On 15 December last year we had the privilege of performing Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending at Shirehampton Public Hall, exactly 100 years after it was premiered there by violinist Marie Hall and pianist Geoffrey Mendham. Details of the concert, the associated education project, and the original premiere, are available here.
Despite the restrictions due to Covid-19, the project was delivered on budget, and we achieved almost all of our objectives. It was not possible to have a live audience, so the concert was streamed online for free, and we attracted around 4,000 viewers of the live concert, with another 8,000 viewing it subsequently. This compares to perhaps 200 who would have been able to attend the original premiere. A series of related talks and other performances also attracted several thousand views. We are grateful to Arts Council England, Paragon Music Trust and the Vaughan Williams Trust for their generous funding.
The education activities were limited by coronavirus restrictions, staff shortages and school policies, but we started early and were able to spend longer in the schools than originally planned, and modified some of the activities. Over 700 children (in St Bernard’s RC Primary School, Oasis Long Cross Academy, and Oasis Bankleaze Academy) were able to learn about Vaughan Williams and The Lark Ascending; to compose and perform their own music inspired by the Lark; produce artworks and creative writing; and link this with the history of Shirehampton and their studies of the First World War. We produced a video to record their achievements, and hope to be able to hold a concert later in the year when restrictions have eased.
Bristol Beacon were enormously helpful with the promotion and technical aspects of the event. Most of the marketing was online via social media. Our Facebook event page reached over 60,000 people, and we generated a lot of retweets and favourites on Twitter. The BBC, ITV and Classic FM all broadcast features about the concert, and it was also picked up by several newspapers including The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, and over 200 local newspapers’ websites around the UK.
All of this coverage and social media activity generated many comments – overwhelmingly positive – from members of the public, as well as the children and others involved in the education project.
This was an exciting and complex project to deliver. We learned a lot, and worked with lots of great people – soloists, technicians, presenters, teachers and others. We taught the people of Bristol, the children of Shirehampton, and ourselves, more about this important local centenary of one of Britain’s best-loved pieces of music. And in a difficult year, we were able to bring a little hope and beauty, as expressed in this comment (one of several along similar lines)…
“Just to thank them for such a calming but uplifting time of beauty and wonder in a currently chaotic life.”