The London Sinfonietta’s Participation & Learning Assistant, Shoubhik Bandopadhyay, gives us the insider story on his latest community project:
Ripples and Roots: Rushmoor Stories was a collaboration between the London Sinfonietta and electronic musician Scanner as part of the New Dimensions project in Hampshire, which is looking for new ways to involve the community in music-making. After a couple of exploratory meetings, we decided to create a piece inspired by the musical memories of Rushmoor residents. We wanted to find out what role music played in their lives, what their earliest memories were and what music had special meaning for them. We planned to hold these sessions in the West End Centre in Aldershot, one of the main community centres in the Rushmoor area. Working on the project with us were Gabi Swallow (cello), David Cuthbert (flute), Philippa Davies (flute) and Bruce Nockles (trumpet).
Our first meeting was with the Nepalese dancing group. Following the Gurkha Justice Campaign, Aldershot has become home to a sizeable Nepali community, many of whom meet once a week for a traditional Nepalese knees-up. I, along with Scanner, Gabi and David, went along to meet them, not really sure what to expect.
Entering the room via the quiet foyer of the building, we were greeted by around sixty colourfully dressed Nepali men and women seated around the edge of the room and a general level of excitement and chatter which belied their age. It felt a little bit like the beginning of a school disco. We sat, observing awkwardly and failing to explain why we were there as we waited for our interpreter to arrive. However, once the popular Nepalese songs started blaring out of the distorted hifi system, the women starting rising to their feet one-by-one and dancing. There was little choreography and each woman danced individually, quite unaware of what was around them although they did occasionally beckon myself, Scanner and David to join in; we politely declined for fear of embarrassing ourselves and potentially angering some of the men who we were quite aware were famed for their bravery in battle!
Eventually our interpreter Hari arrived and he explained to the group that we wanted to understand what significance this music had to them, if any of them played instruments or if they could sing. We learned that they had songs and dances for occasions such as weddings, funerals, births and harvests but it became apparent that, even though they all would have sung together in their youth, this was something that they hadn’t done for many years. After much cajoling and encouragement, they eventually agreed to sing for us.
At first there were only five or six reluctant singers, then a few more joined in and eventually there were around forty women joyously taking part in a call and response song which, as Hari explained, was about two lovers separated from each other when a rivers burst its banks. They invited Gabi and David to join in with them as Scanner and I recorded the whole event, watching on as the music grew louder, intertwining with David’s flute playing and underpinned by the rich sound of Gabi’s cello. There was much laughter as each new lyric was introduced and, although we couldn’t understand what they were singing, it was a true musical exchange and amazing to think that an hour earlier we had been struggling to communicate with each other! After quickly stepping into the West End Centre’s theatre to record some of the musical fragments which had come out of the session, we said our goodbyes and left feeling quite privileged to have been part of such a unique and special occasion.
Our next meeting was with the Senior Moments retirement group, a group who meet once a week to share a cup of tea and catch up on the goings on in Aldershot. We were very keen to learn about the established historic community in Aldershot; whilst the Nepalese dancing group are a relatively recent addition to the West End Centre, for many of this group it was in fact their school some years ago.
Our conversations with them illustrated how much Aldershot had changed over their lifetimes. It was fascinating to hear from some of the older participants about their early memories of music, seemingly confined to church and school until American soldiers stationed there in WW2 exposed the local community to jitterbug, blues and big band music, revolutionising the local music scene. Other tales included an adolescent trip to Wembley to see Frankie Vaughan perform ‘Give me the Moonlight’ and, most poignantly, a rendition of Ave Maria from Gabi, Bruce and David which one of the ladies had played at her wedding and her husband’s funeral.
All of these experiences and ideas were woven into the final piece by Scanner, including some spoken word recordings from the participants. Performances were given at the West End Centre’s Summer Festival in August (featuring a completely turfed indoor venue!) and as part of the Remembrance Sunday service at the Aldershot Military Museum in November.
Ripples and Roots has been a really fulfilling project for us in the Participation and Learning department; working in a new location, with different participant groups and developing work with a new partner in Scanner, who we hope to collaborate with again in the future.
If you would like a free copy of the Ripples and Roots: Rushmoor Stories CD, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us via social media.
Thanks go to Barney and his team at the West End Centre, Kevin at Turner Sims Concert Hall, Matthew from the Anvil and Tammy at New Dimensions for all of their help and support on the project.