Children in Need and the celebrity choir

For those not in the UK, BBC Children in Need is a massive charity event that happens annually culminating in a national broadcast on the second Friday in November. In the weeks leading up to the broadcast schools, clubs, individuals across the UK take part in fundraising events, with the proceeds going to the charity, their vision being that every child in the UK has a safe, happy and secure childhood that allows them the chance to reach their potential.

It is incredible the volume of famous faces that get involved and this year is no different. For the official Children in Need single choirmaster Gareth Malone created a choir of celebrities to record and perform a cover of Avicii‘s ‘Wake Me Up’. Comedians, presenters, a Strictly Come Dancing judge, actors, actresses…. and a host of kids as well.

Let’s be honest, no one was expecting much, but somehow they managed to be worse than anyone thought. Luckily, with a boost of confidence, a bit of coaching and a lot of hard work they gradually began to realise what being in a choir meant. They started to work together, listen to each other and by the time they got to recording they were sounding a lot more like a choir.

That doesn’t mean that the recording wasn’t hard work. It really looked and sounded like it was. But they got there and the track sounds really good, definitely worthy of being the official BBC Children in Need single. Gareth Malone really shows that anyone, no matter how much experience or confidence they have in the first place, can sing and can sing in a choir.

It’s great to see people discovering a love of singing and despite initial nerves you can tell that they are enjoying themselves on stage while performing the song. It’s such a great track involving so many great celebrities and kids, as well as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Please go check it out and if you feel compelled to, donate to Children in Need, it’s a great cause and they do brilliant work.

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Under the Vaulted Sky – Rosemary Lee

Today I want to tell you about my absolute favourite performance from IF: Milton Keynes International Festival 2014, Rosemary Lee‘s Under the Vaulted Sky, a new commission for the festival.

The performance was set in the beautiful Cathedral of Trees, a very tranquil setting with trees planted in the architectural footprint of Norwich Cathedral. A combination of dance and live music, with a community cast of over 100 dancers and musicians, Under the Vaulted Sky was breathtaking.

Over the course of the performance you are guided through the Cathedral, entering different sections, sitting for a while to watch groups of children present delicate leaves in wooden boxes filled with grass, walking the length of the tree cathedral as bells ring and dancers with bells attached to their dresses tinkle as they run by…

The use of music, composed by Terry Mann, and sound is very cleverly crafted throughout. Each cast member has a bell for the opening sequence. Dressed in red gowns the dancers, nymph-like, seem to invoke the air around us, combining movement and the ringing of bells to move the air and bring the sense of the cathedral to life. Just as you feel the weight of history around you in a stone cathedral, here you feel emotions well inside you as the sheer beauty and simplicity of the piece overwhelms you.

Hugo Glendinning

Photo: Hugo Glendinning

We were then led through to the cloisters where children presented us with golden leaves as gongs and drums are played to the rhythm of the dancing. The whole audience of around 100 people sits quietly, not saying a word, taking in everything that is happening.

Being led through the archway around the outside of the cathedral to come in at the top we pass through members of the cast. This for me was the most moving part. With bugles being played in the distance the dancers would walk up to members of the audience as they passed, whispering about pathways to the stars and handing these pathways as tokens of small circular mirrors… This gave you a moments reflection before heading back into the cathedral.

Under the Vaulted SkyIn the chancel we are surrounded by dancers being crowned with gold hands as brass instruments play fanfares, before being lead back down the cathedral under golden books suspended in the treetops. At the crossing we disperse to the sides as dancers open gold sheets, dressing the trees. Finally the dancers line the way out with their eyes closed, in a world of their own, ethereal…

This delicate performance invoked both the strength of the cathedral and the fragility of the bells to enclose the audience in it’s atmosphere. There is a poignancy in the gold, the music, the movement… But it is up to each to experience it in their own way.

IF: Milton Keynes International Festival 2014 – The Introduction

This wonderful festival takes place in Milton Keynes every two years. It started in 2010, so it’s not been running for a huge amount of time, and yet it is achieving spectacular results! I was fortunate enough to be involved in 2012 when I stumbled across the volunteer shout out and thought what the heck? I might as well give it a go.

Best. Decision. Ever.

The catch line is 10 Amazing Days and I can tell you they spoke the truth. I was lucky enough to be a steward on several different projects, performances and installations. The one I spent the most time on was The Boat Project, part of the 2012 cultural olympiad. This was a boat, named Collective Spirit, built of of memories. People from across the country, including Milton Keynes, have donated wooden objects and every piece had been used in some way in the boat. It was incredible and the crew and the stories they told were inspirational. I had caught the festival bug and I wasn’t letting go.

Fast forward 2 years and I was suddenly working on the festival having joined The Stables, who produce the festival, as their Marketing Intern.

Milton Keynes International Festival just keeps going from strength to strength, and the range of events on offer this year was incredibly special. From the beautiful dance sequence of Under The Vaulted Sky, to the eerie beds of The Lock Shift Songs, to the wonderful acts livening up the evenings in the Spiegeltent, everything seemed to buzz with energy.

