The Lighthouse concert

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The concert to celebrate the Lighthouse took place last night in Orford church. The children from Orford and Aldeburgh primary schools performed their songs brilliantly alongside the other professional young composers and musicians. Here are the lyrics of the songs they wrote. Photos and a sound recording may be added here in time.

The Conversation

Brick by brick a new life forming

Standing tall and strong

Then they meet and greet each other

Conversation has begun

What is your name? I am the sea. Go go go away

What is your name? I am the sea. Go go go away

What is your name? I am the sea. Go go go away

What is your name? I am the sea. Go go go away

Lamp is turning, candle burning

Lighthouse family sleeping

All at sea safekeeping

Shimmering sea is moving turning

Pushed along by the wind it goes

Faster and faster huge and powerful

Able to crush all life that grows

(The last two verses are repeated, sung simultaneously)

What is your name? I am the sea

What is your name? I am the sea

What is your name? I am the sea

What is your name? I am the sea

I am the Lighthouse

Flood

I will flood…I will flood you…I…I will…I will flood your land

I will flood…I will flood you…I…I will…I will flood your land

Banging clattering trashing booming

Light is flickering spreading helping

I will flood…I will flood you…I…I will…I will flood your land

I will flood…I will flood you…I…I will…I will flood your land

Whirling zapping thunder lightning

People shouting, anyone listening?

I will flood…I will flood you…I…I will…I will flood your land

I will flood…I will flood you…I…I will…I will flood your land

Battle over, huge destruction,

Wave on wave but I’m still standing

I’m still here

I have seen the sea all shades of blue

Shimmer in the moonlit sky

And I’ve heard the squawking fluttering birds

Howling wind around my light

I kept shining bright stayed calm and still

Helping boats along the shore

Saving peoples’ lives I guide them home

Standing bright red white and tall.

Two hundred years I stand so strong since the day that I was new

Two hundred years I stand so strong giving memories to you

And now my light is fading

Do they need me any more?

I feel sad and devastated

But proud appreciated

Two hundred years I stand so strong since the day that I was new

Two hundred years I stand so strong giving memories to you

Two hundred years I stand so strong since the day that I was new

Two hundred years I stand so strong giving memories to you

The concert is coming

Tickets are now available for the concert where the children’s Lighthouse Songs will be performed. The concert will be on 19th September 2015, 7pm, St Bartholomew’s Church, Orford, and is the finale to a three-year commemoration of Orfordness Lighthouse, part of the HLF Touching the Tide initiative. Tickets cost £10 and can be booked via the Aldeburgh Music website

Five works and arrangements will be heard for the first time. As well as the Lighthouse Songs, there will also be:

  • A work inspired by Orfordness lighthouse from award-winning composer, Jeremy Thurlow
  • Two ‘sea interludes’ by young composers
  • Arrangements by Jeremy Thurlow of three of Benjamin Britten’s Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes.
  • There will also be favourite works inspired by nature and the sea from Rameau, Skempton, Elgar and Birtwhistle
  • Readings will include extracts from Patrick Barkham’s Coastlines.

The celebrations include a free exhibition in Orford Town Hall from 11th to 13th September, 10-4. This will chart the history of the lighthouse, the people who worked in it and how the light saved lives. Alongside the museum’s artefacts will be works by Suffolk artists featuring the lighthouse. Children will be able to make their own lighthouse nightlight.

The exhibition includes a documentary by local film-maker Veronica Worrall. Filmed over three years, it includes recollections from local residents and unique footage of lamps and lights inside the lighthouse before the decommissioning.

“It’s highly unusual for a community to lose its lighthouse in this way. The long-term future of our lighthouse is uncertain, but in the meantime the concert, exhibition and film are a chance for everyone to celebrate the 223-year-history of our much-loved lighthouse, and will ensure that artefacts from it are preserved for the community,” Liz Ferretti, organiser

Songwriting and composing workshops

On Monday and Tuesday, Jason, Liz and I worked with the children in Orford Primary and produced the material for three songs. Jason is now finishing and arranging them, so that the children can learn to sing them.

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The first song takes us back to 223 years ago, when the lighthouse was first built, tall and strong, and when some of the first lighthouse keeper’s families lived there. The children invented a keeper’s family, imagined their first night there, lighting the fire and the candles for the light, and settling down to sleep as the waves hit the shore. Then they thought about a conversation between the sea and the lighthouse (perhaps a bit like a dream by someone sleeping in the lighthouse).

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This group were imagining the keeper’s daughter, thinking of everything about her, her personality and appearance and what she would feel.

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The children get to see the bulbs that were taken from the lighthouse. Amazing how something so small could make such a powerful light and so, keep so many people safe. One of the children said that her grandfather was a keeper in the lighthouse.

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The children got to do some singing, making up melody lines and phrases. They also got their hands on some instruments, and explored ways to create atmosphere and texture in music. For example, they scraped their drums with fingernails to make a sea sound.

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The second song was set in the time of the 1953 floods. We imagined a battle between the sea and the lighthouse, the darkness of a stormy night, but the solace offered by light. The children heard the story about the military men trapped on rooves on the ness, that it was so noisy they couldn’t shout to each other, so they had to use torches to flash ‘I’m still here’

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They heard that they will be singing as part of a concert in St Bartholomew’s church, where Britten had first performed many pieces including Noye’s Fludde. Perhaps their relatives had performed in it. They were following an important tradition.

We then explored the importance of memories, and looked ahead into the future. Perhaps one day, the children will be telling their own grandchildren about the lighthouse. It might not be standing then. However, our final song celebrates the fact that the lighthouse still stands now. It says ‘I’m still here’.

