When you absolutely positively need to have a happy ending. (Getting a dream commission)

Our tale begins with a dream commission for any storyteller. Who wouldn’t want to do a seven-day-long collaboration with the Royal College of Music Museum and the Southbank Centre Archives?

When the email popped up, I remember jumping to ring Lydia Cracknell from the RCM and confirm as soon as I physically could- just in case she changed her mind!

I was still a bit hazy about details, I just knew that I would be working with two world class organisations, what could go wrong?

 However this was no happy ending, the work hadn’t even started! The one thing about a really exciting commission is that you do NOT want anything to go wrong!

It soon became evident that the scale of the project required two people so George Hoyle joined the team as the second storyteller and we went together to the first meeting.

There we met Lydia, as well as Jess Ihejetoh from the Southbank Archives, and discussed the brief in detail.

The brief:

  1. An embarrassment of riches (in terms material)…. of thousands of fantastic photos and programmes to examine, fabulously talented real live musicians on hand, “play” instruments made from things like garden hose which needed to be handled… as well as real priceless ones which could not! There was even a carpet dating from 1951 which had been woven to resemble sound waves! 
  2. As part of the storytelling, we were going to choose and visit four different locations in a noisy, seething, teeming Half Term Royal Festival Hall.
  3.  The activity was aimed at 9-12s but we knew we would need to plan for toddlers as well because they always seem to appear at any storytelling event!
  4. The whole thing had to be 45 minutes long including collecting audience responses.
  5. We only had five days to come up with the script…


The key idea of “a land without music” was at the heart of the story and there was so much be included in a coherent whole. I felt like someone who has been handed a bag of random items and has to make a cordon bleu meal! Luckily George was on hand to help. We broke the plan into four; brainstormed a section a day, wrote the script on day five and just made the deadline. We decided that the land without music would be a possible Future London and we would be time travellers!

 Thank goodness for the Southbank Centre and the RCM who seemed to have a solution to any problem and could come up with anything we needed. (From a “Back to the Future” style timer to luminous jumpsuits, ooh!)

Of course, as with any storytelling, the magic happened when we met the families. “Do you have flying cars?”, “how far in the future are you from?”, “maybe I’ll meet you when I’m grown up!”. My favourite was a couple of parents who got really lost in the whole concept and started playing the recorder to me, showing me what to do with my fingers and explaining at length about the importance of “London Bridge is falling down” to children of the past! Everyone got to play and sing for the grand finale. But…

…for me the real happy ending was the moment when we asked the families to write on placards what music meant to them and why it was important. It was often a moment of powerful realisation.

Music can: Communicate with people from different countries with different languages.”

Music makes me: Think about things clearly.”

Music is: Being alive and getting to live”

And so…

…We felt honoured to be part of this project. By taking part in activities like this, children and their families can be empowered to feel ownership of their past (the archives, the museum) as well as preparing for a future which is burstingly, gloriously full of wonderful music!

And we all lived happily ever after.

To read the RCM’s view of the commission, please click here.

Photos: (c) Sheila Burnett, RCM