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Music Boxes - Manchester International Festival 2011 (MIF) - A Magical Musical City for Children

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One of the highlights of the Manchester International Festival is a special architectural and musical creation called Music Boxes.

It's a spellbinding mini city within a city - namely, the impressive Media City in Salford, the new home of the BBC Children and a host of other top media-based companies.

Specially created for children aged 6 months to 7 years, Music Boxes is made up of 78 of enormous shipping containers, each with its own neighbourhood theme of escapism, musical styles and educational activities.

It's such a clever and fascinating concept that, while amusing and entertaining herds of excited children, is also great fun for the grown-ups too. I went along with my three-year-old Godson Louis and joined him in being completely swept away by the pleasure of entering each of the containers to discover what was on offer.

Music Boxes is split into nine colour coded 'pathways' each accommodating different age groups, so the babies, toddlers and older children all enjoy a series of musical challenges and experiences suited to their age. All for free too.

There's opera by Baby O for the under-twos which while not guaranteeing your little one will be the next Placido Domingo, does give them the chance to visit a secret garden full of buzzing bees and splashing ducks while hearing the gentle vocals of real opera performers.

There's also jamming with fantastical new musical instruments and even the chance to make your own pop video. Louis particularly loved exploring 'pitch, rhythm and sound' with the ZingZillas animated musical jungle animals.

A lot of thought and good old fashioned fun has clearly gone into making Music Boxes one of the most popular installations at the festival and I was intrigued to find out who came up with the enchanting idea of an urban structure with a magical musical world within it.

It's a local team made up of the leading lights of urban design - BDP. Architects Gavin Elliott and Jasper Sanders were tasked with coming up with something both playful and yet in keeping with the industrial heritage of Salford. While Louis and I are not experts, we'd both say, they've done a fantastic job.

Music Boxes workshops and sessions for children will run throughout the 2011 Manchester International Festival, with free tickets available from July 2nd until July 17th. www.mif.co.uk