My holiday homework concerned music to celebrate the Queen's upcoming Platinum Jubilee. It felt rather last-minute, given the delays of Covid-afflicted schedules this last year. There were a few helpful pointers in HM's Christmas message, where she hoped the event would celebrate 'a sense of togetherness' and 'a chance to give thanks for the enormous changes of the last seventy years, social, scientific and cultural.' But it's difficult creating new work which has a contemporary tone but also expresses something about the extraordinary dimension of the seventy-year reign through which we are still living. I suspect we mostly take the length of this period for granted, but it has happened only three times before in world history.
Fortunately, some people have been quicker off the mark than I was, and they include the organisers of two Jubilee-themed competitions for which I have been, or will be, a judge. First, that lively organisation The Commonwealth Resounds sprang into action some time ago to bring together a lyric and music which can be sung when celebratory beacons are lit on the evening of June 2nd, when the official party will begin. Initially, a poetry competition selected several winning poems contemplating/celebrating the Jubilee. Then, a second competition invited composers Commonwealth-wide to choose one of these texts and set it to music. Listening through the shortlist was an unexpectedly pleasant experience, and the eventual winner with lyrics by Lucy Kiely (Australia) and music by Vincent Atueyi Chinemelu (Nigeria) is a charming song. It should sound very fine amidst whatever weather is raging on our collective hilltops in June.
Meanwhile to the West Midlands, where the region will stage a four day arts festival covering the Jubilee weekend. Enter the West Midlands Platinum Jubilee Music Competition, open to students at colleges in the region. The winning work will be performed in Symphony Hall by a young chorus conducted by Simon Halsey, no less, and accompanied by CBSO. With no Platinum-themed poetry just sitting there on the bookshelf, the organisers turned to Birmingham's Young Poet Laureate, Fatma Mohiuddin, then aged 14, to write a lyric for the composers. She has done a splendid job, and we are very lucky to have the poetic reflections of a very young person on this historical event. As the chair of the jury I will be intrigued to see how the student composers react to their highly unusual task. College courses generally don't cover the composition of "public music" but every now and then, we suddenly need a big helping of it.
Pictured - generally unseen 14th century housing (still occupied) round the back of Windsor Castle.