Poetry belongs in the community: that’s my starting point as a working poet. Let people have it and do with it what they will. So, it’s been a great pleasure to help put that into practice in Wiltshire in recent months, alongside one of the world’s most distinctive orchestras, The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE). This ground-breaking ensemble, which plays on instruments from bygone eras, landed in Wiltshire in February in partnership with Wiltshire Music Centre (WMC) as part its innovative Watercycle Project – an orchestral journey through the urban landscapes of England – and since then has been drawing in Wiltshire children and adults to create a unique concerto for the county.
Excitingly for me, the concerto has been inspired by my poem Replenishment, which won a competition calling for poems on the theme of the local significance of water, run by the WMC. But an even bigger buzz has been to collaborate with the OAE, composers, teachers, primary and secondary pupils, the general public and WMC staff, and watch the project take shape.
One highlight was seeing people excitedly going into a sound booth at the WMC to record single lines of my poem for use in a digital overture composed locally by WMC venue technician Dan Thomason, then hearing those soundbites jigsawed together. I was deeply moved by the richly-textured ‘chorus’ of local voices – it felt like my local community was giving me the gift of my own poem, living and breathing.
There followed a brilliant morning with Dan and OAE clarinettist Katherine Spencer, talking through how my ideas in the poem might be interpreted musically, and, in deconstructing my own work, I realised that while at its most literal, it is about a walk by the river and canal in Bradford on Avon, it is also about a journey from cold to warmth, bleakness to hope.
I accompanied members of the OAE to workshops with pupils at St Augustine’s College, St John’s Primary, Grove Primary and Christ Church Primary, and was unfailingly impressed by the musicians’ rapport with the children – 240 of them in total – and the phenomenally creative, insightful work the children produced.
The primary school workshops explored the theme of water through Handel’s Water Music and a specially-composed song, Watercycle; the scope was ambitious, covering everything from the evaporation-condensation-precipitation cycle, to awareness about the charity WaterAid.
The secondary students worked on ideas based on Replenishment with composer James Redwood, to produce a tone poem that the younger children could sing. Again, a profound experience hearing my words in that new, rich context.
Everyone is now looking forward to the culmination of all this – a series of concerts at the WMC, starting with an interactive schools concert on 24 April, which will be a brilliant showcase of what the children have achieved, on a professional stage, with world-class musicians. That evening will see the first ever ‘Night Shift’ concert in Wiltshire: the OAE’s ground-breaking classical night aimed at introducing young people to classical music – in the WMC bar!
On 25 April, there will be a water-themed Tots’ concert, then a final, community celebration featuring excerpts from Handel’s Water Music and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with the OAE, the new digital overture, the local Paragon Singers choir, and young musicians from St Augustine’s College – complete with full audience participation! For ticket details see WMC’s website or call 01225 860100
Meanwhile, The Wiltshire Music Centre’s input into this project has been tremendous, and, in a first for them, they have launched a crowdfunding campaign to help support the Watercycle Project and music opportunities for young people. Find out more here.