Sea Woman – the blog!

A musical performance devised and created with young people from Winchester, based on a Scottish folk tale.

What is it all about?

A unique collaboration between Winchester schools and Winchester Youth Orchestra will see more than 150 teenagers take part in an extraordinary music and arts project in the Great Hall as part of this year's Winchester Festival.

The Festival is joining forces with Hampshire County Council's Music Service to stage three performances of Sea Woman, a musical re-telling of a Scottish folk tale using dialogue, dance, song, music technology, orchestral instruments and a gamelan.

The project is particularly unusual in that it involves students from Westgate, Kings', Henry Beaufort, Perins Schools and Peter Symonds College devising, creating and composing individual elements of the production. Work began in March and a weekly evening rehearsal schedule is now under way.

Sea Woman is not a performance by primary school children aimed at parents and grandparents. Rather, it's a large scale, vibrant piece of musical youth theatre which is investing in the talent of the next generation by drawing on students' expertise, encouraging them to push the boundaries of their creative experience and giving them a high profile platform at a premier event in Winchester's cultural calendar.

The historic setting of the Great Hall will be transformed by tiered seating to create an intimate performance space for the three re-tellings of Sea Woman on Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 July.

Musical element:

We (Winchester Youth Orchestra) have had experience of such projects before with performances of Benjamin Britten's Noyes Fludde and David Bedford's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. But never before have orchestra members had the opportunity to contribute so much to a project. All of the music used in Sea Woman is completely new and as a direct result of workshops and ideas put forward by orchestra members during rehearsals. We also have electronic music created by Kings School GCSE students by way of sound manipulation and will also join pupils from Henry Beaufort School who are working with a Gamelan and members of Westgate's Ska Band who will bring a rock element to the proceedings! Some of the most creative sessions have evolved during the Greek Chorus rehearsals. Not only do they sing but chant whilst playing rhythmic patterns on stones. This small chamber choir is made of pupils from Perins, Westgate, Kings and Henry Beaufort Schools.


We are thankful to the following organisations for their financial help with this project and welcome anyone else who might like to contribute financially to it!

Hampshire County Council's Music Service

PRS Foundation

Arts Council – Lottery Fund

The Leche Trust

Project leaders and staff:

Not everyone is included on this list. There are many others helping with costumes, choreography, dancing and making the set—thank you to all those who are giving up their time to make this possible!

· Lorraine Cheshire: director of performance

· Martin Read: composer and animateur

· Allison Amin: costume designer.

· Carl Clausen: project co-ordinator

Where can you purchase tickets from?

Tickets £10 and £6 (young people under 18 years)

Available from:

Cathedral Box Office: Tel 01962 857276

You can contribute to this blog by sending your material to
Carl -

Please feel free to leave comments on the posts !

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Last minute instructions for Saturday

Saturday 10 July:

· Rehearsal at the Great Hall 12 to 4 pm—performance at 7 pm.

Sunday 11 July:

· Performances at 3 and 7 pm (arrival times to be confirmed—roughly 30 minutes before for musicians, a little longer of you have to get into a costume!)

Dress code for Orchestra and Chorus for performances:   

Please can you wear smart / casual black clothing, no t-shirts or logos. Black jeans are ok as long as they are new (not faded or ripped). Long or mid-length skirts, no minis please.

Ladies you can wear jewellery, think sea....pearls, mother of pearl, silvery, fishy, shells.

Gentlemen if you want to wear a tie, white or silver grey. Primark have great ones for £2.


Very few tickets left for Saturday evening (some released yesterday)

There still some tickets left for Sunday but hurry!


Friday, 2 July 2010

Creating the Music

Whilst creating the music for Sea Woman was not in itself going to be a problem, how all the different musics – gamelan, orchestra, ska band, chorus, solo flute and ambient electronic music, all fitted together to sound as a whole was the real challenge.

The Balinese gamelan only uses the pitches G, A, B & D. It was therefore important that these pitches were integral to the whole piece – a kind of building block. So we began an exploration – through improvisation, of modes.

The notes G, A, B, C#, D, E, F# & G form the Lydian mode – which is heard when the orchestra first play at the start of the piece, and is considered to be the brightest mode. By flattening different notes of the scale we arrive at different modes - G, A, B, C, D, E, F# & G is the Ionian mode; G, A, B, C, D, E, F & G – the Mixolydian etc. until we reach quite a dark modes – for example the Aeolian; G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F & G – but, which still retains three notes from our original Lydian mode.

 The intention was therefore that the piece starts with a bright, positive sound world – Lydian mode, and as we move through to the centre of the piece, it becomes darker. The ska band tune I love the sea is in the Aeolian mode. As we move towards the end of the story – with some form of resolution, whilst we never return to the bright and positive Lydian mode, the sound world does start to brighten as the end section inhabits the Dorian mode: G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F & G.

 Virtually all the music in Sea Woman was created out of improvisation, and made by the musicians themselves. Each group was identified with being either of the land or of the sea; the electronic ambient music represents the constantly changing landscape of the sea and the sky and the birds that live in air or sea. It will be heard before the piece starts, during the piece, and as you leave the Great Hall after the performance. The Ska Band are very much of the earth; instruments of electricity, loud sounds, repetitive and ritualistic. They identify very much with the Fisherman and his cronies the seagulls. During the performance the Sea Woman doesn't speak or sing - her emotions are represented by the flute, again improvising in different modes that relate to the emotional state of the Sea Woman. The Balinese gamelan is of the sea, whilst the orchestra is of the earth. The one group that moves between earth & sea, Fisherman & Sea Woman are the Chorus, commenting on the action, tapping stones to depict the ticking of time, singing and speaking in rhythm.

 All the groups have been involved in making their own music since March. Just recently - with a better idea of what would fit where, I have written some linking sections and some set pieces, in order to create a whole. But then I imagine that is something that all the performers will be doing - even in performance if needs must.

 Martin Read

Thursday, 1 July 2010


We have been in rehearsal since March.  The piece has been developed through performance workshops which have focused on movement, physical character, voice and chorus. The cast consists of about 20 performers, drawn from Westgate, King's and Peter Symonds, who have worked very much as an ensemble in rehearsal.  The performers have made a major contribution to the choreography through rehearsal and we continue to develop the piece using this approach.  Most of the story takes place on a beach which we will re-create in The Great Hall.  Natural elements in the story will be represented physically, such as the sun, moon, seagulls and sea people.    The seagulls are  a  particularly significant physical group as they remain on stage throughout the piece, moving the story forward and foreshadowing the action.   The hauntingly beautiful story of Seawoman, which has been retold by many writers including Kevin Crossley Holland and Shirley Hughes, has been reworked by us,  especially for this performance, using choral speech, dialogue and song to relate it.  We are now at the point where we are stitching together all of the elements of the story - orchestral music, technology generated music, song, chorus, gamelan orchestra, movement and physical character.  It is an immense task but hugely exciting as we begin to see the shape of the final performance emerge.
Lorraine Cheshire  -  Performance Director