Montague’s Song – a re-uniting, and a reprise

A very special moment happened on Saturday when, 100 years to the hour when he was lost at the Battle of the Somme, Coventry violinist Montague Johnson’s Memorial Plaque (colloquially known as a Dead Man’s Penny) was re-united with his city. The medal had been discovered in 1963 by Kim Kenny, as a 5 year old girl, in a shed in the garden of her then home in Allesley. She looked after it over those intervening years, long since having moved away from Coventry – and it was her who brought it to the premiere of Montague’s Song at St John the Baptist Church (where Montague’s name is recorded on a stained glass window). It was revealed part way through the performance, to the surprise of Ray Hammond, a relative of Montague’s, who was in the audience.

medal_reunited

L-R: Chris O’Connell (writer, narrator); Kim Kenny & Ray Hammond (with the medal); Derek Nisbet (composer, musician). Photo: Alan Van Wijgerden

The medal will go on display later this month at the Visitor’s Centre in War Memorial Park, on a cushion specially created by textile artist Julia O’Connell of Theatre Absolute, (co-producer of Montague’s Song). This completes the circle, as it was the picture of Montague there in the ‘Missing Faces’ exhibition that began the search for his story, nearly 3 years ago.

 

The church was full on Saturday so by popular demand we’re doing a reprise performance (with a collection in aid of St John’s) this Sunday 11th Sept at 1pm. No booking needed (it’s part of the church  Heritage Open Day events) but early arrival advised!

https://www.facebook.com/events/608944519275493/

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Composer’s Blog – Guide Gods

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I’m in Glasgow working as composer and musician for a new show called Guide Gods. I worked with Claire (Cunningham) some years back in two aerial dance shows she performed in with Blue Eyed Soul Dance Company, directed by Jess Curtis. Featuring prominently in the soundtracks for both those shows were voices – speaking, not singing, but woven into the musical fabric of the sound scores.

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You will hear voices in this show too – the voices of people Claire has interviewed over recent weeks and months, as they described to her their relationship to disability and their relationship to, well, God, or gods, or indeed no god. It was a journey of enquiry that began for Claire in Cambodia, chatting to a Buddhist monk – but she’ll tell you about that, in her voice.

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You’ll also hear her sing, and me play a harmonium – Ivor Cutler fans will be familiar with the model, a “missionary” instrument, used to take musical worship to places ordinary organs could not reach… I’m reliably informed they were deployed on the beaches not far from Glasgow. When they reached the Indian sub-continent, Indian musicians appropriated them, put the bellows on the back, to be played sitting on the floor, and in this form they are used to accompany prayer and song in both Sikh and Hindu temples. I like the way instruments and musical styles evolve like this, crossing borders and cultures, without going through Passport Control.

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Several other voices have joined us in the rehearsal room so far – Tom, voice of the audience, helping unlock the humour and visual counterpoint to the words and music, Karen, Designer, Chris, Audio Describer, who is cast, not entirely frivolously, as the Voice of God, and Captioner, Louisa, who will give a simultaneous transcription for deaf and hearing-impaired audience members. Making the show accessible to anyone who wants to experience it is a central part of Claire’s vision – and involving these voices from an early stage ensures that the access solutions, far from being a bolt-on, will be integral and will become a beneficial part of every audience member’s experience.

So, back to work on the show – Guide Gods is part of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014 cultural programme, and will then travel to London’s South Bank Centre and on to Belfast Festival. Hope you can join us on its journey.

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Twin Song Premiere

Last Friday 4th April 2014 Twin Song received its world premiere at Coventry Cathedral, performed by the Volgograd Children’s Symphony Orchestra and members of the Coventry Youth Wind Orchestra, conducted by Yuri Ilynov. You can hear it in two versions here: the salon version with piano, and the performance at the Cathedral (singers: Louise Wayman and Sam Fox; narrator (voicing Mother Russia) Victoria Agache).

And watch the video here:

Twin Song is a symphonic poem marking 70 years of friendship between Coventry and Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) – a bond of friendship officially formed in 1944 made them the first twin cities in the world. It was a friendship instigated by ordinary people – a tablecloth stitched with names by women in Coventry in 1942 was sent to Stalingrad, and a book signed by 16,000 Russian women was sent to Coventry (these can be seen in the Panorama Museum in Volgograd and the Herbert Peace & Reconciliation gallery in Coventry resepectively). Hence the reference to “Unseen fingers trace the stitches, names of strangers” in the song. Motherland Calling – the name of the 2nd movement – is the nameof the great statue depicting Mother Russia that stands on Mamayev Hill in Volgograd.

You can find out more about the twinning here:

http://www.talkingbirds.co.uk/twin60/

Myself and Peter Cann worked with pupils from two Coventry primary schools in the creation of Twin Song – Southfields and Aldermoor Farm – and their ideas are reflected in the finished piece. Indeed the pupils of Southfields heard the unofficial premiere of parts 1 & 3 on Weds 2nd April, as the schools hosted a workshop/concert by the visiting Volgograd orchestra. The final lines of the piece –

Better to be twins
Than be cold
to each other.

– were the wonderfully apt idea of a pupil at Aldermoor Farm.

We’re grateful to Carol Brown who masterminded the orchestra’s visit and to Coventry City Council whose Small Arts Grant scheme helped fund the commission.

Lyrics by Peter Cann:
1st Movement – I am Coventry
I am the bicycle,
wheels are turning.
Turn
from Godiva riding naked down the street.
Turn
on the table, let them feel the two tone beat.
I am the bicycle,
wheels are turning.
Turn
to the three tall spires stretching for the sky
Sky Blues
where are you? Oh Ricoh, Ricoh why?
I am the bicycle,
wheels are turning
Turn
I am the bicycle
Wheels are turning
Jets are burning
Lathes are spinning
Casting
Forging
Clocks and watches
Engines
motors
Tractors
Turbines
Armour
Weapons.

