The sun blazed over London yesterday; the streets were full, the parks were fuller and unknown to those sun worshippers a little bit of musical magic was taking place just off of Sloane Square. Cadogan Hall, the home of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, was the venue for the World Premiere of Different Voices, a project designed to introduce children to the ‘voices’ of the orchestra. Film/TV composer Debbie Wiseman created the all important music and she conducted the RPO in two performances yesterday afternoon, which were attended by people of all ages, including many children.
It wasn’t just about the music though as for the piece to work other elements were crucial; not least of all Robin Shaw’s beautiful illustrations, projected onto a big screen behind the orchestra, and Stephen Fry’s eloquent narration. Completing the line up was singing starlet Hayley Westenra, who provided the vocals for Don Black’s ‘Different Voices Song’. So all of these things were united to tell a story through music, words and pictures…
Debbie composed lyrical themes for the main characters; the heroine, Elli, was performed by Flute in what is a sweet, celtic-tinged melody and the basis for the title song. The violin gave voice to Jo, Elli’s friend, while her father the mayor was given a pompous brassy sound. Elli’s Mother was represented by the harp and her Nanny, Talia, by the piano. After each section of the orchestra was introduced, the actual story, about a local park being developed and the kids’ fight to save it, began and all of the characters and sections came together, aided by Fry’s narration and Shaw’s images. A further ‘voice’ was introduced for the ape-like builders who were played by the percussion section, a dominant presence in the music that followed.
There did seem to be some confusion with regards to who was leading who and what role the music, the narration or the illustrations was taking… who was taking the mantle of the story if you will. I think that came down to some technical/teething issues and ultimately it didn’t detract from the fact that it really was a lovely piece and when each element was working together, it really did work rather well. The ‘Different Voices Song’ was the heart of the piece as it spoke not only of the unification of the voices in the orchestra, but also of the coming together of people and their own voices being heard (as happens in the story).
This truly is a lovely idea and a great way to get kids to understand what an orchestra is; however, that ‘educational’ aspect only makes up a very small part of it, with the majority of the work given over to the park story and no other mention of the orchestra itself. So the guide to the orchestra is brief, but what follows is an enchanting amalgamation of words, pictures and music.
Different Voices has so much potential for further development, obviously it’s kiddy-friendly at just an hour-long, but it’s an idea that would work tremendously well on DVD, perhaps even as an animation (a’la The Snowman) and a book/CD combination is a logical next step, so emotive are Shaw’s illustrations, coupled with Debbie’s music. Of course for Wiseman fans, one hopes the CD would have a music only option, it’s beautiful stuff – but would we expect anything less from Debbie Wiseman?
Originally published at Music from the Movies.com, April 2007.