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17 May 2017

'Friday Afternoons' - songs for young people all over the world

After 'Friday Afternoons', researching a new opera in Australia Image: After 'Friday Afternoons', researching a new opera in Australia  

Luke Styles writes about his brand-new songs for the 'Friday Afternoons' project. An international initiative inspired by Benjamin Britten, 'Friday Afternoons' encourages young people to sing. The ever-growing Friday Afternoons Song Bank contains new music and support material to help teachers develop their students' skills - as performers, listeners and composers.

Throughout 2016 I worked on a new set of songs for young people as part of Aldeburgh Music (now Snape Maltings) 'Friday Afternoons' project. This was a commission to compose 12 new songs for young people aged 8 -18 - songs that would provide a keen challenge for schools with a strong music culture, and also songs that would be easily accessible for those schools just embarking on new music-making with their students. An exciting added aspect to the commission was that I would be leading composition workshops with four different schools/universities around the UK to create four collaborative songs.

The Friday Afternoons initiative began in 2013 as part of the celebrations for Benjamin Britten's centenary. What was initially just a Suffolk project became regional, then national, then global. On Friday 22 November 2013, there were close to 70,000 young people from around the world singing one or more of Britten's songs.

For my 2017 set of songs I worked alongside librettist Alan McKendrick. The groups we created our four collaborative songs with were Elgol Primary School and Bun-sgoil Shlèite, Isle of Skye; Thomas Wolsey School, Ipswich; Netley Primary School, London; and students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

Luke Styles with young workshop participants on the Isle of Skye.
Click for a larger version.

The first groups I worked with were on Skye, and the process we went through here was similar in each of the schools. Skye is an exceptionally beautiful and inspiring place to make work, and the people I spent time with, and the young people who I worked with in day-long composition workshops couldn't have been better. The young people were engaged and enthusiastic and generated some wild and wacky ideas in responses to some of my music, Wagner and Handel. They came up with characters that they drew and then wrote poetry about, transforming these characters into short, poetic stories. As a group we then turned these stories into songs, and, at the end of each day, the young people had their own song that they had composed with me, the librettist Alan McKendrick and the workshop facilitator Ellie Moran.

Following on from these workshops, Alan and I used the material that the young people generated to refine and compose a final version of the song from the various workshops. It drew together the ideas from all the young people, but it also needed to be a work in which Alan and I had a creative hand. I think two of my favourite things from the week on Skye were the line of text 'It was hot and then cold' (this is just completely mysterious and hilarious to me), and the invention of the character 'Octomonkpig', an animal that is the combination of an Octopus, a monkey and a pig.

The strangeness and absurdity that I encouraged in the workshops connected to the thematic thread running through all of my songs. I have used songs to embrace the fun, nonsense, humour, darkness and playfulness of a young person's fantasy world. One takes the everyday of homework and turns it into a parade of monsters, while others investigate and poke fun at annual celebrations of Valentine's day and Easter.

Young voices have an immediacy to them that we as adults can't help but be drawn in by. When this is coupled with fantastical storytelling through song, young people can make the absurd believable and both the ludicrous and banal exciting.

Friday Afternoons now commissions new repertoire every year for children's voices, with a whole host of resources available for free on the website, including teaching and accessibility resources to help as many people as possible engage with the songs. To get involved with the project, simply visit www.fridayafternoonsmusic.co.uk and explore the resources available to you.

After Friday Afternoons, I've embarked on a project that has brought me to Australia where I will stay until November 2017, working on a new opera. The opera is based on Ned Kelly and has been commissioned by Lost and Found Opera, in Perth, by its artistic directors Thomas de Mallet Burgess and Chris van Tuinen. I am working with the librettist Peter Goldsworthy - so far I have about 10 minutes in vocal score.

AMC resources

Luke Styles - AMC profile

'Insight: Macbeth, or how I came to composer operas' - an earlier feature article by Luke Styles on Resonate (17 July 2015)


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