I was very fortunate in that I was able to see so many of the artists and projects throughout the 10 days, and now that the summer is over and my internship is creeping closer to it’s end, I’d like to reflect on the festival and share some of my favourite moments with you guys. So that’s what I’m going to go. Over the next 2 or 3 days (depending on how much I rant and rave about things) I hope I can share with you some of the magic of the festival.

From volunteering on the festival 2 years ago, to working on it this time, I have learnt so much and been so inspired. I would urge everyone to take an hour or so out of their schedules and research your local areas for arts events going on and get involved. It can be so rewarding and you never know what will crop up or what it will lead to. You won’t regret it.

Brief Encounter with the London Philharmonic Orchestra

On Friday 15th August I made my way to the Royal Festival Hall on London’s Southbank for a screening of Brief Encounter with the London Philharmonic Orchestra playing a live score. I didn’t really know what to expect from this experience. I’ve been to the Royal Festival Hall so many times, but never have I seen a film screened in there and I wondered how the acoustics would work and how the evening would pan out.

Well, let me tell you… it was wonderful!

Firstly, let me introduce you to Brief Encounter.Brief Encounter 2

Filmed in the last few weeks of the Second World War and released in the Autumn of 1945, Brief Encounter tells the story of Laura (played by Celia Johnson), a comfortably married woman who, through a chance encounter at the train station, falls in love with Dr Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard). Based on the one act play by Noel Coward and directed by David Lean, the score features heavily Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

The Brief Encounterevening commenced with an introduction by Lucy Flemming, Celia Johnson’s daughter, explaining the history of the film and reading extracts of letters that Celia Johnson wrote to her husband during filming. This was simply charming and the perfect way to introduce the film and settle the audience. It was light-hearted and personal, witty and immensely interesting.

This was followed by a complete performance of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, conducted by David Charles Abell with Leon McCawley on piano. This was a great performance, really great balance throughout the orchestra and sublime soloists. The concerto is so memorable and so well-known that it had to be perfect, and it seemed so to me. I was very impressed. The opening few minutes were played by Leon McCawley with great precision, the opening few bars simply magical. I had goosebumps.

After the interval and a quick re-organisation of the orchestra onto the level, the screening began. Despite an initial problem with the film’s sound, made light of by the conductor and promtply fixed, the newly commissioned score was brilliantly balanced with the film. You completely forgot the orchestra was right in front of you as you were immersed in the film, the score fitting seamlessly with the pictures.

I found that the first 5-10 minutes were a little restless for the audience as everyone settled down and began to concentrate on the film rather than being distracted by the novelty of a screening in a concert hall. After that however, the entire audience had relaxed and simply enjoyed the film.

It is strange to think that people my age think of this as such a novel experience, live musical accompaniment. The fact that this was a normal cinema experience during the first half of the 1900s is a surprise to many, despite this actually being featured within the film. It is an age seemingly lost to us, but one that I hope we will see more and more.

Part of a three week series of screenings in the Royal Festival Hall, Brief Encounter is being shown three times with live score. I would definitely encourage anyone to go see the film on Friday 22th or 29th August. If you can’t make it, just watch the film anyway.

It is wonderful.

Behind the scene of the 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony – Bradley Hemmings

poc meI was very fortunate to be a performer in the opening segment of the Paralympics Opening Ceremony during 2012. It was a truly phenomenal experience and I simply can’t explain how much a privilege it was and how much fun we had. I met many inspirational people along the way and when I heard that Bradley Hemmings, one of the co-artisitic directors, was giving a talk about the ceremony from his point of view I simply couldn’t pass up the chance.

 

 

The Team

The artistic directors for the ceremony were decided in July 2011, giving them 14 months to prepare everything. Every other ceremony had a single Artistic Director, whereas for this ceremony the amazing forces of Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings.

Jenny leads the field in disability arts and is the Artistic Director of Graeae Theatre. She is so inspirational and passionate about what she does that you cannot help but warm to her the moment you meet her. Bradley is equally as passionate but comes from a different area of expertise, having experience in large-scale, outdoor events. He is currently the Artistic Director and Founder of Greenwich + Docklands International Festival.

Inspiration for Enlightenment

As many of you will know, but some may not, the Paralympics Opening Ceremony was called Enlightenment.

The main themes that they wanted to portray were:

  • Understanding our place in the universe
  • Transforming the perception of people with disabilities
  • A celebration of British science
  • Declaration of human rights and how the Paralympics is placed within that stream

Anyone that has seen the ceremony cannot fail to see each of these strands. One of the things that was so impressive about the ceremony was that every theme was immensely visible. There was no hiding. During our rehearsals we always had an understanding of our place within the ceremony and what we were portraying. You really felt like you were part of something special.

Creative Process

This was a really fascinating part for me. Bradley was very open about the fact that they had huge obstacles to overcome in realising their vision for the ceremony. The part we are all guilty of forgetting when watching such spectacles is that there is a huge amount of protocol to navigate.

Firstly this was a celebration of Paralympic athletes. I think it was really something special when the athletes were bought onto the field of play (the performing space) so that they were right at the forefront and got to watch the ceremony and be involved instead of walking in right at the end.

