BeeKind to one another

5 March 2019

In the lead up to our WNO FREEDOM Season we’re working hard in the local community to bring awareness to its important themes. In partnership with Amnesty International we’re working with our ten regular schools around South Wales to help teach children about human rights through helping them create their own composition which became BeeKind.

The work started last term in Willowbrook Primary School where WNO Creative Facilitators, Dan Perkin and Julia Gay worked with two classes to come up with a song inspired by the themes of the FREEDOM Season and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the lead up to the launch, the nine remaining schools will learn the song as well as other repertoire to be performed as part of their sharing days at our home venue, Wales Millennium Centre.

We spoke to Dan Perkin, WNO Creative Facilitator about how he and Julia came up with the final piece.

‘When Rebeka, WNO Schools Co-ordinator, approached me about creating a piece with a school in our regular workshop programme, Willowbrook Primary was the obvious choice as they are a school who have really embraced these workshops from the start.

‘Having devised pieces with young people before, I’ve discovered that to get the most creative response out of them it’s really important to choose a subject that they will easily engage with to get the imagination going.  The prospect of creating a piece based on freedom or human rights was a little trickier than my usual brief.  

‘My initial thought was that this should take the form of an animal fable as I’ve never yet met a young person who doesn’t have an opinion on animals, and these can be a good way to teach a ‘message’ without it being too preachy. Exploring these themes with the pupils, one came up with the idea of a beehive early on, and this was a lightbulb moment for both Julia and myself as bees are truly team players who achieve extraordinary (and unexpected) results through their hard work.

‘It was important to bear in mind that the piece will be performed by classes of ordinary primary school children, not choristers.  As such the vocal range should be untaxing, and the song should be verse-repeating so that the kids find it easy to learn both the words and the music.  At the same time though, as Welsh National Opera, we have to present them with a challenge and give them something they wouldn’t be able to achieve on their own, therefore singing in harmony is a must, and the gift of knowing that they will be led by professional musicians meant that rhythmically the piece could be quite complex, with a piano accompaniment that added to the music rather than simply supporting the vocal line.   

‘I hope that the pupils at Willowbrook have helped us create a piece that they can feel a sense of ownership and pride over, and that the other young people also performing it find it a fun piece to engage with. Moorland Primary (another fantastic school we work with regularly) are busy learning the piece for its premiere in May as part of a launch event hosted by the National Assembly for Wales at the Senedd on 8 May for the WNO FREEDOM Season.’

If you’d like to see the school children perform this piece as well as other repertoire they have learned, there will be public performances by the 600 pupils from each school spread across the week at Wales Millennium Centre in the Glanfa foyer area every day between 24-28 June during lunchtime (12.15 – 12.40pm).