My job as Music Director for this project essentially involved teaching four groups of children – 100 in total – the score of James And The Giant Peach. We had four different groups working on this project – two primary schools based near New Mills, one secondary school in Buxton and a youth choir based in Buxton. We also had two boys sharing the part of James himself.
A typical visit for me involved setting off from Nottingham at 7am and driving to New Mills. I’d spend the first 2 hours at Thornsett. In a typical workshop, we would do some warm-ups and then learn and rehearse the songs. If they have worked hard, as a reward I teach them the rabbit routine which they all love – you have to see it to understand but it’s basically silly moves to the Nutcracker suite! This group are a regular choir so they were used to the discipline of singing and rehearsal. Then Iwould hotfoot it to Buxton to catch St Thomas More for half an hour at lunch, and then another hour after school. This was the largest group – 40 students aged between 12 and 16. They have a mixed group, some very talented singers and performers and some with less experience. The last visit of the day is to the Madhatters Choir – who are always full of crisps and exuberant energy and great fun to rehearse. After that I may also have a rehearsal with James himself. The next morning I would drive back up to New mills, to visit HagueBarPrimary School. Here I worked with a whole class, which represents a different challenge. There are some lovely singers in the class but they are not so used to singing and performing together, so there can be quite a bit of cajoling and psychology involved in getting them to perform on a cold, wet Thursday morning. The staff were all great and very supportive in the process.
One of the great joys of the job is the travel and the scenery. I have experienced Derbyshire in the mist, the snow, the rain, the fog and even occasional glorious sunshine! And it is always breathtaking. Especially the early morning trip out to New Mills from Buxton.
My job also involved liaising with Graham Hall, who arranged the score for a 5 piece ensemble; he did a fantastic job – very inventive, creative arrangements that bring the songs to life. Sometimes I would have to ask him to make changes to help the children where I think they might have difficulties. I also worked closely with Liz, who is Choreographer for the event. I let her know how the children are getting on and we work out which bits each group will sing and dance.
My background is conducting, singing, piano playing and workshop leading, and I have to use all these skills at different times to get the job done. The piece comprises 17 songs and one of my first and most important jobs is to decide who sings what. However, I can’t really decide until I have seen all the groups and assessed what they can do. After that I hand out a few extra solos – a Centipede in the Madhatters Choir and a Caterpiller at St. Thomas More’s – that kind of thing! I have a total of six visits to get the groups ready for performance so it is quite an uphill struggle making sure we cover everything in sufficient detail before the final rehearsals, so that they are confident enough in what they are doing. To aid the process, I create and send the schools backing tracks to help them with the learning.
In addition to all this, we regularly have production meetings to decide how we fit all children into the space and how we put the show together – it is quite a logistical nightmare. Finally on the day my job is to put it all together musically – rehearse the ensemble and then run rehearsals, acting as the linchpin for the music.
I’m pleased to say, after the event, that it all went to plan; the children learned everything really well and they performed fantastically. I hope they all had a really positive experience.