The Angry Planet: Culture, Pedagogy, Performance
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Northampton
Unit of AssessmentEnglish Language and Literature
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
Summary of the impact
This case study focuses on Angry Planet, an interdisciplinary
choral collaboration between Charles Bennett, Associate-Professor in
Creative Writing at the University of Northampton (2007 — present) and
composer, Bob Chilcott. A blend of lyrics and composition, their
investigation into the sounds and rhythms of nature in relation to musical
creativity resulted in a performance at the BBC Proms (Angry Planet,
The Royal Albert Hall, 5 August 2012), featuring The Bach Choir and its
Musical Director, David Hill. The project's innovative methodology
included training school children alongside professional singers,
contributing to their educational advancement, social and cultural
integration and developing their innate creative potential.
Bennett's poetic regard and praise for nature, inviting an ecological
engagement, is central to the research underlying Angry Planet.
The ecological awareness stems from Orchard Days (2009),
commissioned by the Arts Council to accompany a poetry trail and featuring
in a short BBC film (3.1). These 12 poems, framed by Norman Stanier's
prose and Richard Compton's photographs, chronicled seasonal changes in
the Dragon Orchard, Herefordshire. Praised by the Ledbury Poetry Festival
Chairman as well as eminent UK actor, Sir Ian McKellen (3.1), they were
republished and updated as 365 Apples (2009, 3.2). Bennett's
work (see RAE 2008 (3.3)) is characterised as "Brimming over with
startling voices, arresting images and an indefatigable joie de vivre"
(The Poetry Book Society quoted in 3.1), but it was Evenlode
(2013, 3.4) that reinforced his identity as a nature poet. Bennett's
lyrics for Angry Planet, illustrated by Diane Griffiths, are
published by Hawthorne Press; the vocal and conductor's score is available
from Oxford University Press (OUP) (3.5). OUP's Choral Promotion
Specialist has said that her company were "very proud to have been
part of this whole project." (3.6)
Angry Planet is a high point of Chilcott and Bennett's
partnership, evolving since 2009. Chilcott's international prestige is
evidenced in musical performances by King's College Choir Cambridge, The
Westminster Abbey Choir, Helsinki's Grex Musicus and The Chamber Choir of
Europe. The choral scores underpinning Angry Planet's libretto and
building the creative partnership are published by OUP. They are: Swimming
over London (2010, 3.7); The Rose in the Middle of Winter
(2010, 3.8) and Furusato: 5 Arrangements of Japanese Songs (2011,
3.9). These combine Chilcott's ambitious choral arrangements with
Bennett's love of historical language and genres: Anglo-Saxon riddles,
medieval dream narratives, and the tradition of nursery rhyme. The
published scores have led to musical recordings by The King's Singers and
Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir for Signum Classics: excellent reviews have
appeared in BBC Music Magazine, Classic FM Magazine, Musicweb
International and The Guardian (3.10).
In Angry Planet's practice-based research methodology the
compositions developed through performance, in response to the choral
performers' interpretation. Alongside Hill and The Bach Choir, children
from primary schools in Westminster, Harrow, Kensington and Chelsea were
encouraged to develop their own creativity and become active
collaborators. This experimental orientation developed from Bennett and
Chilcott's insights that music and poetry encourage early social
integration and that participating in choral music enhances awareness of
art and inspires social and cultural confidence. The interactive approach
between performers and artists inspired more innovative practices; The
Bach Choir's report on Angry Planet shows that the singers'
engagement in the project inspired composition: "Charles and Bob asked
children in the schools involved in the Outreach project for ideas.
Charles took their thoughts home and composed the poems that would form
the words of the cantata" (5.1). Both believe that youth
choirs inspire experimentation because of their openness to new ideas and
experiences (see 5.3, on working with youth choirs in UN's Worcester
Bennett explored interdisciplinary writing partnerships in a £700
HEA-funded Creative Writing seminar, `Students as Writing Partners' (UN,
18 March 2013), with Northampton students, author Mark Cocker, and local
industry representatives including the Creative Projects Manager, Royal
& Derngate Theatre, Northampton and the Artistic Director, NN
Contemporary Art Northampton.
References to the research
(3.2) Bennett, Charles, Norman Stanier and Richard Compton, Orchard
Days (Putley: Dragon Orchard, 2009); Bennett, Charles, 365
Apples (Syderstone: Hawthorn Press, 2009).
(3.3) Bennett, Charles, Wintergreen (West Kirby, Wirral: Headland
Publications, 2002); Bennett, Charles, How to Make a Woman Out of
Water (London: Enitharmon Press, 2007).
(3.4) Bennett, Charles, Evenlode (Devon: Oversteps Press, 2013).
(3.6) Testimonial on file: OUP Choral Promotion Specialist (12.02.2013).
(3.7) Chilcott, Bob (Libretto by Charles Bennett), Swimming Over
London (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). Track 1 on The
King's Singers, Swimming Over London (Signum Classics, 2010).
(3.8) Chilcott, Bob (Libretto by Charles Bennett), The Rose in the
Middle of Winter (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). Track 6 on
Bob Chilcott/Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir, The Seeds of the Stars
(Signum Classics, 2012).
(3.9) Chilcott, Bob (Libretto by Charles Bennett), Furusato: 5
Arrangements of Japanese Songs (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2011). Tracks 12,13,14,15 and 16 on Bob Chilcott/Wroclaw Philharmonic
Choir, The Seeds of the Stars (Signum Classics, 2012).
In relation to 3.7, 3.8 and 3.9, the composer's name (Chilcott) is cited
as the author of the score on the publication jacket, while the librettist
(Bennett) is acknowledged on the sheet music inside.
