The Fairy Queen Revisited

The Fairy Queen Revisited – A Collaboration Between Beverley Grammar, Beverley High, York University, the National Centre of Early Music, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

The end of the spring half term was a very exciting on for 52 year 7 and 8 boys. They spent three days making music and performing with musicians from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (oboist Cherry, violinist Hetty, double bassist Cecelia, and harpsichordist / pianist Rob), assisted by MEG (Music Education Group) students from the University of York. Within the ‘Fairy Queen Revisited’ project, they also joined with girls from Beverley High for the last couple of days of the collaboration. At the start of the project, the boys did not really know what they were in for, but there was an air of excitement in the rehearsal space on the first morning. This was the same excitement that was felt in the final performance at St Mary’s Church three days later!

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The first day began with warm-ups led by our vocal animateur, James Redwood. His excitement and energy was infectious and the boys’ anticipation of the project grew and grew.  We then learned a song that the MEG students had written with James a couple of weeks before. The sound of 52 voices (plus staff and OAE and MEG musicians) was truly amazing – a real insight into what was to come! Later in the day, students learned the story of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ on which Purcell’s ‘Fairy Queen’ is based and then began to recreate the piece in different styles. We composed a song as a group with James to tell the story of Bottom’s (a donkey) love for Titania. It was not just any song, but an amazing bossa nova / rock ballad fusion! Students wrote the lyrics and the melodies, which were then orchestrated by James, Cherry Forbes (OAE’s Education Director and oboist) and our lovely MEGs. It was fantastic to see how quickly the song came together with the ideas from the students. In the afternoon, we changed activity, and the instrumentalists composed music to accompany the Mechanicals play rehearsal, with others devising the drama for this occasion. We then put these two parts together and shared our ideas. The first day definitely lived up to the exciting start, and was incredibly fruitful!

The OAE musicians and MEGs visited Beverley High School on the Tuesday, before all students were united at Beverley Grammar on Wednesday. The first hour was very odd, with the boys and girls a little unsure about working together! Following some of James’ exciting warm ups and games, a few songs and a lot of encouragement, everyone felt comfortable enough to work together to make the project a big success! Initially, students shared their work, before starting to work on putting the piece together. By the end of the day, we had all of the parts of the piece – the boys had their ‘donkey’ song, their Mechanicals drama piece with accompanying music, and a movement piece to Purcell’s ‘Rondeau’. The girls had their pieces too, including their ‘Me, Myself and I’ song, a movement piece and an instrumental piece. All students had also learned the MEG’s song, ‘If We Shadows Have Offended’, a movement piece to ‘Chaconne’ and two original Purcell songs, ‘Sing While We Trip It’ and ‘Hush, No Noise’. It was amazing to see all of the students be so accepting of all of the different styles of music and the movement and drama work that we did. Going from a Latin bossa nova and Elton John style ballad about a donkey into a baroque song is a huge change!

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The final day of rehearsal was spent at the High School and in St Mary’s Church working on the fine details. In the afternoon, some performance students from York University who added to OAE’s orchestral players and sang some additional Purcell movements, joined us. The rehearsals all went well, though there was still much anticipation as we had not run the show before the evening!

The performance in the evening was amazing. The students and professionals worked together exceedingly well to produce the best possible outcome. The 360-strong audience was very complimentary of the performance, with some even shedding a tear of two! A lot of the audience were quite shocked by the level of performance skill displayed, with the professional beginnings and endings to songs, as well as the dedication and focus of the students involved.

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Here are some of the students’ comments about the project – you can tell that they had a fabulous week:

–       – “The best thing about the project was writing the song ‘The Way You Neigh’ because it was brilliant.”

–       – “The people who made the project come together were amazing – it was really good working with professionals.”

–       –  “The best thing about the project was making an opera into a wonderful performance”

–       – “The project was ace – it couldn’t have been better. I would love to do it again.”

–       – “The best thing was working with professional composers.”

–       – “The musicians and MEGs were very kind and respectful and made it all amazing.”

–       – “The best thing about the project was working with the High School. I liked this because you met new people and it helped develop our working and practising skills.”

–       – “It was great to try out new things and different ways of singing.”

–       – “I am now going to carry on singing because of the Fairy Queen.”

–       – “I am now going to finish a piano composition that I gave up on.”

Finally, thanks have to go to Delma Tomlin at the National Centre for Early Music, Cherry Forbes and the musicians of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the ever-energetic vocal animateur, James Redwood for making the project possible. It is one that the students (and staff) will remember for a long time!

Mrs Hughes

Pictures courtesy of NCEM

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Photographs taken at Beverley Grammar School during rehearsals.

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