Aldeburgh Residency Blog
Tales of Three: An Adventure for Piano Trio and Audience
Yshani, Fran, Morwenna & Ben
Arrival Day: Tuesday 5 April
"What a lovely day to go to the seaside"
We arrived for our Aldeburgh adventure at 6pm, and were very excited to find that our accommodation is within spitting distance of the Cross Keys pub. We're so lucky to be staying in a beautiful holiday cottage, and it would be easy to forget that we actually have to work whilst being here. After an obligatory walk on the beach, while Ben skimmed stones into the sea, we posed for photos in the sunset and breathed in the sea air.
The evening was rounded off by a delicious takeaway dinner from Prezzo, one of the few restaurants open in town, followed by an iPad screening of the hilarious film 'Bill', about the failed lutenist William Shakespeare - co-written by, and starring, Ben Willbond, who'll be helping us write the text for the family piece we're here to work on. We thought it was a great way to start off the residency, by getting into the punning spirit of things!
Day 1: Wednesday 6 April
After the kind of great sleep one can only really experience in a place as serene as Aldeburgh, I woke up full of energy for the day ahead. For me, the start of the Del Mar Trio's Aldeburgh residency represented the beginning of something potentially very exciting, and a very rare opportunity to seriously engage my imagination. I couldn't wait to get started.
When we arrived at Snape Maltings we were warmly welcomed by Rebecca Knights (the artist development administrator at Aldeburgh Music in charge of residencies) who showed us to our working space, a palatial room at the top of the Britten-Pears music building equipped with no fewer than four keyboard instruments and (what we have taken to be) our very own music library! What an inspiring place to start our work and get the ideas flowing.
Settled at a big table with all our books, papers and colouring pens (very important!) laid about us, we immediately set to work on developing the plot of Tales of Three. It was really interesting to exchange instruments and musical scores for free discussion and pens and paper. It took a bit of getting used to but we very quickly found our 'flow' as a team, bouncing ideas back and forth, up and down and, sometimes, off the walls! By lunch time we had all but plotted the entire skeleton of the story line and we, naturally, felt very deserving of a delicious lunch at Snape's own Granary Cafe.
I took the opportunity after lunch to take a walk across the marshes next to the Maltings. This is something that I try to do whenever I have the good luck to work at Snape. The combination of fresh air and the swishing sound of the golden reeds is at once calming and inspiring.
Our afternoon session took a similar shape to the morning one. We made further inroads into the complexities of our plot, the structure of the work and, very importantly, came up with some great ideas for audience participation in our piece. Obviously, I will not be giving away any of those secrets at this point!
At 5:15 we packed up and headed back to Aldeburgh just in time to make it to English Touring Opera's performance of Laika The Space Dog, a family adventure for 7-11 year olds at the Jubilee Hall. We were indeed jubilant to have discovered that this was being performed during our residency period, since it offered an amazing research opportunity for us (plus a lot of fun!) We thoroughly enjoyed the opera, which is based on the extraordinary and tragic tale of the first dog (and first living being) sent into outer space. And, very importantly, we had the opportunity to chat to writer and director Tim Yealland who was fantastically helpful by answering lots of our questions about creating a musical and dramatic piece for 7 to 11 year olds.
We went off to find fish and chips with our heads absolutely buzzing with ideas.
Best bits of today: Being delighted by our amazing rooms at Snape, thoroughly getting to grips with the plot of our piece and witnessing our very own Yshani Perinpanayam finally fulfilling a life-long ambition by playing the Theremin in public.
Worst bits of today: Discovering that NONE of the fish and chip shops in Aldeburgh serve veggie friendly chips. No chips for me...*trots off to the supermarket to buy boring dinner*.
Day 2: Thursday 7 April
The grizzling morning sky was but a faint backdrop to our glorious breakfast-table Skype with Sandy Akerman, Artistic Director at Headbangers Theatre Company. Not only was her confidence in our Tales of Three story very exciting in itself but her wealth of experience and super-human lateral thinking meant she quickly put her finger on any aspects requiring deeper thought. By giving our central heroine an inquisitive poke and a prod, we were starting to see her yet again in new light...
Fuelled by fresh brain-food, we immediately sped to Snape to continue our discussions. Who is this girl? How exactly are her external battles manifestations of internal ones? And is she in us all? As her characteristics began to unify, the little girl began to write her own story with increasing assurance and clarity. Then, in a sudden flurry of dubious puns, it was lunchtime.
