Nathan and I went up to Northampton yesterday to see the first massed rehearsal for the Nene composition. It took place at Northampton School for Girls in the Spinney Hill concert hall, which turned out to be a massive blast from the past. The first time I visited that particular theatre was at the age of 8. We went to watch some sort of TIE play there. I think I must have got over-excited about going because I had a terrible tummy ache throughout the trip. After the show, we returned to my school for lunch and I managed to vomit inside my friend Emma Dicks' lunchbox. I still remember watching the dinner ladies trying to wash her crisp packet, which was the only thing she would have been able to eat after the incident. I was sent home and when I came back to school the following day, all the kids said I had the lurgy. I didn't know what that meant, but I knew it wasn't good!
Later still, the concert hall became a regular haunt for music school students. I played many a concert there. It was also the location of the first rock concert I ever attended. I say rock. It was a Fairport Convention gig which means it was actually folk music. I went with my parents, which isn't obviously as cool as wagging school to see Inspiral Carpets or whatever the cool kids were into at the time.
Anyway, we arrived at the theatre just as the whole school fell deathly silent for their armistice commemoration. I was very grateful to Peter Smalley who saw our car pulling into the car park and rushed out to tell me what was going on. Otherwise it might have felt like something from 28 Weeks Later!
After the silence, we entered the theatre and were introduced to the 600 school children who are going to be singing composition. It was an astonishing moment, particularly when they all burst into song. I found myself feeling incredibly moved. We were almost knocked backwards by the wall of sound and enthusiasm and I was suddenly struck by how lucky I felt that all these people had worked so hard on something I'd written. This piece of music, which had sat in my head and then in a computer, had suddenly been uncaged. The kids all knew all the words off by heart. I was really very impressed, particularly the sequence when they have to sing backwards to represent the Nene flowing inland with the tide.
The kids were delightful and made me feel like a rock star. I must have high-fived at least 100 of them. Most of the schools whose choirs are performing were selected as a result their proximity to the river. My old junior school, Denfield Park, was also chosen to take part, but withdrew with a very disappointing reason. I was very pleased, however, that the junior school in Higham Ferrers was talking part. I used to look out of my bedroom window as a child and watch the kids playing in the playground. One of the young people's aunts had known me at school. In fact scores of people came over who knew people who knew me. It was wonderful.
The highlight of the morning was almost certainly meeting Christine Jones, my old 'cello teacher. She taught me from the age of 7 to 17, and was hugely influential in my decision to become a composer.
The orchestra arrived after lunch, and I made a hasty exit. I really only want to hear the work sounding as good as it can and am aware that young performers have a habit of really raising their games when the adrenaline starts to flow!
I dropped Nathan off at Watford Gap. He was heading up to Nottingham for a knitting fair and was being picked up by a yarn dyer in a white van!
In the meantime I continued driving north to Coventry where I was location hunting. I ended up in the old Coventry Evening Telegraph building, a stunning example of brutalist architecture right next to the Belgrade Theatre, which has recently been re-opened for tours. It's a fascinating and deeply atmospheric place. Some of the rooms I walked through had a really bizarre and very spooky vibe. You can wander through the old print rooms and see all the state of art 1960s fixtures and fittings. The place has been handed over to artists and artisans for a year, and then the whole place will be converted into a hotel.
I went to Michael's in the evening to watch a very charming film which had been directed by someone we're hoping to work with. A jam-packed day.