Music for the moment;TES Campaign;Music for the Millennium;Anthem for the Millennium;Interview;Debbie Wiseman

5th March 1999 at 00:00
Composer Debbie Wiseman explains to Nigel Williamson how she created an anthem that would be accessible to everyone and Don Black tells Aleks Sierz what inspired his lyrics.

Even for the most accomplished and experienced of composers, the first performance can be a heart-stopping experience. The music can make perfect sense in manuscript and it can sound fine in demonstration in a studio. But only when the conductor raises his baton and the voices sing out do you discover whether the piece really works for the performers.

"And it does," says Debbie Wiseman, who wrote the music for the Anthem for the Millennium, commissioned as part of The TES's campaign to support music in schools. "I went along to a rehearsal and heard the choir singing it for the first time. It was reassuring to hear that kids could learn it and sing it so beautifully. It was a joy."

The piece is suitable for adaptation by young musicians and singers of all ages and abilities and will have its world premi re during National Orchestra Week (March 6-14), organised by the Association of British Orchestras in partnership with BT and supported by The TES.

The origins of "There's Only One Of You" lie in a longer Wiseman composition called "Conversation for Orchestra".

"We set out to create something more song-like," she explains. "It was a challenge because the original work was intended for a full orchestra. But I always try to write melodically so there were the germs of a tune there that we could turn into something more accessible.

"Don Black's lyrics have given it another character and we collaborated on creating a structure that would work as a song. I sent Don Black a demo of the tune on the piano. As he fitted words to it we made little adjustments, a note added or subtracted here and there. We got there surprisingly quickly."

Debbie Wiseman has written the music to more than 70 screen and television titles, including the themes to series such as "A Week In Politics" and "The Good Guys" and feature films including "Tom and Viv", "Wilde" and "Tom's Midnight Garden," which goes on general release in April.

"I was delighted to be asked to write the Anthem because young people do feel that the Millennium is a turning point and I hope the music translates those feelings. I hope lots of schools perform it in many different ways," she says.

Versatility was another key aim. "The idea was to write a piece that anyone would be able to sing, that was accessible and easily melodic. It can be used in different arrangements for various instruments and I wanted the song to have a warm, celebratory feel. There are some quite difficult elements within it but it is still a tune that is simple enough for people to learn instantly and adapt, whatever their ability. It had to be non-patronising. The simplicity lies in the fact that the piece is easy to communicate, not that it is child-like. The main thing is for people to enjoy it."

But she also hopes that "There's Only One Of You" will educate. "The piece is full of interesting things and I hope kids can learn from it how melodies work, how different instruments can play the tune and how words add colour to the music."

Her own youth music work includes the Channel 4 schools series "Backtracks", which examined how music and visual images complement each other. Another television series for schools, "Music File", which looks at harmony, rhythm and melody, is due for transmission by the BBC in May. Above all, her approach to teaching music is to make it fun. "Music should always be an adventure, never a chore," she says.

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