Monday 27 November 2017

The Hunting of the Snark

The Rose Theatre has been host to some fabulous children's programming this season. Over half term we were treated to a performance of the scrumptiously quirky Hunting of the Snark, based on Lewis Carroll's poem.

It's a tricky poem to share with children as it is long and rather complex, but it is packed full of weird and wonderful creatures and delightfully nonsensical activities that speak so perfectly to the imagination of the child. This theatrical adaptation brought the poem to life in a memorable way, unlocking the world of Carroll's quirkier imaginings visually - resulting in repeated readings of The Jabberwocky and even sections of the Snark itself in the days that have followed.

Retaining the essential elements, but ensuring that the play was as coherent and appealing to a young audience as possible, The Hunting of the Snark production follows the story of a young boy and his sad relationship with his money-obsessed Father. When it is broadcast on television that a Snark has been sighted in the wild by a group of holiday-makers, the greedy banker seizes the opportunity to make some further cash and gathers experts, staff and hires a boat to capture the fantastical beast. His son, determined to be a part of the expedition stows himself away on the ship, which is also home to a baker with amnesia, a knitting beaver and the world expert on Snarks. Also on board is a vicious butcher, who wants nothing more than to put the elusive beast in her cooking pot. The mission requires patience, and some rather left-field thinking; the Snark can't be found using conventional means. The group encounters the Jub Jub Bird and the frumious Bandersnatch. Ultimately the Snark seems within their grasp, but as the expert explains it is impossible to tell whether a Snark on sighting is either authentic and friendly, or the dangerous Boojum. If the latter, a mere touch will disappear you away. What a risk indeed!

Frivolous, but with an important message about what is really most important in life, the production also taps into Carroll's wider themes that imagination requires practice and nonsense can be exceedingly good for us.

“Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said. 'One can't believe impossible things.'
I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. There goes the shawl again!”

There's some great reading material available to accompany this production. For the littlest children the Babylit Jabberwocky by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver is a current favourite again. I've reviewed this clever series designed to introduce the classics from the cradle here. We've also been dipping into Chris Riddell's brilliantly illustrated The Hunting of the Snark, created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the poem. And then of course there is Alice. We have a great Barnes and Noble volume containing Carroll's main works, and there are several wonderfully illustrated adaptations from Emma Chichester Clark and Usborne's picture book series and early reader versions. Finally we found Graham Oakley's imaginative sequel to the famous poem The Return of the Jabberwock.
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

The Hunting of the Snark is touring, next stop Sydney, and listings of the next set of family shows at the Rose Theatre Kingston is here. Over Christmas they will be showing Alice in Winterland. More on this soon...

Disclaimer: We received tickets to the Hunting of the Snark in exchange for an honest review. We also received copies of the Babylit and Alice in Wonderland Barnes and Noble edition. All other resources are our own.

Sunday 19 November 2017

BBC Music's Ten Pieces III Announced - and the full set of videos to watch

I've written before about Culturebaby's brilliant experience of the 2016 Ten Pieces II Prom at the Royal Albert Hall: There's nothing quite like seeing your daughter falling in love with music; magnificent, passionate music that paints pictures and pins a 4 year old to their seat, gripped and inspired, and leaves them reminiscing, singing and dancing for weeks.

The Ten Pieces initiative aims to open up the world of classical music to 7-14 year-olds across the UK and inspire them to develop their own creative responses to music. The initiative launched in 2014 and has so far reached over four million people. Ten Pieces II was aimed at early secondary school children, combining dance, animation and a plethora of musical offerings.  However it was pitched, it suited the pre-schooler just as well. Culturebaby has declared that she loves 'big' music. She watched open mouthed in the Albert Hall as the organ thundered out its Fugue and the enormous choir of children perform the epic Day of Judgement from Verdi's Requiem.

