Few things are more rewarding than seeing a large-scale performance come together in its entirety. In 1995, we began to explore the potential of multi-school projects, bringing together Year 5 pupils from Canon Barnett Primary School, Year 6 pupils from Thomas Buxton Junior School, and Years 7 & 8 from Swanlea School, to create a spectacular music theatre piece written and produced by this newly-formed group with support from professional artists.
Led by the late composer David Bedford, pupils were given a photo of a derelict building near Swanlea School as a starting point and invited to create a story based on the idea that a group of friends explore the house after school. What do they find in the disused building and what happens after dark? From this initial spark, the children were able to tell the tale of The Old House complete with storyline, libretto, vocal and instrumental music, costumes, and props.
The story evolved as each group visited the building, creating a cliff-hanger ending for the next group to continue from. To provide the pupils with as many creative avenues to explore as possible, we invited artists into the schools to encourage the children to think about different ways they could tell the story, including storyteller Vergine Gulbenkian, percussionist Ben Clark and vocalist Linda Hirst.
There were also intensive song-writing classes where pupils developed songs inspired by the storyline, one of which became the grand finale performed by everyone.
To bring all the elements together and turn it into a performance, National Theatre director Edward Kemp helped get it on stage. Towards the end of the project, it was awarded a Composers in Education Award from the Performing Rights Society.
Although many artists contributed to the development of The Old House, project leader David Bedford was very clear that their roles were to enable the children to realise their potential and claim ownership of their work, something that continues to be pride of place in our work today. Throughout our Learning & Participation programme, we pride ourselves on providing children with access to the guidance and skills of exceptional composers and musicians which enables them to create to the best of their ability.
Since The Old House we’ve continued to unite groups of schools together, including some memorable performances at the Royal Academy of Music (including this year’s Sing Together). We’ve also continued to develop projects that place children’s creativity at the centre of activity, with our new Takeover project taking this even further. In a broader sense, The Old House is also a root to some of our largest ever projects, including Jonathan Dove’s On Spital Fields (more on that soon) and 2011’s award-winning We Are Shadows.