New songs for city

A NEW work about Sheffield is premiered in Hallam University's Pennine Theatre by Sheffield Young Singers next Wednesday as part of the Children's Festival.

The piece, A Sheffield Song Book, commissioned by SYS from local children's author Berlie Doherty and composer Richard Chew, consists of six songs that reflect different aspects of the city through the eyes of children.

It will be accompanied by Ensemble 360 Winds and a continuous stream of visual images, created by The Siblings Project (which we will come back to), illustrating the themes of the songs.

The origins of the song book can be traced indirectly back to 2004 when Music in the Round commissioned and put on a children's opera created by Berlie and Richard Chew, The Daughter of the Sea.

It was the first time that the then administrator of MitR Tracey Shibli, ne Waters, and the then head of music at Tapton School, Helen Cowan, got to know each other and, says Tracey, discovered they "had a fantastic working relationship."

Two years ago, with Helen now at Huddersfield University teaching music teachers and Tracey looking after three children, they started Sheffield Young Singers.

"We've always been on the idea that the children want to sing songs relevant to them, that their interest in music will be enhanced and increased if there is relevance to them, so it seemed an obvious thing to create music for them," explains Tracey.

And after their Daughter of the Sea experience, who better to turn to than Berlie Doherty and Richard Chew who had worked together so well on it.

They met with Berlie and thrashed out the idea of songs about Sheffield, the notion gaining impetus when the choir was invited to sing at the reopening of Endcliffe Park playground and then at Weston Park Museum as part of Music in the Round's community day there in May 2008.

The themes of playgrounds and museums were enlarged to include the city's diversity of cultures, its industrial heritage and seven rivers, and its football teams – the two everyone knows!

Back to Tracey: "Richard was the obvious person to write the music, even though he had emigrated to Australia, so all of this has been done over the internet.

"Berlie wrote the words and sent them to Helen and I. They captured the flavour of what we were trying to create spot on and we emailed them Richard.

"He wrote the music in Sibelius, the composing software programme, and emailed them back to Helen. Helen downloaded them and off we went."

Which brings us to The Siblings Project and some 20 brothers and sisters, aged six to 16, of the choir members going off armed with digital cameras to shoot images reflecting the words of the songs.

"The idea was dreamt up between myself and John and Janet (Harrison) who run Lovebytes," says Tracey.

"We were having an idle coffee one half-term as our children played together and John said, 'There must be some way Lovebytes can work with Sheffield Young Singers.'"

There was, visually illustrating the Sheffield Song Book.

Lovebytes ran a series of workshops for children on how to use digital media, specifically photography, and they then went out on missions around the city to look for images associated with the songs.

They have been edited into a continuous stream of imagery that will be projected during the performance and Tracey recalls one particularly "magical moment."

"We were doing the Endcliffe Park photography when a heron flew into one of the duck ponds. One of the lines in the song is the heron and kingfisher and there it was, a heron just popped up.

"It goes to show how fantastically vivid and accurate Berlie is in her writing. Just about everything she wrote about we were able to find to capture on image."

As most of the 'photographers' were boys, Helen and Tracey hope it might induce them to join Sheffield Young Singers, which is split two age groups, eight to 11 and 11 to 15 (60 in total), which are top-heavy with girls.

In Wednesday's concert each group will showcase its repertoire before joining forces with Ensemble 360 Winds for The Sheffield Song, which it is hoped will be recorded and published as a resource for teachers in Sheffield.

The songs are: World Street (visual material shot on London Road), Weston Park Museum, Endcliffe Park Playground, Granny Was a Buffer Girl, Seven Rivers and Footy Song.

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