Jenny and Bradley wanted to build in a new level of access to the ceremony. For example, having a BSL interpreter right next to the Queen was something that had never been done before. This re-imagining and inventiveness, enabling BSL and audio description to be integrated into the ceremony was absolutely vital. This is something that has also come about in our OYAP training. No matter what a person’s background or abilities we have to try to open up the arts and encourage as much involvement as possible and increase access for everyone.

Creative Contributors and LOCOG

There were a whole host of contributors that Bradley mentioned but I’m just going to go into a few.

Jon Bausor – Designer: Jon was the person to help come up with the three main motifs. The umbrella to protect us, the book for learning and rights, and the use of the Alison Lapper statue.

Errollyn Wallen – Composer: Errollyn was the composer who wrote the magnificent choral piece for a 600 strong choir formed of London based choral societies and community choirs. She also wrote Spirit in Motion which was sung by Denise Leigh.poles poc

Circus Space & Gandini: These two organisations allowed for a wider range of movement. I cannot tell you how impressive it was to see artists with missing limbs climbing swaying poles or being suspended and lowered from the top of the stadium and flying through the air.

LOCOG: Locog enabled a shared infrastructure to evolve, including the 360 degree screen made up of hand held pixel screens on every seat that the audience could wave and move.

Transforming Perceptions and Emotional Storytelling

The Paralmypics Opening Ceremony was watched by 1 billion people worldwide and 60,000 in the stadium audience. It had a cast of over 3000 performers as well as professional cast.

By using the story and the central character of Miranda, Bradley described how they could use the Tempest motif to pay homage to the athletes as Miranda wondered at the world and ‘beauteous mankind’. This was such an important theme that transcended the whole ceremony.

One of the most emotional parts I found during the ceremony was the opening documentary. This was not given the TV coverage it should have been as it was so emotional. It told the story of past and present paralympians and those with disabilities and finished with a pilot describing how he had trained with Aerobility and finally asking the audience to Look Up. He then flew the lit plane over the stadium that opened the ceremony. My heart absolutely swelled at that point, especially as I was just about to go on with 600 other performers and dance in the opening segment.

alison lapperFrom there the ceremony beautifully portrayed a real sense of wonderment and equality. Stephen Hawking took to the stage to first establish our place in the universe and how science is progressing. It then moved through to empowerment. Paralympics is about being equal and that is what they aimed to portray. The huge (and I really do mean huge) statue of Alison Lapper that was revealed at the end was spectacular and definitely made its point.

The lighting of the cauldron was very emotive with the passing of the flame from Joe Townsend to David Clarke to Margaret Maughan, bringing together the past, present and future.

Finally the whole audience and cast joined in with Beverley Knight as she sang ‘I Am What I Am’. The most special part? We were all signing the chorus in BSL. It was incredible.

Overall

It was really interesting to hear about the ceremony from Bradley’s point of view. Having seen it from a performers point of view it was fascinating to hear about the lead up to rehearsals and how Bradley and Jenny developed and designed the ceremony, the troubles they faced, the moments they cut, and the moments they created.

Everyone involved felt that they were part of a movement that was changing perceptions, exactly as the Artistic Directors had intended. Even such phrases as ‘For those who are able, please stand for the National Anthem’, these little touches made the ceremony and made everyone feel included.

I’m so proud to have been part of something so special.

Scratch Night at MK Gallery with Manny and the Coloured Sky

Being a young leader on the Oyap Stepping Up programme has put us all in a slightly bizarre situation at the moment. We all know that we’re artists in our own rights and yet for the most part we don’t get to see the others’ skills and talents in action. So tonight was a revelation. I’m so lucky to be part of such an incredible group of artists!

Tonight I went along to the Scratch Night at MK Gallery that our very own Manny and Alice had organised. It ended up with a group of people listening to three very talented musicians who each did a set and then jammed together, which was really great to see! It’s always great to see collaboration in practice, but I want to focus on Manny.

ImageManny and The Coloured Sky is a singer-songwriter who also plays guitar and you can check out some of his music here. When you meet Manny he can come across as quite understated, a little quiet, and totally in his own world, never without a pair of headphones, totally immersed in his music. Seeing him up and performing was a whole other thing. Now I’d checked out his recordings and I’d had a sneak peak of his musicianship at one of the Oyap training sessions but that is nothing compared to his live performance. He didn’t just perform…

He lived it.

The moment Manny started performing I was absolutely mesmerised. It seems that Manny totally opens up and bares his soul, and you feel really connected to his performance and what he’s singing about, whether he’s singing his own original music or a cover. His original material is so immensely heartfelt and beautifully written. This is a guy who really understands music, its impact, its intricacies and its ability to capture your attention and soul. Also, let me tell you this…

This guy can SING.

Manny has such an unusual voice which conveys so much emotion. Add to that a phenomenal range and basically the sky is the limit, and what a colourful sky it is! I cannot express to you how impressed I was.

Please go and listen to his song ‘Dream’. It honestly gave me goose-bumps.

So Manny,

From one musician to another, one artist to another, one human being to another, let me just say…

You blew me away.