Voices of the floods

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Here are some extracts from stories of the Great Flood in 1953. Orford was one of the villages affected all the way down the East coast (and Holland). These snippets are to give us bite-sized phrases and insights for the childrens’ songs.

The late John Anderson told his story to Angie Mason, who captured it for a film shown to mark the 60th anniversary of the floods:

Get up you’re flooded!

There didn’t seem to be anything I could do so I went back to bed and slept.”

To East and West there was water as far as I could see.”

He tells of a conservation between two US airmen, trapped on top of roofs on the ness. The storm was too loud for shouting, so they had to keep signalling to each other by flashing their torches to tell the other one that they were still alive. He then describes how Reg Partridge rescued these men with his boat and “set off for Orford into the teeth of the storm“.

“We were shattered by what we saw” as “Nearly all the trees in Quay Street and on the marshes would succumb to salt poisoning.” and “I was astonished at the number of wild birds and animals which had drowned. Rabbits, rats, voles and particularly hares, which are excellent swimmers. Also pheasants, partridges and smaller birds, all had been caught and overcome.”

Gwennie Marjoram has memories from age 8. She had whooping cough and pneumonia so she had to sleep downstairs by the stove. “We all settled down for the night, thinking everything was OK and suddenly the water came through the back door.”  and “The smell outside next morning was awful. Later on, we were sent parcels from Canada, things for us children, tinned food and a rose bush for the garden…which we always called the flood rose.” (There’s a lovely double meaning in ‘the flood rose’!)

What Does the Sea Say?

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Children at Orford and Aldeburgh Primary Schools are starting to write their songs, including imagining conversations and a battle between the sea and the lighthouse.

It’s quite a coincidence then that next week from 8-14 July, Orfordness will be visited by a sound art project called ‘What Does the Sea Say?‘. Martyn Ware will be arriving with a little blue beachhut, where you can listen and then record your own responses to the sea and landscape. These responses will then by turned by Martyn into a musical/sonic artwork. This will form one piece called One and All, with two other distinguished artists, Tania Kovats and Owen Sheers.

Some might remember the bands Martyn was in, the Human League and Heaven 17. Since then he has been involved in music production, innovative digital music and sonic art.

He would love to meet local children and their parents, so do go and investigate from Wednesday 8th to the 14th. Share your creative words about the sea, and memories or feelings about the place.

Liz’s story of the visit

Here’s writer Liz Ferretti’s story of the trip to the lighthouse on June 14th:

The sun was shining and the air warm for our field trip to Orfordness Lighthouse. Thirty children from Orford and Aldeburgh Primary Schools (named evocatively Curlew Schools), stood on the quay around piles of orange and yellow lifejackets. They seemed happy but I wondered if there might be a certain amount of apprehension in their faces. Although they live by the Alde-Ore estuary, or by the sea in the case of the children from Aldeburgh school, many of them had rarely or never been on a boat before, and most of them had never been to the lighthouse.

There’s a short ferry trip from the quay across to the Ness, floating pontoons, nervous faces, but on the other side the National Trust’s resident shepherd took us over old military roads in a trailer, telling us to watch out for hares, rabbits, marsh harriers (we had a fantastic view of a harrier hunting along the edge of a flooded area), a couple of Oystercatchers flew overhead, whistling.

The purpose of this visit was to get the children immersed in the lighthouse and its surroundings, to provide words and experiences for the songs they would be writing a couple of weeks later. We asked them to listen; the sea, the wind, the shingle crunching under their feet, look for colours. The sea was a combination of greys, whites and blues, the lighthouse, red and white against a perfect blue sky.

Through the lighthouse door, under the four ships of the Trinitas in Unitate (‘three in one’, the Trinity House motto) the building’s hollow insides created a satisfying echo, which Jason used to get the children to make haunting sounds. That was a lot of fun. We met an ex-submarine commander, part of a group of local people working to preserve the lighthouse, or at least lengthen its life, who told us about the light’s five-second flash, that each lighthouse around the coast of the UK has a distinctive signature, and that the lighthouse had been built following a terrible storm over two hundred years ago, when twenty ships had been wrecked on the shore.

We climbed up the spiral staircase, narrow and steep, but worth it. At the top you can see down the Suffolk coast to Essex and in the other direction almost halfway up the coast to the north, towards the white dome of Sizewell nuclear powerstation, looking down on shingle ridges created by 150-year storms, evidence of flooding after the last tidal surge we had in December 2013.

We wondered what it might feel like to be in a ship on a stormy sea and catch your first sight of the five-second beam sweeping across the sky. “We’d know we were nearly home,” one child told me. “We’d be safe.”

First visit to the Lighthouse

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This is really exciting! Tomorrow on June 14th, the children of Curlew Schools, in Orford and Aldeburgh, will make their first visit to Orfordness Lighthouse. Mike Finney will take them over in his boat, Regardless. The National Trust that looks after Orfordness is being very supportive, as well as the Orford Lighthouse Company which now owns the lighthouse.

Once there they will gather sounds and phrases from the sea, the shingle, the birds and the lighthouse itself, supported by writer Liz Ferretti. They are learning about the erosion and shaping of the shingle shore, with Maggi Livingstone. The composer, Jason Rowland, is also going with them to gather ambient sound recordings* and to get a feel for the sonic atmosphere of the place.

The visit is about listening on two levels. As well as hearing sounds around them, the children are listening out in their imaginations for voices of people who worked here in the past, or of natural things like the sea or the birds. They will start to make patterns from the sounds they hear.

I can’t wait to see what they come back with, so that they can start to write their songs.

* It would be great if we can upload some of these sounds to the British Library Sound Archive, which is working with the National Trust to collect the Sounds of our Shores. Maybe they’ll even want to hear the children’s songs.