Music for everyone: The Multi-Story Orchestra returns

Kate WhitleyWed 13th July 2016

Artistic Director Kate Whitley brings thrilling music-making back to a car park in Peckham

This is the fourth summer that The Multi-Story Orchestra have run our children’s choir project, bringing together year 5-6 (aged 10 or 11) children from four different primary schools in Peckham to perform with the orchestra in Bold Tendencies car park, where we are based.

We’re doing a full season of events in the car park this summer – ranging from contemporary music by Steve Reich to classics like Beethoven’s Symphony No 6. For me the highlight every year is the opening of the season where we bring together the children’s choir. Bringing them to such an unusual and special space as the car park is always so exciting, and the atmosphere at the performances, where the audience is packed with proud parents, is electric.

This summer we performed my piece I am I say, written last spring with my friend the brilliant poet Sabrina Mahfouz. Sabrina has an amazing ability to write words that lend themselves to musical setting, and came up with a brilliant framework for a piece about the natural world. The first verse is about ‘the sea’ – the children sing ‘I am the sea, and I have something to say. I don’t want a plastic tongue, I don’t want oil in my hair’. The second verse is ‘the tree’, and then we give the children the chance to come up with their own suggestions for verse three, ‘the sky’. I collated their suggestions and turned them into the final version that goes into the piece. We had a successful first performance of I am I say last year, with the children’s choir accompanied by our orchestra and joined by two amazing operatic soloists Sarah-Jane Lewis and Ashley Riches. So this year we decided to record the piece, to go on a disc with some of my other compositions, which will be released by NMC Recordings next spring.

As if teaching the music to the children and organising their performance with the orchestra wasn’t enough, we had given ourselves the challenge of running a professional recording session with 9–11 year olds! Assembling in the drama studio of St Thomas The Apostle College nearby, the kids did a great job – focusing brilliantly across the two hours and giving all the attention to detail and commitment needed. Recording sessions are tough enough for experienced professional musicians and it was an impressive achievement for the children to perform under pressure. We’re thrilled to have the recording done and so excited about hearing the results.

Holding our annual season of performances at Bold Tendencies Peckham car park is an opportunity for us to try out ideas like this, by creating our own space for new projects. We're so lucky to be able to make music in such a special space with such brilliant children!

Full details of The Multi-Story Orchestra's coming concert series are available from multi-story.org.uk

Kate Whitley

Kate Whitley (b 1989) is composer, pianist, and producer. She is the founder and Artistic Director, with conductor Christopher Stark, of The Multi-Story Orchestra, which began with a critically acclaimed performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in a disused multi-storey Car Park in Peckham. She was 2013-4 Music Fellow at Rambert Dance Company, 2015 New Music Programmer at Kettles Yard Art Gallery, and won a 2015 British Composers Award.

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