Before I left Ireland last week, I took part in a school project in Daingean, County Offaly. It was funded by the Arts Council’s ‘Percent for Art’ scheme, which allows schools that have completed a new building to apply for an artwork to commemorate it. Usually this is a piece of visual art or poetry, but on this occasion it was an hour-long musical work devised by Aingeala de Burca and performed by every single child in the school (191 in total, I believe).
The theme was Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll’s grandson, Charles Dodgson, is buried in the town) and my role was to set the children’s words to music and also to play in the final performance. Aingeala and I have worked together on a number of similar projects over the past few years, but always under the auspices of other organisations. This was particularly exciting, as it was the first time I’d worked with Aingeala on something of her own.
It was interesting, too, coming in towards the end of the process. On a bigger budget project it might have been possible to have me come in to the school with Aingeala to help write the lyrics, but my role was more defined and I got the lyrics fully formed and was charged with composing musical settings of them. The lyrics were very well put together and I only made a few, very small changes in a couple of places. I visited the school once I’d written the songs and had the wonderful experience of auditioning them for the lyricists. They loved them and I think it was a moment of great relief for the teachers, too, as they finally began to see how this was all going to come together. It’s quite a tall order to ask teachers to commit to rehearsing a show while it’s being written!
We had songs about Mike the hedgehog (the royal croquet ball), Heather the flamingo (the royal croquet mallet), decapitation, Alice’s lake of frustrated tears after the ‘eat me drink me’ debacle, and the Mad Hatter’s tea party. There was also a refrain that the whole school sang at intervals throughout the show and lots of other music from the younger classes that Aingeala had done. It was a really wonderful show and a great way to finish up my work schedule. The way we did it made me think that I could easily work on something like that from afar, too…