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On Saturday 20 March 2010 the Belfast Waterfront was quite literally turned upside down as the Ulster Orchestra performed a new gravity-defying Oratorio for children, Rain Falling Up. The one-hour show combined narration, animation, and a dazzling orchestral score with songs performed by 400+ singers ranging from the age of 7 to 97! The music was written by the Orchestra’s former Associate Composer, Brian Irvine, with words by John McIlduff and live animation by Matthew Robbins (Flyboy and the Planet of the Melting Snowmen), and was supported by Ulster Bank’s Up the Tempo programme and was part-funded through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s National Lottery scheme.
Rain Falling Up tells the story of Jake, a young boy who has an insatiable curiosity for all things scientific, especially gravity. After he (and not gravity!) is blamed for breaking his mum’s favourite vase he begins to think that gravity isn’t his friend; the world would be a better place without it. He makes a “gravity switch” which, to his astonishment, really works. Jake is thrown into a world where everyone’s an astronaut and everything can fly; elephants and scout troops and trucks and small countries float by. But as he drifts further into space and becomes increasingly lonely, he begins to think that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea after all. Being connected to things is actually pretty important.
During the months leading up to the final event 180 KS2 children from three schools undertook the mammoth task of tackling the tongue-twisting lyrics and learning Irvine’s unpredictable melodies. The hard work of each pupil and teacher involved was apparent at the school workshops and Brian’s inexhaustible reservoir of energy enabled him to form a great rapport with the kids.The choir was joined by a further 240 children from eight regional schools across Northern Ireland in the final chorus “All Objects Attract”. An older group chorus from Lockview Fold in Hollywood also took to the stage in voicing the sentiments of Jake’s grumbling granddad in “Gravity Sucks”.
Rain Falling Up was primarily an Education event, providing children with opportunities to participate, explore and learn about music outside the classroom. The project encouraged collaboration between different and diverse communities and the children were able to create artwork, animation and poetry in response to what they had discovered about Gravity in school.
“This is a piece that the whole family can enjoy – one little boy’s discovery of how all things, all people, are connected, by magical invisible forces,” Brian Irvine explained.
The Ulster Bank's Up the Tempo programme is a musical outreach programme that aims to nurture young talent in children from all areas and encourages them to compose, perform and listen to music.
“Music has an important role to play in education and young people’s lives,” said Sandra O’Dwyer, Ulster Bank’s Community Investment Manager. “Ulster Bank is a committed supporter of the arts and is delighted to join with the Ulster Orchestra on this programme.”
The 180 strong choir included children from Broughshane Primary, Orangefield Primary and St Kieran’s Primary.
Children from seven regional schools participated in workshops in their schools prior to coming to the concert on 20 March.
These schools were: Castle Tower Primary, St John’s Primary, St Patrick’s Primary and St Brigid’s Primary – all in Ballymena; Mount St Michael’s Primary in Randalstown; Ballytober Primary in Bushmills and St Brigid’s Primary in Ballymoney.
26 March 2010
Philip Hammond straps in against the gravitational pull of Brian Irvine and the Ulster Orchestra.
Brian Irvine is not the sort of composer who likes to live in an ivory tower. He doesn't necessarily sit around waiting for deep thoughts and profound inspirations. He's a practical sort of guy who has made his career out of writing music and making music and teaching music, much to the benefit of his players, his pupils and his audiences.
Irvine's latest composition is in what 1 might term the 'cast of thousands' category and was impressively premiered at the Waterfront Hall on Saturday 20th March 2010.
Irvine is quite accustomed to dealing with disparate groups and he's developed a quirky personal and compositional style to cope with the diverse performers with whom he so readily and expertly engages.
His rapport with the several hundred children and the good number of elderly singers tonight arranged in front of the Ulster Orchestra, quaintly bathed in colourful lighting, is palpable. As he steps on to the podium to conduct, Irvine gets a huge cheer from the performers even before conducting starts - well, I'm not sure about the orchestral players but they're always a little reticent. It's his energy, commitment and enthusiasm which eventually wins the day and which it is worth mentioning.
Rain Falling Up, a story written by John McIlduff, is about a smart young boy who has a few problems with gravity (or 'gravaty' as the young singers endearingly sing) and he decides to invent a machine to turn it off. In a dream, he succeeds. But there's unwelcome consequences and when it all gets too much he luckily wakes up and guess what? All is fine again. Sighs of relief all 'round.
My one difficulty with the unfolding presentation is that, because of the ambient lighting, I can't see the libretto so carefully printed in the programme with a background colour that renders reading an impossibility.
Too bad - but the naïveté of the libretto, the pictorialism of the music and Sharon Thompson's narration - are all enhanced greatly by the utterly charming silhouette puppetry/visuals of Matthew Robbins. Who needs words when such pictures can tell the story anyway?
This is really a piece of total theatre which has an appeal for the moment. Perhaps the most amazing thing about what I am experiencing is that for almost an hour not one child, either in the audience or on stage, gets bored, stroppy, or acts in a way which is 'unsociable'. If proof were needed that music and the arts can expand the concentration span of the young then here it is.
Of course, we all know that anyway and Brian Irvine is a past master at successfully involving people of all ages with his attractive music and with his winning ways. But what an incredible amount of effort to put into a one-off event!