Tomorrow morning, we meet with a mixed focus group of children and education specialists to present our ideas and discuss our thoughts. The afternoon was spent ensuring we will really make the most of this invaluable opportunity, polishing our story skeleton and brainstorming any questions for them. A quick rehearsal brought our working day to an end.
A heavy belly of take-away and a pulsing head of ideas sends us each firmly to bed to dream of our heroine. What will our morning audience think of her?
Day 3: Friday 8 April
After checking-out of our cottage in Aldeburgh, we headed over to Snape for our final residency day. By 10.30am we had gathered all our papers, and thoughts, together, and after a quick rehearsal, we set up the Cranbrook Room in preparation of our focus group session — this would be our opportunity to try out our ideas and receive feedback on the work we'd done so far, from a few members of our target audience.
We welcomed Sam, the cameraman, three members of the Aldeburgh Music team (Rebecca, the Artist Development Manager, Jessica, her assistant, and Karen, the education officer), Sue (an ex-headteacher of a local Suffolk school), and Edie (age 7), Chloe (age 8), and Huxley (age 8), local schoolchildren who also sing with Jubilee Opera. We sat in a circle, and all took it in turns to introduce ourselves and to say what our favourite 'thing' was. Fran and Sue found they had scooters in common, while both Huxley and Chloe were fans of theme parks.
We proceeded to explain what we had been working on in our residency: our family and schools piece for 7-11 year olds called Tales of Three, with a little girl — our heroine — weaving through three well-known fairy tales, but encountering a few plot twists along the way. One of the hardest things we found to portray was exactly how the piece would eventually work without having any specific examples of the text or music that we could show the group, but other than outlining the basic plot, we were also able to work on some of the audience participation sections to see how practical they were, and even showcased our singing (something which, and I know I wasn't the only one, I felt particularly nervous about!).
We got some incredibly positive responses and some insightful feedback, and it was a valuable opportunity for us to ask questions at such an early stage of our project's development. We were particularly impressed with how Edie, Chloe and Huxley engaged with the tale, and we definitely came away with a better understanding of how children of that age might respond to our piece. We finished the session by playing our trio's arrangement of the 'Evening Prayer' from Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, so that everyone could hear an example of how it can work when a fairy tale is set to some particularly beautiful music.
Now that we felt a little more secure with our story's plot, and after a 'post-mortem' on our focus group session, the rest of the morning was spent with Ben Palmer, our composer, experimenting with the practicalities of the musical and narrative elements that our piece will eventually include. One of the more unusual aspects of our project compared with other chamber pieces for children that we've seen, is that the three members of the trio will be responsible for all of the story's narration, in addition to performing its musical soundtrack. This will be quite a challenge for us, and although we intend to have some coaching by Sandy Akerman (with whom we Skyped yesterday) on the dramatic aspects of presenting the piece and engaging a large room of children, we wanted to see what aspects of talking and playing at the same time would actually be practical, so that Ben can eventually tailor the musical performance to work around these possibilities.
Imagine rubbing your stomach with one hand in one direction, patting your head at the same time, then lifting your right leg and left leg alternately, and at the same time saying the alphabet backwards in a completely different rhythm...it's pretty difficult, but gives an idea of the potential complexities involved for us. Of course, Ben needs to start thinking about the compositional styles and techniques he might like to use in the piece now, and possibly even to start jotting down some ideas, but it will only be once he receives the script from our writer that his work will really begin.
Our afternoon began with some more ironing-out of our plot in response to the morning's feedback, and at about 3.30pm we headed over to the upstairs lounge area in the Hoffmann Building, with its beautiful ceiling beams, in search of some wifi so that we could have a Skype meeting with Ben Willbond, our writer. Ben W is one of the stars and writers of the hit children's TV series Horrible Histories, and was taking time out of his hectic filming schedule for Series 3 of the comedy series Yonderland, in order to speak to us from the film studio's canteen. As an avid watcher of Horrible Histories (yes, I know it's aimed at children, but in my defence, I grew up on the books!), this was rather an exciting moment for me. Up to this point only Ben P had had contact with Ben W, so for the first time his involvement in our project was beginning to feel real.
Our action-packed three days were nearing a close, and all that was left was to make a plan for the next stages in our piece's development, and to have a final evaluation meeting with Rebecca and Karen to review the residency and to discuss our project's future. Exhausted, but totally enthused by our residency, we headed back to London with our imagination and creativity having been sparked, and having had such an incredible experience in the inspiring, and awe-inspiring, surroundings of Aldeburgh and Snape.
We are very grateful to the artist development team at Aldeburgh for their support in advance of, and throughout, our residency.