform in massed ensembles. The Instrumental Day culminates in a joint finale; a massed creative piece, played by all performers, learnt by ear one hour before the performance! The creative piece is most often led by HMS staff, music tutor or by musicians and animateurs from partner organisations.

This event provides such an opportunity for schools, parents, friends and family to see the breadth of music-making taking place in Hackney schools. Additionally, it leads to renewed interest in taking up an instrument and attending the music holiday courses on offer. To see the enjoyment and excitement on the children’s faces and the level of motivation makes this festival a very special and worthwhile event.

It is often the unexpected outcomes of these events which are most rewarding. The stewards for the festival are drawn from past pupils of Hackney schools and from our borough ensembles. The support they provide in ensuring a stable infrastructure is tremendous and portrays a sense of community spirit and feel to the entire event.