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Forest Songs

Children singing in Calke Abbey

A two year programme of creative workshops and performances led by Children’s Music Workshop (CMW) with primary schools in The National Forest.

Calke Abbey, The National Trust’s extraordinary house near Melbourne in the Forest, was the inspiration for workshops with six Derbyshire primary schools and the venue for the final performances by over 200 children and 10 professional musicians. Activities crossed the curriculum effortlessly to take in history, science, citizenship, literacy, maths, music, drama and design. Visiting the house stimulated lively creative writing by the children, followed by the CMW team going into each school. Most of the sessions were music-led, teaching selections of Mozart in Italian and in English, and creating new songs from the children’s ideas and their own verse. The children learned about singing technique from professional opera singers, and spent time with a photographer who encouraged them to make pictures showing the emotional impact of the environment.

CMW took inspiration from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro because it looks at upstairs-downstairs life, particularly marked at Calke where the servants were never allowed to be seen. The eccentric Harpur Crewe family had devised tunnels to keep their workers out of sight, and keep the parkland apparently undisturbed by human intervention.

Some schools created their own books about the Calke experience, one school held a debate on the topic ‘Should servants be seen?’ The children performed in faultless peripatetic style throughout Calke Abbey, in and out of scenes in which three singers played the owner of Calke, a tearful visiting Italian Countess and a servant. The end of the performance saw baritone Richard Chew wandering off through his grass meadow to die amongst his mole traps like the last owner of Calke.

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