Music creator Charlotte Marlow reflects back on her work with the Newcastle-Under-Lyme Community Orchestra (NULCO) as they premiere their collaboration from Adopt a Music Creator 2020-21.
This July saw the premiere of two new pieces I have worked on over the last few years, from the heart of the pandemic to now, with NULCO. The pieces, The Banks of Lyme Brooke and Industry were conceived following conversations and workshops with the members of the orchestra to showcase their varied relationships with their town, from the industrial roots of the area to the ecological efforts of the community.
The orchestra performed these works with great diligence and skill. It was a delight to see them embrace the challenge of these compositions, which were at times out of their comfort zone, and grow through the process. They tackled new concepts that at times stretched the boundaries of their previous engagement with contemporary classical music (I don’t think they expected to be playing pottery as percussion at the start of this collaboration, but more on that later…), and they rose to the challenge magnificently.
Members of NULCO at their premiere concert
Inspired by the ongoing conservation and rewilding efforts in the area, The Banks of Lyme Brooke was written for a small subsection of the orchestra. This smaller group expertly conveyed the tranquillity of the Lyme Brooke, imitating the song of birds found in the area, and using extended techniques such as breath sounds and timbral shifts in the strings to merge (and emerge) from a field recording taken from the Brooke by Clive, one of the members of the orchestra involved in the ecological restoration of the area.
The second piece, Industry, involved the full orchestra and provided a sonic exploration of Newcastle-under-Lyme's rich historical connection with pottery works. Moreover, it painted an audible picture of the town's connection to Astley's Circus. Both elements were bound together with a playful underpinning of percussion using spoons on teacups spread throughout the members. The teacups, made of pottery from the area, served a dual purpose. Not only did they link to Newcastle’s industrial history, but they also connected to the present day. They referenced the orchestra’s coffee and tea mornings, which have been a source of invaluable social connections for people in the community.
'The thoughtful conversations that unfolded in the wake of the performance suggested a deep resonance with the themes and emotions we sought to convey through the music.'
We had a wonderful turnout at the concert, with an audience as diverse and dynamic as the town itself. The attendees seemed deeply engaged with the music, and the post-performance feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The audience reception to both pieces was deeply gratifying. The thoughtful conversations that unfolded in the wake of the performance suggested a deep resonance with the themes and emotions we sought to convey through the music.
To see the orchestra not merely perform, but truly inhabit these pieces was truly a testament to their dedication. Their commitment to their craft reflected the resilience and vitality of their community spirit, and seeing NULCO rebuild itself over the last few years was a heartwarming experience.
I am eternally grateful for the journey we have taken together and look forward to what the future holds. I am committed to keeping this dialogue open in my future work, the project having affirmed for me the necessity of community music making, as well as the powerful connections and power of community that can be fostered through music.