A children's poetry competition has led to an outstanding musical recording. Gerald Haigh reports
Dreams: The Walking Oliver Poetry in Song Competition 2004
CD and booklet pound;7.99 Walking Oliver
Tel: 01273 475532
For Paul and Richard, composers and performers, it's been a challenging task. Children's poems come in widely differing styles and those chosen, though they show genuine understanding of rhythm, are mostly too subtle to just go tum-ti-tum.
Paul and Richard, though, are well up to the task. Using a combination of live playing and singing with a lot of clever studio work on a synthesiser, they pay respect to every poem.
As a singer, Paul Austin Kelly seems able to switch on anything from grand opera to country and western, with engaging warmth and clarity.
So, "Flying in My Head", by seven-year-old Lucy Elizabeth Humphries, a jolly number about mentally escaping from maths, gets a bouncy tune and rhythm that eventually soars freely on a big ensemble sound:
"Chase the wind and dancing All across the ground, Always in my head it seems Such joy is to be found."
The really hard ones to set, however, were surely those in which children poured out inner feelings that sometimes seem almost too private and painful to touch. How, for example, to set about writing a tune to 10-year-old Lucie Shaw's "Split (You've Fractured My Heart)", about dad leaving the family home.
"When everything is over You'll be on your own.
Dad is like the gardener Now the seeds are sown."
Paul Austin Kelly's response is to make the poem become, effectively, the lyric of a major number in an unwritten modern musical - shades of Sondheim, perhaps - and he sings it with the passion it deserves.
There are so many delights - "Maya and ...", 11-year-old Katie Ebner-Landy's crazy dream about a bamboo airport, turns Paul and Richard into Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, while "The Bus that has No Sheep In", by Laura Hoath, aged 10 - a dream in more poignant mood - gets the jazz-funk treatment.
This isn't a singalong product (although experience tells me that when children really like a song they'll always give it a go) but it is a delight to listen to, especially with the texts to hand.
The poems on the Dreams CD were chosen from 1,300 that were entered for the TES 2004 Poetry in Song Competition. All 15 winning poems, with comments by Paul Austin Kelley, are available on Walking Oliver's website.