Clocks and watches
Engines
motors
Tractors
Turbines
Armour
Weapons.

2nd Movement: Motherland calling.

Mother Russia-
Oh my children,
Through the smoke that burns my eyes
I watch you stumble,
Fingers clawing through the stone
of the wounded city
Oh my children.

Mother Russia Oh the mothers
Singers Oh the mothers
Mother Russia Oh the mothers
Singers From the smoke that burns their eyes
Mother Russia from the smoke that burns their eyes
Singers they turn their faces.
Mother Russia they turn their faces.
Singers Hands are reaching from the stone
Mother Russia Hands are reaching from the stone
Singers of the wounded city
Mother Russia of the wounded city
Mother Russia And the mothers
Singers And the mothers
Mother Russia And the mothers
Singers Turn their faces
Mother Russia Turn their faces
Singers Towards the ocean
Mother Russia Across the ocean
Singers 2000 miles
Mother Russia Their eyes are meeting
Singers 2000 miles
Mother Russia Their eyes are meeting
Singers 2000 miles
Singers Their eyes are meeting.

3rd movement: The Twin Cities
Coventry
Volgograd
Coventry
Volgograd
Coventry
Volgograd

1.
Unseen fingers trace the stitches,
names of strangers.
Unheard voices try the sound of
names of strangers.

2.
In ravaged cities
connected cities
across the distance
across the decades.

3.
Unseen fingers trace the stitches
names of strangers.
Unseen fingers trace the stitches, names of strangers.
Unheard voices try the sound of
names of strangers.

4.
In changing cities
connected cities
across the distance
across the decades.

5.
In spite of walls and politicians
a bond unbroken
In spite of difference and suspicion
a bond unbroken.

6.
In changing cities
connected cities
across the distance
across the decades.

7.
Now a chill wind is ruffling the borders.
Now a chill wind is ruffling the borders.

8.
Better to be twins
Than be cold
to each other

Better to be twins
Than be cold
to each other.

Better to be twins
Better to be twins
Than be cold
Than be cold
to each other
to each other

9.
Coventry
Coventry

Volgograd
Volgograd

Coventry
Coventry

Volgograd
Volgograd

Coventry
Volgograd

Ant & Cleo blogpost

Workshop 1, 28th Feb 2014

Today is the start of a journey that will culminate on the 7th & 8th of November at Stratford Civic Hall – show time for our new, musical take on the epic tale of Antony & Cleopatra (or Ant & Cleo as we prefer to call them). This episodic blog will keep you posted on our progress – because, as it was you that voted for Antony & Cleopatra – The Musical in The People’s Millions, we’d like you to come with us!

Peter Cann (Director), Nick Walker (writer/librettist) and me (Composer) are at Welcombe Hills School in Stratford, where we observe the school’s daily ritual – an energetic Shake Up ‘n’ Wake Up routine. This freeform bop to a funky soundtrack should surely be adopted around the globe as a caffeine substitute (or at least in lieu of that extra shot). It’s characteristic of this school – and many Special Educational Needs settings – that the approach to just about every aspect of school life is imaginative, playful and progressive.

The first 3 sessions are about getting to know our team – at Welcombe Hills, that’s about 30 pupils aged 9-11 with a variety of special needs – or rather, what’s more important to us, an astonishing amount of imaginative power and creative talent – and working out with them how we are going to tell the story. We have the bare bones of the narrative courtesy of Plutarch (source for Shakespeare’s version), but at this stage everything else is up for grabs.

Peter uses signing/actions to introduce the characters – what’s a good sign for Antony, the Roman Soldier? What’s a good sign for Egypt? Next: where might A & C arrange to meet? ‘Costa Coffee! A big music place ! A lighthouse!’ Then divide into Romans & Egyptians and find different ways of moving for each side. I provide some musical accompaniment – at this stage it’s all about improvising, unlocking and capturing ideas and me and Nick keep notes which will later be sifted and shaped into the script and score.

Every child will have their own way of contributing, some will readily be involved, for others it will be a more a gradual process – we rely on the close involvement of teachers and teaching assistants to help us overcome any communication barriers and start to find connections. One pupil really responds to what I’m playing on the piano and violin and together we come up with a little theme tune based on his name. I record this so I can use it next time.

In the afternoon we head to Bray’s School in Birmingham where we’re again given a warm welcome and see familiar faces of staff and students who were involved in our last opera epic Troy Story. [http://www.talkingbirds.co.uk/pages/troystory.asp]

We have a team of about 30 here too – again with a wide variety of special needs, but more importantly a full spectrum of wicked senses of humour. Here ‘Asda!’ is proposed as a good rendez-vous spot for the heroes. Everyone’s keen to do some singing – we unleash range of musical instruments and melodic and rhythmic ideas come from the floor for the words ‘Cle-o-pa-tra’ and ‘An-to-ny’. Composing can be exciting in solitude, but seldom as exciting as it is in a room of 40 people. Here it’s a team sport, and anyone can take the ball.

From the name-patterns emerge two longer musical phrases, to which Nick puts some words; then we string them together into an embryonic song. What we sing as the culmination of the session is work-in-progress and will evolve further, but the imprint of everyone in this room on the finished piece will be unmistakable. We’re off!

Derek Nisbet, Talking Birds

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http://www.orchestraoftheswan.org/shop/troy-story-dvd/

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You can pre-order a CD of Troy Story via the Talking Birds website