Create an ‘Opera in a Day’ was the task for 22 Year 3 and Year 4 students from Southwold Primary School when they visited The Red House in Aldeburgh, the home of the world-famous composer, Benjamin Britten.
School: Southwold Primary School, Suffolk
Subject: History, Music, Art & Design, English
Number of children: 22
Built as a farmhouse in the 17th century, The Red House remains as it did when Britten lived there from 1957. The site also includes Britten’s composition studio, his extensive library, an interactive museum exhibition space and over 5 acres of gardens.
A week before the trip, the class enjoyed a visit to their school from one of The Red House education team who was going to work with them on the day. This offer is included in the school visit package and allows the children to understand elements of the trip before they visit. This visit cleverly juxtaposed Benjamin Britten as a modern composer and musician the children are more familiar with - Ed Sheeran.
“It was an absolute pleasure to welcome Southwold Primary School to The Red House. The children worked brilliantly to develop their own ‘Opera in a Day’ and it is clear that the wonderful site inspired and engaged their imaginations.” - Joe Carr, Curator of Collections and Learning at The Red House.
The ‘Opera in a Day’ session itself saw the children take on the roles of historians, musicians, designers, authors and performers as they learnt about Benjamin Britten and one of his best loved operas, Noah’s Flood. The children began their day in the purpose-built education space exploring films of Britten’s Opera’s and how he developed the music within them.
The morning saw the children split into two groups to complete two separate activities.
The first activity involved exploring the interactive museum and gallery space, which has been developed to tell Benjamin Britten’s story. Through the museum displays the children were able to experiment and create their own instruments as well as explore and try on beautiful opera headdresses while they thought about their own costumes for the final show.
The other morning activity involved an exciting trip to The Red House, the home where Benjamin Britten lived and worked. The children explored the unique array of objects and collections accumulated over Benjamin Britten’s lifetime. They were able to see where Britten’s different ideas and influences came from through his collections. The groups also visited the Britten-Pears Archive building. Here they could explore the wealth of archival collections, shedding light on the various stages required in developing an Opera. They also had the unique chance to explore an archive store.
The busy morning ended with the class being split into their smaller composing groups and then discovering the parts of the story that they would be creating music for in the afternoon.
The education room was the base for the day and was also utilised during lunch; however, the weather was nice enough to enjoy the beautiful gardens afterwards. The children had the chance to wander around the surroundings at The Red House over lunch period. Fruit such as strawberries, blackberries, apples, pears and raspberries can all be found in the kitchen garden as well as the space of the croquet lawn and grass tennis court.
After lunch, the music began, as groups began to develop the sounds for their section of the story. Children had the opportunity to explore traditional and alternative musical instruments to create sounds. Working together as a team the children began to experiment with how they would score their sounds and replay them for the grand performance, thinking about volume, repetition and tempo.
‘It was cool going out of school and making music in a special place’ – Pupil Millie Cashell.
The afternoon also saw the children develop their language skills through writing lyrics. Within the inspiring Studio where Britten composed many of his best loved works, children wrote their own song which was to be a fitting end to their Opera. This was based on a tune Britten used in his opera.
Eventually it was time for the Big Performance in Britten’s library, a beautiful space in which to practise and perform. The children performed their opera Noah’s Flood and worked together as a team to create a wonderful final performance.
Back in the Classroom
Bethany Cashell, class teacher said “Back in the classroom the children we excited to explore more about Benjamin Britten, his home and his music. I don’t think many even knew who Benjamin Britten was prior to the trip, and it is wonderful that now they know all about him.
“The children thoroughly enjoyed the learning experience in the inspirational setting of his home, studio, library and gardens. Back in the classroom we were able to expand our learning of this important local and historical, figure. It was wonderful that the children had the opportunity to explore and compose with talented staff and musicians, allowing them to develop skills in teamwork and co-ordination, as well as creating and performing in a very special space. Visiting ‘The Red House’ was an incredible experience for the children- the serene atmosphere and the full immersion in Britten’s environment made the trip unique.”
“The day was thoroughly enjoyed by all of us- the children we engaged and learnt so much. We had a fantastic day” - Class teacher, Mrs Bethany Cashell.