Members of the massed choir will be performing at least nine songs at the Royal Albert Hall – and some of them are newly composed songs which will never have been heard before.
Even older songs which everyone knows exist in lots of different versions, with different verses, arrangements, endings and beginnings, so it’s a major task to make sure that every one of the nearly 2,000 young people has learnt the same song, in the same way so that the performance sounds perfect and everyone can join in.
Sheena Masson is the person charged with the task of making sure that everyone is on board (and on the same boat!) for the journey. Her task starts more than a year before the performance, when she starts collecting suggestions from colleagues in schools for good songs. The songs need to work for a big choir in a large space but also be performable in school, they need to be something that children of all ages, and their teachers will enjoy singing again and again, and they need in some way to represent the diversity and energy that is Camden.
Once the songs have been chosen and arranged, the music and words are printed, copied and sent out to all 50 of our schools. But that’s not all. Sheena also organises the recording of all the parts of all the pieces so that everyone can hear exactly what the songs should sound like, and can use the CDs to rehearse with if they don’t have a pianist or music specialist in their school. Lots of people have been involved in the recording process – Ros Savournin and Richard Lake play the piano accompaniments.
In the picture, Sheena is at the mixing desk with Richard Lake at the microphone. The recordings are available for listening where, along with Ros, Richard and Sheena, you will also hear the voices of Rich Barnard, Theresa Nyandoro and Rod Arran.
A big thank you has to go to Sheena’s next door neighbours for putting up with quite so much singing over the past couple of weeks!
Camden Youth Orchestra is one of the borough’s senior ensembles, catering for players of orchestral instruments who play at an advanced level. It rehearses for only four intensive weekends a year, performs in major London venues and undertakes foreign tours.
Riashat Hossain, a sixth-form pupil at Camden School for Girls, has recently been appointed Leader of the orchestra. Riashat started violin at Rhyl Primary School and has attended the borough’s Saturday Music Centre since he was 11. He is the current holder of the Bob Litchfield violin – an instrument we were able to buy with a generous donation from former LEA chief Robert Litchfield, who started the Camden Schools’ Music Festivals at the Royal Albert Hall. The Bob Litchfield violin is loaned to pupils who are making excellent progress in violin playing, and who need a better instrument than the models we have in our hire stock.
We talked to Riashat after the first weekend of rehearsals for this season:
Riashat, you’ve just been appointed as Leader of the Camden Youth Orchestra – what does that involve?
It’s an astonishing feeling being the leader of the Camden Youth Orchestra. It involves arriving at rehearsals 20 minutes early to get everything ready, practice difficult passages and communicating with relevant staff. Also, being in this role requires me to look after present as well as new members of the orchestra and making them feel welcome. The leader position will provide me with a lot of experience for the future regardless of the career. It also provides valuable knowledge as a player about how to approach diverse types of music. In addition, I have developed leadership skills such as managing my section while communicating with the conductor and tutors regarding preparation for rehearsals. The leader position will enhance my ability to be a team player as well as leading it. I am gaining valuable experience which will prepare me for the future.
How did you start playing the violin and how long have you been learning?
I came across the violin at the start of Year 3 at Rhyl Primary School, I wanted to learn to play the violin ever since I found out the magnificent sound it produces and about orchestral playing; and it was a chance to meet with other young musicians who share the same experience. I have been involved in various other ensembles which lead me to CYO. I’ve been playing the violin for 10 years running.
How long have you been in the Orchestra? What other memorable things have you done as a member?
I have been with the Camden Youth Orchestra since 2005. During this time, the orchestra has gone abroad a couple of times to Germany and France. This was an exceptional experience for me as it gave me a chance to share music across countries. Another thing was performing at the Royal Albert Hall, this was a big experience for me and it was my first time playing at such a colossal venue. Finally, the most memorable event was being loaned the Bob Litchfield violin by Camden Music Services. It was such an honour to be able to play the violin of someone who has devoted himself to Camden’s pupils.
Have you played at the Albert Hall before? Is it fun? What is it like backstage?
