Composer Hunter Coblentz on working with Kids Choir
Hunter Coblentz is composer-in-residence at Handel & Hendrix, a museum dedicated to the lives of these two musicians' time in London, who happened to live next door to each other centuries apart. This year we commissioned Hunter on our Kids Choir project. We caught up with Hunter to speak to him about composing music and working with four hundred and fifty children...
Hi Hunter, tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into composition
I am a Canadian composer living in London. I am fortunate to have parents who value both music and music education. Throughout my youth I studied the cello, and sometime during my adolescence I fell in love with composing.
Tell us about your residency with Handel & Hendrix?
My composition residency with Handel & Hendrix in London began in 2015. I work a great deal alongside their learning programme. As a team we work towards introducing young musicians to the fascinating lives and musical contributions of both G.F. Handel & Jimi Hendrix.
How did you approach the brief of responding to Handel's Water Music?
Richard Frostick (Kid's Choir leader and conductor), who would ultimately be responsible for preparing my piece, alongside many others, for performance, introduced me to a newspaper article published in 1717 following the premiere of Handel’s Water Music. It outlines in great detail the spectacle of King George floating down the river Thames. I collaged the article into a kind of poem, and the music grew from there.
How did you find working with the Kids Choir project?
It was very moving hearing the choir sing such a range of music, and with such enthusiasm and expression. I think it is lovely that the performance took place in the open air on the riverbank, for any or all to hear and see.
Why do you think it is important for young people to have access to singing and music?
A great deal of evidence challenges the assumption that a music education can strengthen the broader academic performance of a child. And yet ‘The Mozart Effect,’ and its derivative theories continue to be the foundation upon which we debate the value of childhood music access. The conversations surrounding music education must be refocused; music is important for children because music, and the act of making music, is beautiful. It lifts the human spirit and brings people together. This in itself must justify why we should work to keep music in our schools and homes.
What skills do you think the children gained?
It was clear to me that the children had learnt a great deal about singing, and the work that goes into preparing music for performance. I was impressed that they had learnt to sing music in several languages from around the world, and had developed a factual understanding of where the various pieces were from, and what messages were being conveyed through the respective texts. Judging by their enthusiasm it seemed to me that giving a live performance of music had instilled in many of the children a sense of confidence that I wish I had had at that age!
What have you learnt about the Thames during this project?
I remember reading that its name is derived from the Latin ‘Tamesis,’ meaning ‘dark water'.