Invention - Digital Premiere with Amherst School Choir
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A case study from Sam Clarke, a teacher from Amherst School about being part of the Digital Premieres for EVERYTHING by Russell Hepplewhite and Michael Rosen.

Invention - Digital Premiere with Amherst School Choir

When we heard that we'd been accepted into this project, we were both excited and daunted. The third national lockdown had just started, with children learning from home and the next few months uncertain. Our piece, Invention, immediately connected with me and I found myself singing it constantly over the following days, enjoying the twists and turns of its melody. It tells the little-known story of three women who in 1948 worked on the Dover Sun House project, designing a completely solar-powered home. The pioneering work of these three women—architect Eleanor Raymond, engineer Maria Telkes and philanthropist Amelia Peabody—resonates now more than ever.

Friday Afternoons were hugely supportive from the start, arranging a Zoom launch for the choir leaders and linking us with our own ambassador to work with. On the day of the introductory launch, I logged on to the call with cup of tea and pen in hand, fully expecting to sit and listen for the hour in typical Zoom fashion. Instead, I almost leapt out of my seat as I was met by all the other choir leaders on their feet already midway through a singing warm up. Clearly choir leaders love to sing!

We were so pleased to be linked with choral director Emily Barden as our ambassador, and we made contact early in the process, talking each other through our ideas of the piece. Emily truly understood the song and everything she said spoke to my own musical sensibilities. The children soon started rehearsing with me in weekly Zoom sessions and, once we had returned to school in March, we were fortunate to be able to meet in person. After many months of seeing each other only virtually, it was such a cathartic experience to hear the children's voices singing together.

 
   

In May, the children were invited to attend a Zoom webinar with Michael Rosen and Russell Hepplewhite, asking questions and finding out more about the thought that went into this project. And in the final week before recording, we were visited in school by Emily, our first official visitor for quite some time. Emily was so encouraging, leading the children through warm-ups as well as working on the specifics of our song, Invention. The children left the workshop buzzing and feeling ready to record their songs at home that weekend.

Given the theme of our piece, Emily and I had talked early on about getting the children to think of their own inventions. Not wanting to influence them with our own ideas, we asked them to design their invention and display it on a poster to be held up at the end of our performance video. The children’s posters did not disappoint, both in their creativity and unadulterated entertainment value! They ranged from Room-Tidying Robots to Ray Vision Glasses, from Corrector Pens to Cure-All Machines, from Solar Powered Automatic Lawn Mowers to Self-Opening Curtains. Necessity really is the mother of invention.

After a strange year for all, it has been lovely to be involved in a project of this kind, a small part of a collaborative whole. The children are continuing to rehearse weekly in school (in the not-so-glamorous, Covid-safe location of the playground) and we cannot wait to watch the online premiere of our piece later this week. Thank you Friday Afternoons for such a wonderful experience.

Sam Clarke

Amherst School Choir

 

       
   
     
 

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