In 2016, Eastbourne-based composer Clive Whitburn was giving a talk to Classicus, an organisation of classical music lovers in Hastings. At the end of the talk, he was introduced to Melody Woodham, a young, up and coming composer who said that she and her composer partner, Tim Laverack, were moving to Eastbourne later in the year. We agreed that we should meet up to see if we could get something started in Eastbourne to promote music. Little did we know what we were taking on or where it would lead. But the idea for the Composer’s Network was born.
We only had a sketchy idea of what we wanted to achieve. We talked a lot and gradually discovered that we cared passionately about similar issues. We had been moved by the human flow of displaced people across the world. We began researching texts written by refugees, as well as the appalling statistics surrounding the plight of people fleeing from war in the Middle East and Africa and the frightening loss of life and risks taken by migrants crossing the Mediterranean. The more we learned, the more we were shocked at the huge numbers involved.
We decided to put on a charity concert to both raise awareness of the migrant’s plight, whilst raising funds to support charitable organisations. It was important that the concert be welcoming to a wider audience than the usual classical concert goer and we agreed on an informal dress code. Perhaps we would also have mood lighting and visual projections…
Through working collaboratively, the result has been far better than anything which any of us could have achieved on our own.
These were lofty aims and we had little idea of how we would accomplish them. The Composers Network is very much a collective and each of us plays an equal part. Through working collaboratively, the result has been far better than anything which any of us could have achieved on our own.
Now came the work of writing the music and developing the theme for the concert. Clive had already composed a choral piece which set the hard, cold statistical data of the deaths and disappearances of migrants alongside biblical texts about loving and helping thy neighbor. Tim composed his powerfully evocative and haunting ‘Requiem for a Boy on The Beach’ in response to the tragic and haunting photograph of Alan Kurdi which received so much media interest. Melody’s closing composition ‘As One’, alludes to a future where we are compassionate for all, sending the audience out on a high with hope for change. These among other compositions made up the musical programme.
After acquiring the services of the ‘Modulus Quartet’, a top notch string quartet we knew would be the making of the concert, and identifying the singers for our hand-picked choir, The New Network Singers, the preparations gathered pace. Tim organized The Birley Centre as our venue and we began to research charities. We quickly identified that Migrant Help was doing valuable work in this area as well as supporting victims of human trafficking. Tim came up with the title ‘Without Borders’ and we were well on our way.
We had a 160 seat venue to fill and each ticket would be crucial in first covering coasts, then raising as much money as possible. It was then that we had another real stroke of luck. Clive mentioned what we were doing to an ex-colleague who co-manages a charitable trust fund. Our project struck a chord with the aims of the trust fund who most generously agreed to fund Migrant Help to the tune of £1000, regardless of how many tickets we sold. That was hugely liberating. Whilst we willingly took on the risk of covering the costs of the concert, the charitable aim was now secure.
Choir rehearsals started in January. It’s not easy learning music which has never been performed before. The New Network Singers were more than equal to the task and after a few rehearsals were really beginning to sound brilliant.
Marketing the concert was a huge challenge. We just knew we needed to get the word out there to as many people as possible. We sent out press releases to a number of magazines and the local newspaper. We had leaflets and posters designed using the strong image of Modulus Quartet. We gave out flyers to local hotels, churches and venues as well as audiences coming out of concerts in the local area. We were also invited, on two separate occasions, to be interviewed on BBC Radio Sussex, with the concept behind our concert resonating with their DJs, production team, and a large section of their audience.
It’s amazing how people offered to help too. Leighton Eves, who runs a highly innovative networking organisation “Sussex Everyday”, really threw himself into it, publishing interviews with us, Modulus Quartet and members of The New Network Singers across his platform of local street-based social media feeds.
Finally, important finishing touches were added. We were delighted when artist Bern O’Donoghue agreed to provide each audience member with one of her paper boats – each of which represents an individual person who has died or gone missing as a result of the migrant crisis. Not only that, she came and sat on stage throughout the concert quietly sewing her ‘vigil’ squares with the words 'mother, father, sister, brother…’ embroidered in silver and gold thread. Again, each one representing a lost or departed person. Such a moving tribute to people she has never met.
Another welcome addition to the concert was Jevon Antoni Jay, who agreed to dance a fleeting apparition to Clive’s ‘Not a Tango’ to end the first half. We knew that this was indeed going to be a concert with a difference.
Throughout all this, our chosen charity Migrant Help could not have been more supportive. They kept in touch with us throughout. They promoted the concert on social media, and they sent us collection boxes, leaflets and a promo video which we played before and after the concert, as well as during the interval.
The last few weeks were frantic. We leafleted. We put together visual presentations for the projections. We leafleted. We met with the lighting designer and sound engineers. We leafleted. We did a tech run. We bought the wine and called on the help of friends and family to run the front of house and the bar. And did I mention that we leafleted?
On the night, it all came together.
On the night, it all came together. The quality of the performance surpassed what we hoped for and the standing ovation at the end from the capacity audience went on and on. We were thrilled. Judging by the comments afterwards and the stunning press review a week later, the audience had really enjoyed and also been moved by the occasion. And most importantly we had raised £1720 for Migrant Help.
Now we are starting planning what comes next for the Composers Network.