Yes, I’ve played at the Albert Hall twice in 2008 and 2010, it was an incredible experience both times and I did enjoy myself a lot. Being backstage is relaxing, although the real excitement is walking through the tunnel and getting ready to perform.
The date has been set – 19 March 2012 – and we all know the venue. It’s that huge, red-brick, cake-shaped place on the other side of Hyde Park, that’s right – Royal Albert Hall. Home of the celebrity farewell gala, the BBC Proms and, since 1998, the biennial Camden Schools’ Music Festival, where every Camden maintained school is represented in a choir of 2,000 and a wide range of ensemble performances.
The music team has been in discussion with colleagues in both primary and secondary schools since mid-summer about this year’s songs – we need songs that will stretch, enthuse and excite both primary and secondary students, that will be varied in style, that will in some way represent some of the huge diversity of people we have in our borough, and that will work when sung by a choir of 2,000 voices. Then we have to decide how each song will be accompanied – anything from one piano to 200 young players might be needed.
The borough’s senior ensembles – the Camden Concert Band, the Camden Youth Jazz Band, and the Camden Youth Orchestra – traditionally perform some of the accompaniments as well as a feature item each. Their rehearsals started this weekend – Aisha, here with her tuba, is a brand new member of the Concert Band, and is already hard at work learning the pieces they will be performing this year.
Thursday 28 and Friday 29 July
Thursday was spent exploring Lyon, from the fruit and veg market outside our hotel to the Basilica at the top of the hill in the city. We saw Roman amphitheatres, still in use today for theatrical presentations, the old town, lots of little shops, restaurants and crepe stalls, and the wonderful Museum of Miniatures.
We had planned a final visit to Flunch, but to universal sorrow (for sorrow, read relief, Ed.) we had to stay in town for an extra hour and eat proper food instead. Returning to the hotel for one last fond look, we packed the coach in record time and set off for home.
The journey back was entirely uneventful, except for kind presentations to staff by students, and we arrived at CSG at 10am, exactly as advertised. Again, a good effort by all resulted in record-breaking unpacking, and everyone was heading home to bed by 10.30! Amazing. No photos – I was too tired to focus – but the memories will stay fresh.
Signing off until the next one,
Mostly written on Wednesday morning….
“We have really enjoyed the trip so far, especially the concert at the vineyard village hall. The crowd was massive and very kind and treated us really well. They even taught us their special clap, which was epic!” – Imogen
“On Monday the concert was cancelled because of the rain but we did a concert in the hotel foyer. It went well. On Tuesday we went to a deserted town called Oingt which had one cafe and loads of vineyards. The concert was moved to the community hall because of the rain. After a rocky start, the concert went really well for both CYO and CCB and they even asked for an encore. Then, Richard and Ian got converted to this cult and we learned how to applaud French-style. Then we had the wine tasting, and we only had ‘one glass’ each. On the way back we had a ‘Ninja War’ on the coach. We got back about midnight. Then the teachers were spying on us all night (apart from Ian who was apparently in the bar all night) but overall the tour’s been good so far.” – Sarah, Susie and Bella
Editor’s note: some allegations made in these pages may not be entirely true, and are offered for the sake of completeness and without prejudice.
“The best part of my holiday so far has to be swimming in the lake with the beautiful view of the mountains. The water slide was EPIC!! Maybe not the getting completely burnt bit, though. Also playing ‘Ninja’ in the rain was awesome. Can’t wait to explore Lyon tomorrow.” – Harrison
“We liked the reception after the concert because they were wearing funny outfits and we got to learn how they clap. There was a really strange ceremony and we got to taste wine.” – Sarah
“I dropped my symbol during a silent moment in the concert last night. I bowed, it was OK…” – Sam
“The highlights so far: Mr Brookman and Mr Martyn taking an oath in French… some people had food so it was tied to a bed sheet and lowered down, then thrown across to us.” – Anon
“At the concert last night we discovered a new kind of applause which made us look like we were joining some kind of tribe!” – Mabel, Freddy, Jude, Rachel
“On the way to the vineyard lots of us were crammed into a van and driven up a big hill. However some of us brave walkers marched up, avoiding passing cars and vans.” – Anon
“Flunch: Never forgive, never forget.” – Remus
“It’s Flunch, Motherfluncher.” – Anon
We spent a very pleasant day at the water park by the lake at Aix les Bains, swimming and playing footie. Sadly, after a sunny day, the clouds gathered and rained off our concert in Chambery, so we returned to the hotel for Quiz Night and Ninja. A slightly later start this morning gave an opportunity for some writing, here are some of the less incriminating items.
