Composition and arranging techniques from Grand Union Orchestra composer/director Tony Haynes
Seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of A Winter’s Tale four or five years ago, I was haunted long afterwards by these lines:
“…making a wild dedication of yourselves
to unpath’d waters, undream’d shores…”
It was the phrase “undream’d shores” that particularly stuck in my mind, an irresistible suggestion for a show that demanded to be written! That show is now fast becoming reality, and will be staged at London’s Hackney Empire Theatre this autumn, November 1st and 2nd.
I propose therefore to devote the next few blogs to describing its development, and illustrating in music the ideas that lie behind it.
For centuries, thousands of migrants have found their way to England, making a wild dedication of themselves to unpath’d waters, undream’d shores, without knowing what lay ahead, hoping for a better life, sharing in turn experiences and cultures previously unknown to us, and essential – often innovative – skills to enrich our society and help it prosper.
Living in the East End of London, the historic focus of migration to the UK, I am daily reminded of the generations of migrants who have contributed to its identity, and particularly to its musical wealth – from Huguenots, Jews and Chinese through African and Caribbean sailors who jumped ship (or their families who arrived more sedately on the Windrush!), to the Bengali, Somali and Turkish communities of today and more recent arrivals from eastern Europe.
This project therefore looks at Britain, particularly East London, through the eyes of present day migrants to these shores. It expresses their shared or divergent experiences through their music and songs, and it is performed by them and leading artists from their communities, supported by the Grand Union Orchestra’s large roster of world musicians and singers.
At a time when there is growing hysteria over immigration and animosity towards European integration, it is important to remind ourselves of the benefits migrants bring, and the value of a united Europe. There is no better way of asserting this than through music.
Wilton’s Music Hall residency
To reach ‘undreamed shores’, of course, you need first to throw yourself into ‘unpathed waters’!
This is certainly what Grand Union did in February, in an extraordinary week-long series of workshops and performances called Trading on the Edge, generously hosted by Wilton’s Music Hall (full details here).
Trading on the Edge was essentially a week spent exchanging musical ideas. The aim was to bring together musicians and singers – young people and adults, amateur and professional – we hadn’t worked with before, and to explore music and musical styles which were also unfamiliar to us. I hope many of these performers, and some of the music we explored, will appear at the Hackney Empire.
They represented virtually the whole range of East London’s demographic as outlined above – including Indian violin and flute, Turkish baglama/saz, Gypsy accordian, Italian mandoline, African kora, Chilean panpipes and charango, Caribbean steel pan – mingled with songs from Bangladesh, Croatia, Portugal, the Congo, Senegal, Jamaica and Brazil. (My personal highlight was a multilingual, multicultural version of the Lancashire song The Four-Loom Weaver, which I shall certainly work into the Hackney Empire show!)
It was an exhilarating week, which culminated in around 50 musicians and singers of all ages and cultures giving a joint performance lasting nearly two hours on the final Saturday. Wilton’s Music Hall – in an iconic location (Whitechapel’s Cable Street) and itself very atmospheric and redolent of history – was the ideal venue for the week’s work, and we are deeply grateful to director Frances Mayhew and her colleagues for their generosity in giving the space to us and their support.
This residency week was in effect the launch of a substantial and comprehensive programme of work that will culminate in the performances of Undream’d Shores at the Empire in November.
Over the next few months we shall continue to search out and make links with other local communities; recruit highly skilled and experienced artists from among them; seek out suitable folkloric and traditional materal; and run taster and exploratory workshops. There will also be a series of smaller-scale performances at local events and in open air festivals in the summer; finally in the autumn, having decided on the performers – and we expect over 120 on stage alongside the Grand Union Orchestra – we shall begin more formal rehearsals.
At the same time, similar events will be taking place in southern France and around Lisbon in Portugal.
Undream’d Shores is in fact the culmination of an 18-month project supported by a substantial grant from the European Union Culture Fund, undertaken in collaboration with partner companies in France (Association Ellipse) and Portugal (Mercado da Cultura), where a parallel programme of workshops and performances has also been taking place. These too will culminate in large-scale shows in autumn 2014; each has its own title and local references, but all share the same common theme and ideas.
Many of the French and Portuguese performers will take part in the London show – indeed some have already been over for workshops and performances, including the Wilton’s week. Conversely, many Grand Union musicians have been involved in the project abroad, and will continue to do so. (See links to Posts 23 and 24 below for more details).
In short, this is probably Grand Union’s most ambitious project so far, and Undream’d Shores likely to be our most spectacular show yet.
The themes of exile and migration, and their causes, of course appear often my work for the Grand Union Orchestra – see for example Post 11 Can’t Chain Up Me Mind (the slave trade), Post 15 Nasrul and the Dancing Girl (displacement from Bangladesh) and Post 22 Strange Migration (the song Dolce Catalunya).
And for a demonstration of ways world music traditions and folkloric material are absorbed into the Grand Union repertoire, see Posts built around:
3 Eleggua Kó, Eleggua Ra (Yoruba chant, West African 12/8 drumming)
7 Yemen (Anatolian/Turkish song and rhythms)
10 Cano (featuring kora and voice from Guiné)
12 Picking Betel Palm (Chinese folk song and gu zheng)
14 Milon Hobe (song by classical Bengali poet Lalon)
Finally, and appropriately, Post 21 is an unusual and rowdy take on the French revolutionary song Ça Ira!