Written to coincide with the ‘anniversary’ of the First World War, Island is an original work by Jeremy Harmer and Phil Toms for narrator, child and adult soloists, choir and orchestra, telling a story of conflict which is resolved, in the end, through music because “once people have made music together, once people have sung the same songs together in beautiful harmony then maybe they will never be enemies ever again.” (JH, 2013)
Jeremy Harmer is a successful writer, especially in the field of English Language Teaching (ELT). He is also a performing musician, singer-songwriter and spoken-word performer.
Conductor Steve Bingham is a renowned violinist, equally at home with his 5 string electric violin and looping equipment, leading a full symphony orchestral or performing and coaching with the Bingham String Quartet.
I’m a performing musician, composer and arranger who taught extensively at both primary and secondary levels. I am currently Head of HE Digital Media, Music and Performing Arts at Colchester Institute and I was able to draw on my 20 years of music teaching to produce the oratorio.
Island was commissioned and funded by Ely Sinfonia and the Arts Council with additional funding by the Colchester Institute Scholarly Research Fund as an action research project. The following extensive blog is to review the process and outcomes of writing a community based work and the further benefits that has for society and children in education, especially in the overwhelming climate of conflict, notably leading to the Government’s “Prevent” policies in July 2015.
Ely Sinfonia – Roz Chalmers
Ely Sinfonia was founded in November 1999 by a group led by ADeC (Arts Development in East Cambridgeshire) with the aim of becoming a beacon of excellence as East Cambridgeshire’s own community orchestra.
Today, Ely Sinfonia is made up of players of all ages and backgrounds, including school and college students, business professionals, retired individuals and local music teachers. Their repertoire ranges from the contemporary (including special commissions) to mainstream works. They are sponsors of the Cambridge Young Composer of the Year competition and winners’ pieces are played at their concerts. They have close links with the cathedral, providing an orchestra for services such as the Easter Day mass.
With a commitment to develop, encourage and enable music-making in the community of Ely and its surrounding area, they run orchestral workshops and have arranged concerts specifically for children. The aim with this commission was to develop the orchestra’s outreach work by engaging children in active participation in a performance.
The process was collaborative often using online Skype sessions, Dropbox file sharing and email to develop ideas and share demos remotely between Ely, Cambridge and Colchester. Roz Chalmers took the responsibility for the majority of fundraising and schools’ co-ordination whilst Jeremy and I were the main creative team. Roz’s work with schools’ workshops, Cathedral liaison and financial assistance was invaluable along with workshop leader Rebecca Duckworth who taught the songs and engaged the 500 or so Key Stage 2 children and teachers who participated in the workshops. For the final concert, 150 children signed up for the performance, which was a comfortable number given the staging and space available. Thank you Roz!