In this new mini blog series, Music Leader Sarah Freestone, traces the progress of our Create Yarmouth project with the London Mozart Players, as activity moves online after the pandemic stopped the project in its tracks earlier this year.
With the postponement of the July 2020 performance that was to have been the culmination of this project, the continued delivery of creative composition workshops moved online from the Autumn term. I have been working with four schools in Great Yarmouth (two primary and two secondary) helping them to create their own pieces of music to be performed alongside the London Mozart Players and a large group of young violinists from local schools Their performance will be the grand finale of an orchestral concert performed by the London Mozart Players featuring composers that reflect the history and diversity of Great Yarmouth. As well as writing the music to play themselves, all the young musicians have contributed music that will be played by the orchestra.
During the initial workshops - although at the time we didn’t know the performance was going to be postponed and there were going to be more! - we looked at the theme of Journey; how people have made their journey to Great Yarmouth and what our own personal journeys may look like in the future. This has become more poignant with the onset of Covid-19 and the necessary restrictions placed on our lives.
The legacy of the Huguenots immigrants from the Dutch and French-speaking Low Countries in the 16th Century can be seen throughout the county; from the gabled architecture and the Dutch engineers’ projects to drain the Fens, to the design of the ‘Dutch Pier’ which secured the mouth of the harbour at Great Yarmouth, only being finally replaced in 1962.
These ‘Strangers’, as they were known, were refugees fleeing religious persecution in their own countries and were welcomed, along with the canaries that were brought with them which gave their name to a certain football club… They were Norfolk’s nearest neighbours, Amsterdam being only a day’s travel in the 16th century as opposed to the four days it took to reach London, a journey of roughly the same distance.
Musically we used the idea of the Carillon, a musical instrument from the Low Countries made of bells, to help us create a soundworld. We also created our own scales based on the music of the Balkans, reflecting the Lithuanian, Latvian and Polish population in Great Yarmouth. Balkan music also links well to the venue for our performance, the beautiful Great Yarmouth Minster, also known as the Parish Church of St Nicolas.
St Nicolas was born in what is now known as Turkey around 1,600 years ago and is the patron saint of sailors and children (hence the connection to Father Christmas). With our workshops now continuing online in preparation for our rescheduled concert next year, we have taken the opportunity to extend our musical boundaries even further and have used Benjamin Britten’s Saint Nicolas as our stimulus for creating new music this term.
Britten was born in Suffolk and created the world-famous Aldeburgh Festival less than 40 miles down the coast from Great Yarmouth. The piece seems entirely appropriate to study as it was written for a school and featured a massed ensemble of musicians and singers that was a mix of professionals and amateurs. Just like our project! Using the young peoples’ responses to his music, we are creating more material and extending our piece further than we originally thought possible. A happy opportunity to come out of the difficulties of lockdown and Covid-19.
This week has seen the first virtual creative workshops taking place in each of the four schools and, yet again, I am bowled over by the imagination and desire to create in the young people of Great Yarmouth. I now have a lot of work to do to co-ordinate their ideas into the individual musical moments that will feature each school and tie it all together before our next sessions in the New Year - a happy task!