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Clash project rehearsals © Chris Parker

Clash project rehearsals © Chris Parker

Choirs sing Bayeux Tapestry into life

Choirs abound in Hastings and St Leonards, filled with people who want to sing opera, gospel, jazz, rock or pop with others for the feel-good, endorphin, oxytocin releasing factor and the sheer love of singing. Now Jenny Miller, Director of Barefoot Opera has brought seven choirs together for two performances of Clash. a work specially produced for the ROOT 1066 festival. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths talks to her about the project.

Jenny Miller replied to the call-out from council’s ROOT 1066 team for musicians to respond in a contemporary way and from a fresh perspective to the Battle of Hastings: looking back into history and  forward to Hastings now. She came up with the idea of bringing to life the Bayeux Tapestry, musically – vocalising the rhythmic, cartoon-like narrative of the Tapestry strip. Smiling, she says: “I thought it would be a short piece and not too complicated.” Famous last words.

Clash project rehearsals © Chris Parker

Clash project rehearsals © Chris Parker

One of my first thoughts before meeting her was, ‘Was she mad?’ Maybe she’d had training in herding cats. In a leap of faith, she put out a call to musicians, singers, drummers and poets to bring their voices to the project. That faith has been rewarded; she now has 230 singers in seven choirs singing a cappella, two  percussionists and six poets.

Orlando Gough, well known for his choral compositions, has written two pieces: one for choir Harmony 1, called Bayeux; another, for all the choirs, from a text written by the 11th century monk Eilmer. He wrote about the presence of Halley’s Comet on the eve of the Battle of Hastings. Considered an ill omen, it would have been a disturbing sight, four times brighter than the moon, presaging doom. But for which side?

Poetry came from a shortlist of six poets. The composers chose the poems that resonated with them. One poem was picked twice. Miller’s own personal favourite, Saxon Signature, penned by Jill Fricker, is “the news from the battlefield, the voice of a lover, mourning the loss of the fallen.”

“But our secret sign, needled in like tapestry
and the soft bruising left by a gentle swan,
when blood flowed, and his neck was warm.”

Clash project rehearsals © Chris Parker

Otti Albietz. Clash project rehearsals © Chris Parker

One of the things Miller is most proud of – and what she dreamed of – is the formation of a new choir, attracting new people to choral music. “When you see choirs you see mainly women, the young and the grey haired and there is a blank in the middle of bearded, young men.” But now there is Hastings Calling, brought together by singer/songwriter, Otti Albietz.

The performance is taking part in the Sussex Coast College. The choirs will be positioned all around the atrium so sound will shift and float, pitch and roll, filling the space. It will be a colourful and theatrical event. Because the performance is not in a theatre, to improve the acoustics and soften the sound, Jane Bruce of Radiator Arts has worked with students from the college to produce colourful banners.

For new audiences, it is neither a formal nor long performance; people can move around, the show will last under an hour and there will be various forms of music. Everyone will take something different away from the experience.

A remarkable achievement by any standards. It has been only a year in the making: from securing the submission, compiling a shortlist of composers and poets and bringing the choirs and the myriad talents together. And, although the original grant was healthy, they needed more to realise their ambition. Help came stage left from the artist,Tom Hammick, who kindly donated six of his artworks for auction.

Miller seems relatively relaxed. Clash is not fully formed yet and apart from  a technical run-through, there’s no dress rehearsal. The first performance is the first performance. How and when will she know if it has worked? She remembers on a previous project that had very little rehearsal time: “The first day it wasn’t really there but the second day it whooshed and off they went.” And then she knew she had nailed it.

Miller hopes the project sows a seed for a great community choir. What she does know is that everyone involved has learned a lot and all participants have achieved more than they thought they ever could.


Clash is at Sussex Coast College, Station Approach, Hastings TN34 1BA on Saturday 24 September at 4.30 and 7.30pm.

Choirs Hastings Philharmonic Choir, Sound Waves, Vocal Explosion, Hastings Youth Choir, Harmony1, Opera South East and Hastings Calling.

Composers Orlando Gough, Karen Wimhurst, Ken Roberts, Juliet Russell, Otti Albietz, Marcio da Silva and Frances Lynch.

Poets Jill Fricker, Frances Viner, Anne Rouse and Antony Mair.


Other Root1066 events.

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Posted 14:32 Monday, Sep 19, 2016 In: Music & Sound

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