Something to sing about;Music and the Arts;Music for the Millennium;Interview;Debbie Wiseman

12th February 1999 at 00:00
Nigel Williamson speaks to Debbie Wiseman, composer of The TES's 'anthem for the millennium'.

Debbie Wiseman, one of Britain's leading composers of film and television music, and Don Black, who has written lyrics for everyone from Michael Jackson to Andrew Lloyd Webber, have together created an "anthem for the millennium" as part of The TES's campaign to support music in schools.

The anthem comes as the culmination of our Music for the Millennium initiative and is suitable for adaptation by young musicians and singers of all ages and abilities. The TES anthem is due to have its world premi re during National Orchestra Week (March 6-14), organised by the Association of British Orchestras and presented in partnership with BT and The TES. During the week, more than 40 of the country's professional orchestras will invite members of the public to join workshops, open rehearsals and "have-a-go" sessions.

"I was thrilled to be asked to contribute and I know Don Black feels the same," says Debbie Wiseman. "The millennium is not just another day. It is a defining moment. Young people, in particular, feel it is a turning point, and I hope the anthem translates those feelings in many ways. The idea was to write a piece that anyone would be able to sing, that was accessible and easily melodic. It can be adapted in schools and used in different arrangements for piano, tenor recorder, percussion, or whatever resources are available."

If Debbie Wiseman's name is unfamiliar, you will almost certainly know her music. She recently composed and conducted the soundtrack of the film Wilde, starring Stephen Fry as the flamboyant Victorian writer; she is also responsible for the music to more than 70 other screen and television titles, including the themes to series such as A Week in Politics and The Good Guys and feature films Tom and Viv and Tom's Midnight Garden, which goes on general release in April.

Don Black's credits, in a songwriting career going back almost 40 years, include the lyrics to the James Bond themes "Diamonds Are Forever", "Thunderball" and "The Man With the Golden Gun". He also worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber on Aspects of Love and Sunset Boulevard.

The key to the anthem, according to Debbie Wiseman, is its versatility. "It works as part of a larger piece for full orchestra, but I wanted the anthem to have a warm, celebratory feel with a tune that was simple enough for people to learn instantly and which they can enjoy on whatever level suits their ability."

Yet, as any musician will tell you, there is nothing more difficult than creating the impression of effortless simplicity. "It was challenging because I didn't want to write something that was child-like. It couldn't be patronising - young people are a lot more sophisticated musically than we often realise. The simplicity lies in the fact that the piece is easy to communicate. The simplest melodies are often the toughest to write and involve the most work on the part of the composer."

Debbie Wiseman, who supports The TES Music for the Millennium campaign, is convinced that the key to succesful music education is to make it fun, and hopes that the anthem may be a starting point for primary children. "I was classically trained on the piano but I remember as a child getting an easy-to-play book of Beatles' tunes, which was the biggest thrill. It was the adventure of working it out for yourself rather than just playing scales and arpeggios. Music should never become a chore. If music teaching seems boring to seven or eight-year-olds, they will drop it and go and play football."

Debbie Wiseman is also convinced that music offers a sound training with profound benefits across the spectrum of learning. "It teaches basic skills because it is a well-defined discipline and fosters the persistence that is needed to get better at anything."

Her own work in youth music includes the successful Channel 4 series Backtracks, a schools programme which encouraged pupils to examine how music and visual images work together. "Film and television is such a big part of young people's lives that it can present the ideal way into the study of music," she says. Another series for schools, Music File, which looks at how harmony, rhythm and melody are used to enhance character, mood and plot on screen, is due for transmission by the BBC in May.

The anthem will be available on 'The TES' website and in 'The TES' in March.

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