By August 2014, we had a fairly coherent version of the script and score, with Sibelius software backing tracks created using sampled orchestral instruments. For the schools’ demos, Colchester Institute graduate Angie Diggens sang the female roles and children’s parts and I added the vocal parts for the adult male characters. This would form the basis of the resources for schools, produced on CD and via Dropbox, which reduced the cost for photocopying. We also created other curriculum resources for schools about conflict resolution and sustainability as these were the main elements of the plot, which eventually drive the young girl Sophie to be a child soldier, firing at her former friend’s family – and Bubble the dog.
As a fan of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, I designed a map to engage children’s imaginations beyond the story, which would compliment a number of extra-curricular opportunities (Art, English Literature, Drama etc.). The map was designed to try and reflect the actual social and industrial development of a fictitious island with a few key names drawn from the participants for added effect.
Knowing that the school children loved singing about Bubble (Ruff Ruff!), we had to decide whether the dog would survive the shooting during the conflict. In version one, she survived well and had seven puppies. This was far too sickly sweet so in version 2 she did not survive. Alongside the sombre version of the dog theme (nicknamed Schindler’s Bubble for obvious musical references to a violin solo), we foresaw 150 children in tears during the performance – we were keen to not reveal the plot to them apart from the song lyrics that they would sing as this would keep them engaged more. However by the third attempt, we resurrected the dog, who survived with a few war-wounds but would still not have a chance (in hell) of catching seagulls.
By September 5th, the supposed “final” composition and script was complete although we realised it needed some pruning to tighten the plot and pace and to improve the consistency of the narration. This was complete by January 2015 with orchestral scores, piano vocal scores and orchestral parts printed by February for an intense rehearsal schedule with Ely Sinfonia at The King’s School, Ely.
I filmed and edited a full 45 minute documentary of an orchestral rehearsal in Ely to capture the development of the performance and timing of the narration with a live orchestra. This is available for the production team, research panel and musicians on request (via email or Twitter @Phil_Toms). Thanks must go to Colchester Institute Head of Contemporary Strings, Tim Pells, who took on Jeremy’s former role as guitarist, most excellently.
Meanwhile, back in Colchester at the start of Semester 2 in February 2015, Dr. Mark Bellis started to rehearse his Cantores chamber choir, comprising BA Hons and Diploma music students. Along with learning Hereward by composer Richard Brown, I helped by supervising a couple of rehearsals as “composer in residence”. The rehearsal process and concerts were included as part of the assessment process for the degree students, who were also performing at Bury Cathedral and other concert halls during the year. It was a challenge to perform a new work with other unknown elements, only coming together on the day.
Colchester Institute Scholarly Research funding (about 10% of the overall cost of the project) covered travel costs for myself, the Cantores choir and additional musicians to travel to Ely on the rehearsal and concert days, the new website and the production of the printed scores and materials for our choir and the orchestra. This was an invaluable experience for the choir who performed to approximately 400 in the audience along with a full orchestra (sadly no longer available at the college), 150 children and the other adult choir. The students responded with dedication and ownership of these pieces and enjoyed a truly memorable – and vocational – experience.
The rehearsal day was expertly documented by Steve’s YouTuber daughter Jenny Bingham and her professional (but candid) photos are available on the Ely Sinfonia Island webpage and, in future, on the new Island website that we will use to market the sale of the composition for future performances. www.myislandhome.co.uk
With the, more contemporary, Hereward left to rehearse and 150 school children to wrangle, yes, wrangle, time was short but we managed to get everything ready for the 7pm concert, purposefully early for the young participants and audience.
Recording engineer Mark Fawcett (from Fish Need Snorkels) recorded a multitrack feed of the orchestra, soloists and choir with an impressive mic set up (including the revered Decca Tree). Although we encountered some unexpected signal disruption from Jeremy’s radio mic, the final recording, as mixed laboriously by Steve, is impressive and I’m proud of the whole process and thank the production team for a successful project. The children responded well and from all accounts it exceeded its brief.