By Sarah Freestone, Creative Director
As Trinity Laban’s Animate Orchestra enters its second decade of existence, the scope of Animate projects and the development of the young musicians and the music they create has continued to astound me. High expectations are smashed at every turn and I have been wondering where do we go from here? Highly acclaimed collaborative projects with theatre, dance and film, a live performance at the BBC Proms on Radio 3 and BBC TV… what next?
Who knew that our next course would be plotted by the onset of a global pandemic…
With the migration of our 2020 Animate Artists project to an online format, we devised our latest composition For All The Neighsayers during four days of online workshops. As ever, we worked together as a whole group (25 for this project, age 10-17) and in smaller breakout groups working with tutors to create new music. Our stimulus for these sessions began with the life and music of Joseph de Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint Georges; an extraordinary violinist, composer, swordsman, army general and abolitionist of 18th Century Paris. We listened to his music, looked at Classical composition techniques, how to push the boundaries of our instruments as he did, and discussed our personal responses to his music.
These responses were then the starting point to create our first musical elements. ‘Rabbits’, ‘Chaotic Journey’, ‘Brave’, ‘Snowboarding’ and ‘Chaotic Ducks’ were among my many favourite words that the Animate musicians used in response to Boulogne’s music… We also used the numbers of his lifetime (1745-1799) as intervals, time signatures and note lengths as well as images of the eight parry positions of fencing to create melodic shapes (Boulogne was a champion fencer – John Adams the second President of the United States called him ‘the most accomplished man in Europe’).
As always happens, the amazing creativity of the young people of Animate took us in directions that could not have been anticipated… discussions on the historical development of swing and funk took us from Duke Ellington to Snarky Puppy, and a conversation about remote music making drew us to Stockhausen’s Helicopter String Quartet where the four players perform together from four separate helicopters, choreographed in the sky. These discussions (and many more) influenced our piece.
25 Helicopters not being part of the Trinity Laban budget, after some experimentation we worked out that up to seven instruments could be heard on Zoom playing together – not playing in time, as that is not possible online in different geographical locations and we were spread from the West Country to Scotland – and this is heard at the beginning of the piece. The other sections were recorded as ‘stems’ by the young musicians at home using their phones/tablets and I edited them together and produced the track.
For All The Neighsayers reflects the resilience of creativity in adversity. The remarkable achievements of Joseph de Boulogne in the concert hall, at the French Royal Court and on the battlefield are even more extraordinary as the illegitimate son of a Guadeloupe plantation owner and an African slave. It was announced this month that his life and music is being celebrated in a new biographical film Chevalier de Saint-Georges, written by Stefani Robinson and directed by Stephen Williams for Searchlight Pictures.
For All The Neighsayers would make a great soundtrack…