I was therefore delighted to hear that this academic year's Ten Pieces III has been announced this week, and even better, school children across the country were treated to a 'live lesson' inspired by the Royal Opera House's production of the Nutcracker last Monday. In partnership with the Royal Opera House and The Royal Ballet School, the 30-minute Live Lesson from BBC Learning was presented by CBBC’s Naomi Wilkinson and Karim Zeroual and live-streamed to schools nationwide. BBC Music and BBC Learning have also produced a continuing programme of activity for Ten Pieces III for this academic year. By the end of the project, students and teachers will have the basic tools to choreograph their own original dances to any piece of music. There is a wide range of free Ten Pieces resources available, including a set of short films which accompany the new repertoire and support students in their explorations of the pieces, and six-weeks’ worth of lesson plans devised for each piece. There's also a series of Ten Pieces Schools Concerts planned for 2018. The details are set out below.

I'm really excited that we have been invited to host the new Ten Pieces III teaching videos on our blog. There are some absolutely fantastic pieces in this year's line up from a journey through The Nutcracker to the thundering darkly emotive Orff's O Fortuna. In each video, the children are introduced to the piece, the composer, and context, as well as looking at the instruments used. They also examine certain parts of the piece and the feelings they might evoke. At just over 6 minutes each, these bite-sized videos are pitched really well. I can't wait to show them to the girls.

1.     Kerry Andrew No Place Like - Commission for a cappella voices

2.     Mason Bates Anthology of Fantastic Zoology – Sprite; A Bao A Qu

3.     Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges Symphony No. 1 in G major – Allegro (1st mvt) 

4.     Aaron Copland Rodeo – Hoe-Down 

5.     Antonín Dvořák Symphony No. 9 in E minor, 'From the New World’ – Largo (2nd mvt)

6.     Edward Elgar ‘Enigma’ Variations – Theme (‘Enigma’), variations 11, 6 & 7

7.     Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker – Waltz of the Flowers; Russian Dance

8.     Carl Orff Carmina burana – ‘O fortuna’ 

9.     Henry Purcell Abdelazer – Rondeau

10.  Jean Sibelius Finlandia

BBC Ten Pieces 2018 Schools and Family Concerts

  • Wednesday 7 February: Ten Pieces Schools Concert - City Halls, Glasgow (BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra) • Thursday 8 February: Ten Pieces Schools Concert – Perth Concert Hall (BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra) • Sunday 11 February: Ten Pieces Family Concert – His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen (BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra) • Tuesday 27 February: Ten Pieces Schools Concert – Watford Colosseum (BBC Concert Orchestra) • Wednesday 28 February: Ten Pieces Schools Concert – The Embassy Theatre, Skegness (BBC Concert Orchestra) • Saturday 3 March: Family Concert - Sir Thomas Picton School, Haverfordwest (BBC National Orchestra of Wales) • Sunday 18 March: Family Concert - Venue Cymru, Llandudno (BBC National Orchestra of Wales) • Sunday 13 May: Family Concert - St David’s Hall, Cardiff (BBC National Orchestra of Wales) • Tuesday 15 May: Ten Pieces Schools Concert - MediaCityUK, Salford (BBC Philharmonic) • Wednesday 16 May: Ten Pieces Schools Concert - MediaCityUK, Salford (BBC Philharmonic) • Saturday 26 May: Family Concert – The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (BBC Philharmonic)  • Thursday 21 June: Ten Pieces Schools Concert, Royal and Derngate, Northampton (BBC Symphony Orchestra) • Friday 22 June: Ten Pieces Schools Concert – Barbican, London (BBC Symphony Orchestra)

Booking details for the Ten Pieces School and Family Concerts will be available via the BBC Ten Pieces website shortly.

