As the festival approaches, our celebration of the 150th birthday of Ralph Vaughan Williams, “What the Lark Saw” is in its final stages, with many of our community workshops now complete and a wealth of fantastic contributions from participants to share at our showcase on 26th July.
Throughout the year, the festival has been engaging with community organisations and schools from across the region, taking inspiration from Vaughan Williams’ most famous work, The Lark Ascending. Our aim has been to bring together contributions from a wide range of schools and community groups who have explored different art-forms as self-representation, guided by creative experts from the three counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Each group received a series of four workshops focusing on a particular discipline: live music, spoken word, textile art, dance, and electronic music.
At the core of the project is a new festival commission, a song cycle for mixed child and adult voices by Gloucestershire composer Liz Lane. Liz has not only taken inspiration from Vaughan Williams’ own love and respect for (local) folk song and heritage, but has visited each mini-project within the community and collaborated with every workshop facilitator throughout the project’s lifespan to bring together elements of each community’s work in her music.
The festival has been privileged to work with a talented and truly inspirational group of local creative leaders. We are grateful to dancer and choreographer Marie-Louise Flexen, actor and poet Edward Derbyshire, musicians Kate Gathercole, Mark Waters, J9 (Judge Singh) and Tim Keasley, and textile artist Joy Pollock, for their fantastic leadership and the way in which they have encouraged and shaped the work of our community participants across the project.
Our participants in 2023 have been members of the Gloucestershire Inclusion Hub network, The Severnside Singers, the Key Stage 2 pupils of Elmbridge, Hillview and Oakridge Primary Schools, the members of the Open Arms Collective, Cheltenham, and the members of the St. Briavels Memory Café, Forest of Dean.
Throughout the course of the workshops, the power of music has been clear. Actor and poet Edward Derbyshire, who worked with the Gloucester, Cheltenham and Forest of Dean Inclusion Hubs and the Gloucester Friendship Hub to create a collection of poems in response to The Lark Ascending, describes his experience of the project as “a really joyful journey” with an “unmistakeable and vibrant thread of hope.” He noted that “So many of the hubs…wanted to talk about what they see glimpses of beyond the urban landscape.”
Textile Artist Joy Pollock notes how in her Batik workshops with the Gloucester Friendship Hub and Forest of Dean Inclusion Hub, the participants “all found connections and common ground”. With many individuals having English as a second language, these visual art workshops were a perfect form of expression and communication without words.
The St. Briavels Memory Café workshops, led by Kate Gathercole and Mark Waters (Alula Down), in particular have produced unique responses to music and conversation, with the café’s co-ordinator describing the results as “Beautiful and profoundly moving.” The spontaneous thoughts and contributions from attendees – the majority of whom are living with dementia – and the way in which they listened to music, have fed into stunning soundscapes which will form some of the interludes to Liz Lane’s song cycle. Liz says: “I loved my two visits to St. Briavels – they were so joyful! Everything was beautifully organised and planned, from the cabaret-style tables with 'treasures' in the middle (such as photos), to all the volunteers, teas, coffees, cakes, sweets, sounds and music, fabulous musicians, Kate and Mark and their wonderful interaction with the visiting people, sharing and recording memories, and Rosie the dog. One personal memory for me was of a gentleman who used to play the drums – the Memory Café had given him a small drum to join in with the songs. He seemed quite disengaged with everything until Rosie the dog came round to his table to be made a fuss of – there was something in that moment which triggered a response and he just started joining in playing with the music.”
We are proud that the project has reached so many important members of the Gloucestershire community who might be considered as marginalised or ignored by society at large, whether due to neurodiversity, ethnic background or age – amongst other factors. Their important and fantastic work is now memorialised in the festival’s commission, “What the Lark Saw”, which will be performed for the first time by a massed intergenerational choir on Wednesday 26th July at 11am in Gloucester Cathedral.
Photo: Workshop participants at Elmbridge Primary School
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