Paston 600 Footprints composer Sarah Rodgers – part two

Commissioned to compose a new work as part of our upcoming ‘Paston 600 Footprints’ project with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Sarah Rodgers shares insight into the composing process in the second of a series of updates tracking the progress of this new composition.

Paston papers commission starts to take shape. Sarah Rodgers unveils ‘Agnes’ – a pocket oratorio


Letter from Agnes Paston to her husband William, 20 April 1440

The last four weeks have been taken up with developing a creative concept for the piece I am going to write to contribute to the 600th anniversary celebrations of the first Paston family letter. That takes us back to the 15th century and gives me one thread of thought.

Add to that, another major anniversary in 2018, that of women’s suffrage in England and a second thread emerges which is to focus on the Paston women and their letter-writing.

One more element comes into play which is that St Nicholas North Walsham, where the new piece is to be performed on 1st July this year, have recently instigated a girls’ choir to be trained in church music tradition. The church already has a long-established choir with 16 boy trebles and to include both choirs seems a good opportunity.

With these resources, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment playing period instruments, the model of an oratorio quickly came to mind. However, an oratorio is usually a work on a very large scale and as the piece will be tailored to about 8-10 minutes for its place in the programme, my oratorio will have to be very much a miniature. And so, using extracts from the earliest of the Paston women letter-writers and naming the piece for her, I have come up with Agnes – a pocket oratorio.

At the beginning of March, not long after the recent snows, I made two trips to North Walsham to hear both the trebles and the girls in rehearsal.  This really helps me to shape the music so that I can get the best out of their voices and write for them parts that they will find singable, enjoyable and a little bit challenging.

Meeting the choirs also gives me hints on how to use the text that will give the oratorio its story.  It’s always good to know who you are writing your music for, to get a sense of the character of the performers and to give them the opportunity to ask me questions.  The most searching question about the new piece was, without a doubt, “Will it be good?”

Of course it will . . . a further progress report soon!

Sarah Rodgers

(published 22 March 2018)

The world premiere of this new work will be performed by Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in North Walsham, Norfolk on Sunday 1 July 2018. More details here.

Find out more about Sarah and her work here.

Read part one of Sarah’s blog series here, and part three here.