Fenja – “France has been rather eventful. We were rained on, a lot. I really enjoyed the tour of Lyon – it was beautiful! One of the best things was composing a jingle for the infamous Flunch. Ours should have won! The trip and concert at the vineyard was amazing. They were very hospitable and lovely. High point – vineyard. Low point – losing Flunch jingle competition.”
Oli, Anna and Tasha – “Sam Marcus looks great in mascara. He might be sleeping with one eye open on the next coach journey. Hooray for our French saviours at the vineyard for coming to the rescue with an army of white vans when our coach couldn’t handle the romantic twists and turns of the rolling French hills, and for feeding us all so well. What a fantastic evening!”
Tuesday 26 July
Another very busy day. We spent the morning seeing the sights of Lyon with our three excellent tour guides, Nicolas, Claire and The Lady with the Red Umbrella. They showed us Lyon’s famous murals, the Traboules – tiny cobbled passageways – the Cathedral with its clock and automata, and the Great Park and new international conference centre.
Lunch at the hotel was followed by an intermittently wet hour in the tiny and very pretty village of Oingt, where nearly everything was closed. At St Leger we visited the vineyard of the Domaine de Baron L’Ecluse and then drove to the Salle des Fêtes, where our concert had been relocated because of the unreliable weather. A large audience were delighted with our playing and the Amis de Brouilly conducted a special ceremony and made our conductors members of their order. Both of them received certificates, medals and a special straw boater. They are invited to the annual picnic and celebration of the wine next September.
As I write, the young musicians demonstrate their vocal prowess on the top deck of the bus and we look forward to another peaceful night.
Monday 25 July
I’m writing this whilst sitting on watch on the third floor corridor. This hotel is perfect for us, our party is arranged along two straight corridors, both equipped with magic lights. These are motion-activated, so every time a door opens and a naughty head peeps out, I can offer my look of the moment. It’s early days yet, so I am still set at quizzical, but the changeover to severe via chilly cannot be long delayed as we have a busy day tomorrow.
Today’s plan to give an open-air concert in Vienne as a warm-up act for Deep Purple had both wheels fall off. First DP moved their date, (clearly a poorly disguised bid to avoid comparisons). Then persistent rain meant that we too had to cancel to protect delicate instruments and irreplaceable sheet music. We did get to see Vienne, both on foot and from the charming tourist train, and we still got to perform to a small but very appreciative audience in our hotel foyer.
The official proceedings ended with an X-Factor style competition to find the best new jingle for Flunch, our favourite place in all France for lunch. Or dinner.
I have failed to get anyone else to write anything for the blog so far, but I am promised several items tomorrow. Which it now is, so it’s time for the tough to get going.
Sunday 24 July
We set off from CSG at about 7am, after we had figured out how to fit everything into the coach, and had a really easy journey down to Dover, across the Channel, and through France.
We made several stops on the way, and the whole party showed a truly impressive grasp of the importance of punctuality. There was also some very competent French being spoken, and not just by French people!
Arriving at the hotel just before midnight, we made pretty swift work of unloading the coach, and everyone was settled in their room by 12.30am. We even have the rehearsal room set up ready for the morning!
“We can’t wait to get to France. Although the coach journey is pretty long, it will be worth it. We’ve never been to the south of France, so we’re even more excited. Lyon, here we come!” – Maddie W and Phoebe E
“Looking forward to meeting new people; croissants and snails. Not sure about the Speedos…” – Anon
“I am really excited about going on tour in Lyon. Hopefully it will be great weather when we go to the water park.” – Jacob O