End of AHRC funding cycle report

So, August ends and so does Charlie’s funding from the AHRC for the Singing the Past project. e have been busy submitting reports and documents for this, and would like to include some material from these here, so let you know what we have done, and what more we hope to do with the project as it continues in the coming months.

Overall, we feel that the project has progressed according to plan. To begin the collaborative elements of the project, Charlie and Giles hosted a collaborative seminar on the project (2 March 2016) attended by members of Cantata Dramatica’s management board, alongside research students and staff from Durham University’s Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies and Departments of History and Music. Charlie chaired this day-long forum, during which we shared ideas for the character and content of the new composition on St Cuthbert, and potential cultural engagement activities related to the project. Most notable among the latter, was the ambition to work with a local choir in order to test-run sections of the new composition, and to provide the chorus for the eventual main performance during 2018. Giles made contact with Durham Cathedral to arrange for a partnership with respect to the performance in 2018, which will have a liturgical and well as concert version. The responses to these approaches was positive.

In April, Charlie shared the project during a session for the Durham University IMEMS community engagement course, ‘Drama, Ritual, Storytelling and People’, which is offered to non-specialist lifelong learners through collaboration with New College, Durham and co-taught with recent Durham doctoral graduate, Dr Gemma Wain (Twitter: @Gemmawain). The session, titled ‘Medieval Saints and Modern Operas’ introduced participants to the study of medieval saints and the role of saints in medieval society using sources composed and circulated in medieval Durham, and asked them to share their views on how far these saints (and in particular St Cuthbert) might be considered as being relevant to the life of the Durham region. We ended by giving participants the opportunity to sing two scenes from Cantata Dramatica’s Cantata Eliensis, and this was very popular indeed, and a welcome relief to Charlie.

Gemma saints

In early June, Charlie hosted a public Consultation Workshop in the Durham World Heritage Site visitor centre. This featured a PowerPoint loop with information on the project and a loop of recorded audio extracts from Cantata Eliensis, distribution of flyers and promotional materials for the forthcoming weekend of Cantata Dramatica and Singing the Past activities in Ely, and gave visitors the chance to fill out a short survey on their thoughts about the project and our developing new composition on the life and cult of St Cuthbert. Some qualitative data was gathered, but Charlie found that the majority of visitors were from overseas or from outside the local region, and so did not have many ideas about St Cuthbert. Those who were willing to contribute were very keen to learn more, and said that they would follow the progress of the project as it develops.

On Sunday 26 June, Charlie assisted in organising a major public event, when Cantata Dramatica performed Cantata Eliensis at Ely Cathedral to an audience of over 100, as part of the St Etheldreda’s festival weekend. Charlie curated an afternoon of public lectures by academics from Durham university and the University of Cambridge, which discussed the medieval history of Ely and the ‘Book of Ely’, on which the cantata is based. These lectures were attended by over 60 members of the public, many of whom also came to the evening performance of the cantata. ‘Singing the Past’ was also further publicised by distributing flyers (designed by Charlie and Cantata Dramatica) around shops and cafes in Ely, and on the main visitors’ reception desk of the cathedral.

CE full choir

From April onwards, Charlie worked to produce a draft of the Cuthbert Libretto, alongside nick Pitts-Tucker, librettist of Cantata Eliensis and director of Cantata Dramatica. This marked Charlie’s first major experience in creative writing, and provided a valuable opportunity to develop some of the themes explored in his postdoctoral research on Anglo-Norman Durham, in a new forum. Charlie developed the character of the cantor, Symeon of Durham, who acts as the narrator of the piece, and whose historical works provide the most detailed picture of Anglo-Norman Durham for academic researchers. Charlie added text to the libretto derived from a number of medieval sources, including Symeon’s History of the Durham church, Bede’s Life of St Cuthbert, and the Anglo-Saxon poem Durham, and by doing so was able to apply his academic research towards the composition a piece for public performance. Nick tutored Charlie in this creative writing process, and their collaboration allowed both co-authors to think deeply about the tensions between storytelling and historical accuracy, which were then incorporated into the libretto, through a scene in which the character of Bede challenged Symeon of Durham on the accuracy of his story, as featured in the libretto.

The end of our AHRC funding is by no means the end of work on the project. Charlie, along with the project supervisor, Giles Gasper, will continue to work alongside Cantata Dramatica in the development of the new composition on St Cuthbert, which is expected to be performed in full in Durham Cathedral during March 2018. During 2017, both Charlie and Giles will attend a preliminary workshop at a venue in Durham, during which the piece will be performed with orchestra, choir, soloists and composer. To coincide with the performance in 2018, Charlie and Giles aim to provide an accompanying academic conference, which will explore aspects of St Cuthbert’s community in Anglo-Norman Durham, with international, national and local speakers.

Charlie will continue updating this project blog, with news of progress and upcoming events, and will continue to publicise the blog and other events through his Twitter account (@rozierhistorian).

Charlie has worked alongside Cantata Dramatica since 2012, providing consultancy on historical compositions (Cantata Eliensis, Beowulf, and others) and will continue to do so on an ad-hoc basis when required, as the organisation expands and develops new works.

The future looks bright for this collaboration, and we hope that you continue to follow our activities as we work towards that first triumphant performance of the new Cuthbert composition in 2018. It promises to be an occasion to remember!



Author: rozierhistorian

Lecturer in Medieval History (Normans, Anglo-Saxons, medieval uses of the past) at Durham University, UK

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