Friday 10 November 2017

Big Music for Little People: A Concert for Every Season

The girls have been lucky to attend some fabulous large-scale concerts over the last year. We love our small and intimate venues with their brilliant children's programming (see here for a selection of some wonderful regular ones) but there is something utterly awe-inspiring in the huge concerts with their booming organs or Wagnerian choruses, or the giant cinematic experiences with favoured films brought alive by an orchestra. As I've written before, there's nothing quite like seeing your daughters falling in love with music; magnificent, passionate music that paints pictures and pins a 4 year old to their seat, gripped and inspired, and leaves them reminiscing, singing and dancing for weeks. For me it was racing to safety behind a sofa as the stone door to the Hall of the Mountain King swung shut, beating an imagined hammer to the Anvil Chorus and dashing through the snow on a horse drawn sledge with Lt Kije to Prokoviev's Troika. For Culturebaby it has also been The Nutcracker and now the swift-winged Valkyries. I've been immensely grateful for the BBC's fabulous series Melody, which animates a piece of music for children in each episode, and Disney's Fantasia.
With the school year coming round swiftly again, keep an eye out for these utterly inspiring family experiences.


Autumn brings the Albert Hall's Great Orchestral Adventure, which ran again this half term. Due to an unmovable work meeting we had to miss it and so I was delighted to see that there will be another running in the Spring, this time with a space theme. Last year's performance was interactive, educational and engaging. Around 8000 young people and their families descended on the venue to help conductor Tim find his magic conducting baton. Using 11 classical masterpieces, the orchestra took us on an atmospheric journey through forests, mountains and to kingdoms under the sea. We even travelled into space to the Sanskrit echoes of Star Wars' Duel of the Fates. We encountered perils such as tricky mermaids, and the ferocious troll living in the Hall of the Mountain King (I still recall racing to safety behind a sofa as a child before the stone door to the Hall swung shut). The finale of the performance featured a full narrated performance of Michael Rosen classic We're Going on a Bear Hunt. The intention of these entertaining productions is to introduce even the youngest children to the orchestra and the idea of a concert, and they achieve this so effectively. We met the conductor and explored the various parts of the orchestra. To the audience's delight, we were invited to vote on the way our adventure might proceed: which way to go? Vote red or green. One particularly lucky young lady was invited to come and take the place of the conductor as he nipped away. We were given a glimpse of quite how tricky the experience of controlling an orchestra can be but what a glorious experience when it all comes together. The audience danced and sang and remained utterly enthralled. The accompanying activity book and programme was also very well designed, introducing the concept of how music can conjure up a plethora of emotions from happiness to fear and sadness; how a piece can conjure adventure or drag us from peril to calm safety in a matter of moments.

Listen again to the My Great Orchestral Adventure soundtrack
McKenzie Life’s a Happy Song
Rossini William Tell Overture
Grieg Asa’s Death, from Peer Gynt
Tchaikovsky Swan Lake
Grieg Hall of the Mountain King, from Peer Gynt
Mozart Dies Irae
Wagner Ride of the Valkyries
Williams Duel of the Fates
Stephen We’re Going On A Bear Hunt
Williams Flight to Neverland
Mahler Symphony no. 4


Then as the nights roll in and the carols begin, nothing says nearly Christmas like The Snowman. Over the last few years we have particularly loved the Amadeus Orchestra and Mozart Symphony Orchestra's family concerts at both Cadogan Hall and King's Place. I've written about these in more depth here and here (complete with follow on activity ideas). This winning formula featuring a double-bill of two of our most loved orchestral works in one sitting never fails to enchant.

Prokofiev's Peter and The Wolf is, without a doubt, the best classical piece I've found to demonstrate the power of musical storytelling without the aid of film. Written in 1936 by Prokofiev for the Moscow Theatre for Children, the work was intended to be, and was commissioned as, a guide to the instruments of the orchestra. 

