Dahl: the musical

5th December 1997 at 00:00
Roald Dahl's stories, loved by millions of children, are being used to introduce youngsters to the joys of live orchestral music. Svend Brown reports

Roald Dahl shared so many delights with children - humour, magic, scary, gooey, gory and sticky moments, as well as sugar and sweets. The one thing he really did not feel he could share was his love of classical music; he simply did not know how.

So, since his death, the Roald Dahl Trust has embraced music education as an area of special interest. But the trust has done a lot more than simply put on a couple of children's concerts each year; it has created a new repertoire of orchestral music written specially for children. By commissioning new musical adaptations of Dahl's work, it reasons that the tales, familiar to millions of children, could offer a delightful introduction to the joys of live orchestral music. Once premi red, the pieces are being adapted and recorded on audio and video, so reaching vast audiences across the world.

Under the guidance of artistic director Donald Sturrock, the trust has been canny in its selection of composers. Obviously, this is not the place for the way-out or the austere; these are celebratory, festive events, which have to be fun and full of colour. Being the festive period, there should be a touch of panto about them.

Paul Patterson, who wrote the first piece, Little Red Riding Hood, has a record of writing for younger audiences and performers, as do his successors, Eleanor Alberga and George Pelecsis. This time Sturrock has lighted on the extremely humourful - not to say anarchic - Kurt Schwertsik. "Mercurial'' and "fantastical'' are adjectives that have stuck to him over the years, along with "witty'', "childlike'' and "tuneful''. All augurs well.

Schwertsik's Goldilocks is an adaptation of one of Dahl's Revolting Rhymes: traditional nursery rhymes with such an energetically wicked spin put on them that they often end up on their heads. In this case Goldilocks is far from the innocent wee girl menaced by bears. She is a wicked, spoilt, little vandal and thief, whose crimes against the bears land her in court.

Like its predecessors, the piece will be fully staged with a cast of singers, actors, dancers and celebrities: Dahl's granddaughter - and size 14 supermodel -Sophie Dahl takes the lead. Unlike the other commissions, it will be premi red outside London. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra will be performing it twice in one day as part of a concert called A Walk in the Woods; the other half of the concert features well-known classics on the theme. In the afternoon of December 18, there will be a special schools performance, followed by an evening gala concert.

The aim of the trust, founded by Dahl's widow, Liccy, is to help individuals in need in the fields of neurology, haematology and literacy, so the music is a profile raiser as well as a source of earnings (royalties from the new pieces go to the trust).

A raft of satellite events and activities initiated by the SCO has grown up around the premi re. Any school sending more than 50 pupils to the concert is entitled to a free in-school workshop. Players from the orchestra will visit the school to introduce themselves and their instruments in advance of the concert; it has long been acknowledged that younger audiences enjoy the concert experience far more if they have met some of the people on stage. It gives a sense of familiarity to what can be a fairly alien experience. The SCO is also providing teachers with a briefing sheet containing information on the new piece, exercises, games and ideas for preparing the class for the event.

The SCO has taken the opportunity to develop the themes of the commission in an ongoing relationship with the Craigmillar Children's Project. This will be the second in a series of projects, each of which has different priorities. Given the Roald Dahl Trust's concern with literacy, this time there will be a strong literary focus.

Writer Ron Butlin and composer Stephen Deazley have been working with 26 children from three Craigmillar primary schools to create their own revolting rhyme, based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. With support from Edinburgh City Council's Arts Unit and Scottish Provident, that piece will then be performed at eight schools around the area in the run-up to Christmas.

Goldilocks is at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall at 2.30 and 7.30 on Thursday December 18. Further details of workshops or briefing sheets from Steve Page at the SCO, tel: 0131 557 6802

Snow White

She has black hair Her skin is fair She's the best in the world Her hair is curled Everyone loves her except the Queen Because she's the prettiest ever seen She has blue eyes And she never cries She is very pretty And is never nippy Everyone loves her except the Queen Because she's the prettiest ever seen Gemma Brown, aged 9

The Wicked Queen

I am beautiful, I am bad I make people very sad.

The Princess Snow White she must die; She's so pretty, she's so shy, No wonder I want to make her cry Boo Hoo Hoo Hoo

For mercy she'll get none from me; I'll cook her heart for my tea!

The Princess Snow White she must die; She's so pretty, she's so shy, No wonder I want to make her cry Ha Ha Ha Ha

Cassandra Chan and Ashley Cooper, aged 8 and 9 magic mirror on the wall Magic Mirror on the Wall, Who is the fairest of them all?

Who is the fairest, Who is the fairest, Who-hoo is the fairest of them all?

Purple nose, Green skin, Shock-red eyes, Jaggy teeth Magic mirror on the wall, Who is the fairest of them all?

Who is the fairest, Who is the fairest, Who-hoo is the fairest of them all?


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