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Let’s Talk: Leeds choral work is a snapshot of recent history

Tuesday 24 May 2022

The thoughts of senior school students at The Grammar School at Leeds (GSAL) during the pandemic have been turned into a special choral piece created with award-winning Leeds composer, Emily Levy, which was released online last week.  When the students, aged 11 to 18, were asked: ‘What’s on your mind?’ a year ago, they responded with hundreds of words which have been made into ‘Let’s Talk’, a unique and experimental composition recorded at the school as the country went in and out of lockdowns.

More than 500 pupils were involved in the recording of the composition for choir, soloists and small ensemble, which Emily Levy composed after analysing the students’ numerous responses.

GSAL’s head of co-curricular music, Adrian Knowles said: “It was a chance for the students just to express themselves. We gave them a day and a lot of marker pens and Post-It notes and built a graffiti wall in the rotunda, a display space at the heart of the school. They could come and go and just write whatever they wanted or felt.”

A group of English A-level students then collated the answers and created word clouds. These showed how often different answers came up and the words were then grouped into topics, for example, the environment, political movements, and emotions and feelings.

Emily said: “I tried to honour the students’ words and phrases in the piece – giving more time and weight to the things that came up most frequently. All the answers seemed to be a request to listen, be heard, and enter a dialogue – so I guess that’s why it became ‘Let’s Talk’. It was a new and fun way to work and I tried to let the whole creative process be led by those answers.”

The original idea had been to perform a live concert in the school grounds, but following months of Covid restrictions, this had to be abandoned. At the start of the new school year in September 2021, the music department decided to make a recording of the choral project instead. The students went into the school’s recording studio and sang in small groups. The instrumental score was recorded by 5 of the school’s 30 visiting peripatetic music teachers who also recorded their parts individually, or in small ensemble.

Year 12 student, Will, who took part in the project, said: “I really like the music within Let’s Talk because it passes around a melody line and has some strong harmonies.”

Let’s Talk is a unique composition of the students’ experiences and a snapshot of recent history. The recording coincides with research revealing the huge impact the pandemic has had on children’s mental health.

Emily said: “I hope the thoughts, ideas and ‘call to arms’ of the student’s answers come across. It’s a snapshot of a time of massive upheaval and change for them – but the responses to the question they were asked were really nuanced, assertive and sensitive.”

The Let’s Talk video is available to watch at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKXKwNnZYk8

Images: Leeds-based composer, Emily Levy (photo credit: Amanda Benson, BBC)

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