The Full English
Sam’s new anthem for England!
Sam Dunkley's new anthem will get its first live hearing on St George's Day as part of the local Made in England project!
Be one of the first to hear the new Anthem for England. Listen on the link below from 12 noon on Thursday 23 April 2009!
Local people are helping to celebrate St George’s Day 2009 with a unique on the move production, which will include performances of a brand new anthem for England by young composer Sam Dunkley.
Stantonbury Campus students rehearse with Sam
This live music and theatre event will kick off at the Milton Keynes Theatre at 10.00am and end up at St Pancras International with live performances of the anthem in the Milton Keynes Theatre Square and on the station platform at the London end.
Sam’s anthem for England is set to echo the great traditions in poetry and song with which people celebrate other patron saints’ day such as those for St Patrick, St David and St Andrew. It will reflect the fact that being English means many different things to many different people, and will therefore highlight our rich and diverse culture in song.
People in Milton Keynes will hear it first when students from Stantonbury Campus sing it as the whole event begins.
The students have been practising this week with 23-year-old composer Sam, so we went along to meet him to find out more.
Stantonbury Campus students rehearse
How did you get involved in this project?
Sam: I’ve done some work previously with large groups of young people performing in obscure places. I wrote a piece about technology and New Media for 500 primary school kids to sing in November last year, so Janet [Robertson – the Artistic Director] invited me to be involved [in this project] because she was aware of my work and the way that I work.
You’ve had music performed in unusual places and this piece will be performed on the platform at St Pancras International – is that one of the more unusual ones?
Sam: That’s probably the most unusual so far I think! It’s going to be a real challenge for the young people involved in performing because it’s obviously not a site designed for live performance necessarily, so we’re tailoring our performance to fit to that. But it's the same as any other performance, in that it relies on people’s enthusiasm and dedication to what they’re doing to put across their performance.
The anthem is incredibly catchy. What was your inspiration for it?
Sam: I actually got my ideas for the piece by talking to young people. I went and spoke to students in various primary schools and other young people who I’m involved in working with, and asked them about their experiences of being English, being from England and living in England, and took their ideas as starting points really.
A thoughtful Sam in rehearsal
I asked them questions about their experiences such as 'what is English food?' and we spoke about fish and chips and roast beef and chicken balti and all sorts of really obscure things. I think that children have a different perspective really, and a freedom to say things that we won’t necessarily think of or notice, there’s an innocence to what they say.
For instance, one of the verses talks about the difference between the hustle and bustle of an urban setting and the countryside. A nine-year-old girl suggested that she liked the countryside because it was a fresh place for her to go where she could really breathe and feel out in the open. She had a fantastic way with words and I've borrowed that!
However, I came up with the chorus on my own really because I needed a fanfare-like anthemic feel that is hopefully quite catchy for people who hear it.
But the melodies for the verses are slightly more obscure because rather than in a traditional pop song, where all the verses will have the same tune, these deliberately all have different tunes, so that at the end, the four of them layer on top of each other and form a harmony.
Stantonbury Campus students rehearse
I’m sensing a kind of metaphor here in that England is made up of all sorts of different things - so is that symbolised by all the harmonies coming together?
Sam: Yes, it’s a theme that runs through the project really. The is the feeling that, for example, it’s just as English to be from somewhere like say Birmingham as it is to be from anywhere else. So it’s a fantastic project to be involved in because it really is celebrating the diversity [of England]. With students coming in from Morden and students from Milton Keynes being involved, there’s a fantastic diversity of backgrounds.
There has been quite a lot of publicity about this anthem because some have suggested that it was set to be a new national anthem, but that’s not the case is it?
Sam: No that’s not what we’re trying to achieve at all. The brief that I was given was to write an 'anthemic song' which is a very general term really. For example, you’ve got anthems that are performed in churches, you’ve got national anthems and you’ve got rock anthems. But anthem for me in this context means a song that people will latch onto, and hopefully from hearing it once or twice will be able to go away humming the tune.
I think if anyone had been hoping to commission a new national anthem for England they wouldn’t have come to me and [if they had], I certainly wouldn’t have said yes!
You’ll be conducting a choir of about 100 at St Pancras on the day, who is making up the choir?
Sam: We’ve got about 100 young people from Morden School who are coming in by tube! And we’ve also got some young people from local music services and from the Junior Guildhall coming to accompany them – there will be about 30 young musicians playing everything from oboes to bass guitars and piano, so it’s going to be a really interesting sound.
There are two performances of the anthem, there’s also one at Milton Keynes at the start of the day, and those students have worked on that anthem separately, so the versions are all slightly different.
Stantonbury Campus students rehearse
The recording that we’ve done is also by a different ensemble from a different part of the country who’ve interpreted the song [in their own way too] and again I think that’s something that happens all across England. You have different accents and different views of the same thing.
So it all fits into the project! Now, you’ve just been rehearsing with the students from Stantonbury Campus who will be in the Theatre Square on Thursday – how do you think it’s sounding?
Sam: It sounds fantastic. It blew me away really, it was a completely different feel to the song but they own it, they enjoy it and they’re committed to it, so it’s fantastic for me!
How do you think you’ll feel when you’re conducting this live at St Pancras?
Sam: Optimistic?! I don’t know, it’s a difficult thing really. I don’t often remember performances unless something goes terribly wrong, which it won’t! You’re just in the moment and involved in what you’re doing.
There’ll be a lot going on because we’re using both levels of St Pancras Station and there are lots of forces that I can’t control, so I’ll just be doing what I can to get everyone to the other end of the performance. But it will be a fantastic occasion and hopefully everyone involved and everyone passing by will enjoy it.
last updated: 24/04/2009 at 10:11
Have Your Say