• Sandra Smith

The Hatchling - a magnificent weekend! Part 1 Saturday

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

Where to begin with what turned out to be THE weekend to be in Plymouth.

The Hatchling team had managed to completely renegotiate the launch date onto the Bank Holiday weekend (when 3 other key events were also happening in Plymouth City centre – including a Drum n’ Bass party in the afternoon opposite the Hatchling site.) They had had just 2 weeks from the original performance date, to bring this to the people of Plymouth. They re-planned all the community contributions, found a new technical crew, as the original crew were off on other jobs and negotiated with all other city wide performing parties for a lull when certain parts of the Hatchling needed quiet. It’s testament to everyone how well it all worked – good will was abundant in Plymouth!

We arrived for a sound check at around 5pm and to talk to Harriet Bolwell, the senior producer, to see what changes we needed to make from the original plan. The sound crew - some from Plymouth City College others flown in from Manchester - all made us feel very comfortable, although our 2 basses Mick and Simon were slightly alarmed at having a microphone placed right in front of them!

Photo by Ros Johnson

Ruth Chan the composer of The Hatchling score, talking to MD Sandra Smith

Photo below by Andrew Lester

We then went off to change and warm up properly in the beautiful hall of the Guildhall

photo below by Ros Johnson

Coming back into the Civic square the Dragon had arrived and with her a huge, happy crowd of followers. The atmosphere was brilliant! All ages were interacting with her, and she was responding to the crowd and to anything that happened around her.

photo by Rosi Targett

We were waiting by the side of the Civic Centre to be called on to sing and the dragon came over to see who we were!

photo by SS

The co-ordination of the puppeteers was incredible and the strength and stamina to move her, meant the puppeteers worked in shifts, as it was so tiring. They had moved the dragon around Plymouth interacting with everything they saw – people, dogs, shops, fountains – constantly improvising her reactions. The team work involved was outstanding.

They were all wearing costumes designed by Plymouth College of Art students and they were influenced by Japanese samurai. All in black and skirted and heavy duty boots. They looked magnificent and perfect for the dragon puppet. The costumes gave the 'fierce' property of the dragon, even though she was gentle!

Whilst the dragon made her way to the trees for her nap, after the excitement of the day, we got ready to sing her a lullaby written for her by The Hatchling composer, Ruth Chan. She wrote 2 versions of the lullaby for us to sing, both with no words . We interpreted the score giving it the vowels and sounds to convey the emotions of the piece

And then.......Time to sing for the dragon! Spot her nestling into the tree below Photo below by Andrew Lester

We sang over our recording (see other blog post for that story - coming soon!) and our 16 singers sang live. It worked really well and meant that we could still hear our choir buddies singing with us.

Photo below by Andrew Lester

Photos below by Dom Moore

There was then a break, whilst the lantern parade created by Nudge community and The Conscious Sisters gently walked up to the Civic centre square drawing a crowd with them. The dragon’s puppeteers had taken a break too, so the dragon was lying very still around the tree. When they came back, just prior to us singing the 2nd lullaby, they brought her to life again by simulating her breathing and gentle tail movements. We were brought on to sing, under the trees, surrounded by the beautiful handmade lanterns. There were fairy lights in the branches and stage lighting and it all looked magical. The dragon was breathing and we started to sing. A little voice from within the dragon said ‘the dragon is aware of someone to her side!’ and the whole dragon responded! Then we were singing and a 'dragonthought’ said ‘the dragon is responding to the beautiful music’ It was during a particularly emotional bit in the music and I could feel myself welling up! I could see the choir were welling up too!

Photo by Andrew Lester

Photos below by Dom Moore

You can see that we are still 'on copy' - this is the first time we've performed with music in our hands - ever!

We had the 2 songs to learn in 6 weeks. That doesn't sound a lot, until you realise how long the pieces are! The ukulele piece is 6 minutes long and the full a cappella SATB song is 8 minutes long. We worked really hard to get the pieces up to performance level, but remembering a piece with no words is difficult as there is little to hang onto, at first. The songs have certainly improved our vocal techniques and our vocal stamina even then, we found that we can only sing the piece through twice in rehearsal. Also, until the last page, there is no break for the singers at all - they are singing every bar! The mouth gets dry and there is no time to swallow. In many ways, the pieces are very instrumental in style - like background music to a film score. All very different to what we are used to singing and it did take us a while to find our way into the songs and make them work with us. Once we had, though, we felt like we could bring the song truly alive - we felt so engaged and got quite emotional whilst singing it. We are still humming the lullabies as they pop into our heads. It's been a brilliant project to be part of, simply for the improvement we've made as a choir and we've loved feeling that. Meeting the composer and director and getting their input helped bring the songs into context and they started to come to life.

It felt so special to sing in this piece – to sing for the people of Plymouth in a way that brings us all together, and shows us as human, kind and connected. What a night it was. Our first public singing since Dec 2019. It all went well – we got lovely feedback from people and yes, the lullaby was for the dragon, but also for the city and it's wonderful people.

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