Luminaries Woburnensis – Woburn Abbey

Last night our family took a trip over to Woburn Abbey for the Luminaries Woburnensis, a light, fire and ice event in the Abbey Gardens. We were very lucky to have a beautifully clear night and with the temperature pretty low it was the ideal weather for it.

As you entered the event you wereIMG_1200 greeted by food stalls and boutique stall holders around the main buildings, all accompanied by the Woburn Sands Band. The very first stop was the lantern making stall where we decorated a paper bag, popped in an electric candle, stuck it on a cane and off we went into the dark like the dwarves from Snow White…

Ice Sculptor

Throughout the gardens lanterns lit paths leading to fire jugglers, incredible ice sculptures and the beautiful Chinese Dairy. The really great thing was that sculptors from Glacial Art were present and carving so that you could watch the sculptures transform before your eyes.The lighting was really great as it really highlighted the contours of the ice so that everything was clear and visible.IMG_1253

My only disappointment in the evening was the ‘interactive ice wall’. My family and I had envisioned a wall of ice that people could all have a go at and chip away as they liked. The reality was a sculpture where one of the sculptors guided your hand as you chipped away for a minute or so where they told you. I only saw little children do this and to be honest there didn’t seem to be much in it for them as they were following a design.

IMG_1249However there were two other parts to the evening that I particularly liked. The first was the Tree of Dreams on which you could hang a lantern with a wish. The tree was the focal point of the central lawns and every visitor passed it on their way to the main grounds. By the end of the evening it was completely covered and it was lovely to read others’ wishes for the future, regrets of the past and messages of joy and hope for loved ones… or lego.

The other highlight of the evening for me IMG_1312was the opportunity to send a lotus lantern out onto the lake. As this was a live flame candle it was a very sweet gesture and made for beautiful viewing, especially as the breeze blew the lanterns out into the centre of the lake.

This was only the third annual event, and I hope that they continue and grow. If you’d like a lovely family event to kick off Winter then the Luminaries Woburnensis at Woburn Abbey is ideal.IMG_1237

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.

Arts and humantities vs STEM. Why is it a competition?

There has been a lot of controversy over the past couple of days caused by Nicky Morgan’s comments at the Your Life campaign. There has been a backlash from the arts and humanities communities as her comments downgraded these subject areas and instead proclaimed that the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects were the way to keep young people’s options open. Yes, there is a place for these subjects but there are also places for the arts and humanities that are equally important and are just as valuable at STEM subjects.

I cannot understand for one thing how you can value certain subjects based on the earning potential of the jobs they can lead to. There are many people who studied arts and humanities who make a good living, a living that they are happy with, in a field that they love. For many people the sciences and maths are just not for them, just as the arts and humanities are not for others. How can we school people to value some subjects over others based on earning potential rather than the strengths of the student? The arts can have such a great social impact on young people, their development of self-worth, confidence and concentration. Is this not more important than earning potential?

Another element of the argument for promoting STEM subjects was the imbalance of how many boys take these subjects compared to girls. Having gone to an all girls school between the ages of 7 – 18 I have always been aware of the glass ceiling, and it has always been drilled into me that I should pursue any subject I liked. There was no such thing as a boy subject or a girl subject. My headteacher had a motto of ‘be the best you can be’ and was a great advocate of encouraging girls to pursue their interests. I remember being sent on a science day between three schools to encourage us to take sciences to A Level and I enjoyed sciences and loved maths, but the arts were always my bag. I find it hard to believe that in this day and age we still have to address the fact that girls don’t feel comfortable to take sciences and girls should be encouraged into the areas, but not at the expense of others.

This isn’t the same however as degrading the arts and humanities. My first music teacher told me I was ‘too academic to do music as a career’, another told me that I shouldn’t do music as I ‘didn’t practice enough’ even though I was stronger at the research and historical side, and when I decided to drop the maths side of my joint degree after first year and instead do a full music degree I had friends argue that it was a  bad decision, I’d drastically decrease my job prospects and that I wouldn’t earn as much. How on earth has this opinion become so ingrained?

I have not regretted my decision for one moment.

I definitely value the fact that I have a good numeracy level, and I enjoyed sciences to GCSE and took maths and further maths to A Level and into university, but that does not change the fact that music was my strength, I have learnt a huge range of skills through it and I am now pursuing a career in the arts, something I love. I will always be grateful that I went to a school that encouraged me to reach my potential in whatever field I wanted, regardless of earning potential or gender bias. Pupils should be encouraged to explore a range of interests but that does not mean that some interests are more valuable than others and that taking the arts and humanities closes doors. By not partaking in these areas you can close just as many doors as not studying STEM subjects.

Colour Bandits – KickThePJ / PJ Liguori

Youtube is a weird and wonderful world of creativity, bursting at the seams, over-flowing with new ideas and creators. There is a freedom about youtube that allows for an outpouring of innovation and original thought. I have been an avid viewer of youtubers since 2007 and I am still blown away by how creators continue to develop and evolve.

One of my favourite creators is the film maker PJ Liguori, aka KickThePJ. His quirky imagination is vividly translated onto the screen and I am really enjoying seeing him attempt more complex shoots, challenge his storytelling abilities and collaborate with other artists.

It’s at this point that I’d like to direct you to Colour Bandits.

Cinematography by Director Jamie Swarbrick and music by PJ, who plays the bandit, Colour Bandits is wonderful in it’s simplicity. The costume and make up by Sophie Newton and Louis Grant work perfectly. I find it very inspiring that a whole story can be told in 2 minutes, with only a plain white set, plain white clothing, and a collection of colourful powders. The music and the lilting tone of PJ’s voice meld with the artistry of the cinematography to create a whole new world.

It is a stand alone piece, as many of PJ’s works are, and I encourage you to explore them.

Director & Cinematography: Jamie Swarbrick

Music & Bandit: PJ Liguori

Costume & Make-up: Sophie Newton & Louis Grant

Additional Help: James Allen & Georgie Woodley

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.

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.