Following the interval, the concert hall was transformed into a cinema and we were presented with the full film of the Snowman in cinematic scale, but with a live orchestra and a choirboy performing the classic Walking in the Air in the place of the soundtrack. As I wrote recently, a Christmas viewing of the Snowman is like a rite of passage, a ritual through which the joy of childhood is kept alive. Fully versed and note-perfect, surrounded by family and strangers alike, we re-enter annually this intimate tale of belief, living life to the full and dealing with loss. As far as cinematic experiences for children go, this is hard to beat. This fantastic series of Christmas concerts varies each year a little but retains many of its most magical components. They've since added an out of London concert in Cheltenham too.
Father Christmas and Peter and the Wolf
This year Cadogan Hall and the Mozart Symphony Orchestra are running a two day series with:

Wednesday 20 December 2017, 1.30pm and 4.30pm - The Snowman and Carnival of the Animals
with the Mozart Symphony Orchestra

Thursday 21 December 2017, 1.30pm and 4.30pm -Father Christmas and Peter and the Wolf

King's Place is running The Snowman and Carnival of the Animals
on Tuesday, 19 December 2017 at 1.30 and 4.30pm with the Amadeus Orchestra.


Every year spring sees the fantastic Imagine Children's Festival at the Southbank Centre. This brilliant two week festival for kids, run by kids offers everything from immersive theatre to storytelling, dancing, art and experimentation with instruments. I'm going to write about this event in more depth shortly in the run up to this Spring's event, but a huge highlight from last year's programme was a cinematic showing of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom with full orchestral accompaniment. Frankly cinema will never be the same again. We particularly loved how the audience was taught about the detail of what they would be hearing in advance. We met the instruments that would create some of the signature noises of certain characters, and we were helped to look out for sounds and ways of creating them that we see in the films. The Southbank Centre also runs interactive Funharmonics concerts throughout the year. Recently we had the huge excitement of watching The Gruffalo's Child with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Keep an eye on their events here. As we mentioned above, there will also be the next installation of the Great Orchestra Adventure at the Royal Albert Hall (see here).


Summer brings the BBC Proms, and as we have experienced, you can never be too young to feel involved in them. In Summer 2016 Culturebaby and I attended the amazing Ten Pieces II Prom; a fantastic celebration of a set of iconic classical pieces performed for and with school children. Building on 2015's huge 10 Pieces success, this year's Ten Pieces II was aimed at early secondary school children, combining dance, animation and a plethora of musical offerings.  However it was pitched, it suited the pre-schooler just as well and Culturebaby was completely bowled over from the moment the huge organ began with Bach's (slightly unnerving) Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. She watched open mouthed the organ thundering out its Fugue, and the enormous choir of children performing the epic Day of Judgement from Verdi's Requiem. However, since the concert it is the Ride of the Valkyries that has been requested over and over again, even a year on, by both children. (You can read my full review here).

Combined with the thunderously joyful CBeebies Prom towards the end of the summer, we couldn't have hoped for a better introduction to the Proms for the girls. Hugely accessible, and perhaps appealling to a much wider demographic than the Proms might traditionally expect, the CBeebies Prom was hosted by and featured a gaggle of presenters and characters from the BBC channel. Drummers moved through the audience and Clangers took a turn at conducting.
 Along with Andy Day, Mr Bloom, Swashbuckling Pirates and other familiar household names for children everywhere, the young audience was taken on an adventure through space and time, weaving storytelling through a selection of classical favourites. We encountered (of course) dinosaurs and met Will Shakespeare. Short and hugely accessible the whole experience was an excellent idea - we were even treated to the bagpipes. It was, however, the Proms Extra in the nearby Imprerial College Union that provided the icing on this theatrical cake and turned the whole event into an immersive family day out. The children had the opportunity to meet Clangers and Muppets, create home-made musical instruments, do craft activities and best of all, take part in a dance class for all the family. If this perfomance features again in this year's Proms programme I'd thoroughly recommend it to even the youngest of toddlers.

In no way do I exaggerate when I call these concert experiences life changing. They exist for long periods in little memories and conversations and provide no end of play ideas, and although we have already glimpsed their creative legacy, I have no doubt that their ultimate impact will be enduring.

Disclamer: We received tickets to each of the performances for the purposes of review. The photographs for the Great Orchestral adventure were courtesy of the Albert Hall and the CBeebies Proms photographs were courtesy of the BBC and Guy Levy (copyright).
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