Flying Kites in Thame

'Adopted' composer Neil Tòmas Smith reflects on his work with Thame Chamber Choir

It is a curious feature of Thame that if one looks upwards, there is often a surprising abundance of birds of prey meandering across the sky. 

Finding my ornithological knowledge lacking, I asked Peter Smith, honoured chair of the Thame Chamber Choir committee, as to the identity of these hovering creatures.  He informed me that they are Red Kites reintroduced to the Chilterns in the late 80s and early 90s and, it seems, they’re finding it quite to their liking.  Indeed, it has been hailed as one of the most startling recent conservation successes in the UK.  Peter has seen as many as six hovering round his home.  Good news for Kites if, apparently, bad news for pigeons.

The gathering of the Thame Chamber Choir at the John Hampden school seemed a rather less threatening prospect, though rub them the wrong way and, who knows, they too might have claws. 

Thankfully, in this workshop designed for me to try out ideas with the ensemble, they indulged my directions with great openness and enthusiasm – not at all bad for a Sunday afternoon.

I wanted to keep the note-learning in this session to a minimum, so often used the simplest of pitch material to try and explore different textures and ideas of musical space with the choir.  The hour culminated in two contrasting ideas moving in opposite directions round three subsections of the choir, who were stood in different areas of the room: a challenge that provoked a little laughter as well as some great sounds!

After working on these ideas I feel like I really know how they might slot into different parts of the piece to be written – sometimes exactly as we worked on them in this session.  Furthermore, I feel like the choir has a great deal of potential and can, at times, be pushed even further than I thought.  Music is always difficult in some way, and much relies on how people respond to musical adversity.  I was hugely encouraged by the choir’s ‘give it a go’ attitude, which bodes very well for our work together.  Hopefully, this workshop has also given them the opportunity to become familiar with some of my ideas so they can relate to the finished piece when it arrives.