Details of the impact
Angry Planet`s impact on shaping the educational and cultural
experiences of the children involved has been significant, because all
came from state primary schools that have about 80% of pupils speaking
English as a second language and entitled to free school meals.
Consequently, it was the 200 young performers from primary schools in
Westminster, Harrow, Kensington and Chelsea (5.1), who were most
profoundly affected by the opportunity to participate in the project's
innovative pedagogic practice, and to work alongside vocalists from The
BBC Singers, The Bach Choir and The National Youth Choir. Singing in Angry
Planet was an important opportunity for breaking down cultural
barriers, raising the young singers' confidence and introducing classical
music to new audiences. A Bach Choir collation of responses attests to its
educational impact. One child commented, "A once in a lifetime
experience. Not everyone can say they have sung in the Albert Hall"
(5.1); a parent enthused, "It was really exciting. She's been dreaming
about this for weeks." (5.1); and a teacher involved in Angry
Planet noted that many students, "felt very proud of their part
in it" (5.1). From a survey conducted in July 2013 of 18 children at
Our Lady Dolours Primary School, Harrow, all 18 agreed with the
questionnaire statement that participating in the BBC Prom "was really
special and I will always remember it" and 14 agreed that they do
more singing and musical activities now because of their participation
Angry Planet was also educationally and creatively path-breaking
in including a signing choir from Great Baddow High School, which the Bach
Choir Report states, "was the first appearance of a signing choir at
the Proms." (5.1). Its educational impact has been enhanced
by public events about the project for adult learners, and audio
recordings, blog posts and commemorative booklets, all facilitated by UN
(5.3). Demonstrating sustainable impact beyond the REF census date, the
UN's audio-blog post about Worcester (31 July 2013) has been referenced by
OUP's Choral Music website and a newsletter (September 2013), which was
distributed to over 3000 people globally (5.3).
The BBC Prom, Angry Planet, impacted on the public discourse of
cultural commentators and the choral music canon. It was broadcast live on
Radio 3 from the Royal Albert Hall and was available to listen back to on
BBC Radio 3 I-Player for one week. Articles preceding its World Premier
were published in Choir & Organ and the Independent,
while, as evidence of Bennett, Chilcott and Hill's stellar reputations, Angry
Planet was a Time Out `Critics Choice' and featured in Metro's
`What's on Today' (5.4). The Proms performance received positive reviews
in the Guardian, The Times, the Oxford Times (5.4),
and on websites such as Classicalsource.com (5 August 2012) and
larkreviews.com (6 August 2012). A YouTube video posted by Bennett
and Chilcott two days after the BBC Prom and in association with OUP
(5.5), in which they discuss Angry Planet, was viewed by 728
people globally by 31 July 2013. Angry Planet's large acapella
composition and green agenda impressed reviewers and spectators and made a
significant contribution to the choral canon (See The Times and
the Guardian in 5.4). One audience member described its scale as, "breath-taking."
(5.1) Since the Prom and indicative of the growing international cultural
reputations of Angry Planet's creators, Hill has been
appointed Professor at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music (1 July 2013),
and Bennett's poem, `The Drowned Radio', will be read on Australian
Broadcasting Radio in 2014.
Angry Planet's cultural and economic impact has also been
manifested in the facilitation of further Bennett and Chilcott
composer/librettist collaborations that have developed its new forms of
artistic expression; these include Signum recordings and performances
(5.6, 5.7, 5.8, 5.9). The performance of another collaboration, My Lady
Poverty (Leeds Town Hall, 25 August 2012), like Angry Planet
embraced a diverse demographic of choral singers including York's Chapter
House Choir, The Lindley Junior School Choir, and Vocado (Swedish Choir of
the Year 2011). However, it was Five Days That Changed the World
at the Worcester International Festival for Young Singers (Worcester
Cathedral, 26 July 2013) that most significantly increased the global
reach and creative significance of Chilcott and Bennett's collaborations
with young people (see reports in 5.3 and 5.8). Internationalising Angry
Planet's use of youth choirs (5.3), Five Days was primarily
performed by four choirs from Russia, Austria, Spain and the UK to an
audience that the Worcester International Festival for Young Singers has
estimated consisted of 350 participants and 350 spectators.
Sources to corroborate the impact
(5.1) The Bach Choir, `Report on the Angry Planet' (2012). Internal
report made available by The Bach Choir, London. See also: `The Angry
Planet: A Commission' (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mee2ygK3Ti4).
(5.2) Questionnaire responses from Our Lady Delours Primary School,
Harrow (Returned to the University of Northampton School of the Arts, July
(5.3) Bennett, Charles, `Audio Recording: Poetry Commissions' (UN School
of the Arts Research Seminar, 21 May 2013). To access, see:
Bennett, Charles and Diane Griffiths, Angry Planet Commemorative
Booklet (Commissioned by UN School of the Arts, 2013). To access a
copy and read a UN report on the public event, `Angry Planet: Dr
Charles Bennett in conversation with Learning Manager at the BBC Singers,
Garth McArthur, 11 June 2013', see: http://wp.me/p2eVC1-10q
Bennett, Charles, `Pre-Gala Concert Talk: Five Days That Changed the
World' (The Guestry, Worcester Cathedral, 26 July 2013). To access
recording, see: http://wp.me/p2eVC1-150
(5.4) A selection of press coverage and reviews of the performance of Angry
Planet including: Choir & Organ (July-August 2012); the
Guardian (4 stars, 6 August 2012); the Independent (`The
Proms think big: Can the world's leading classical festival hold its own
in an Olympic year?', 7 July 2012); Metro (`What's on Today', 5
August 2012); Oxford Times (9 August 2012) The Times (3
Stars, 7 August 2012) and Time Out (`Critics Choice', 2-8 August
(5.5) Bennett, Charles and Bob Chilcott, `On the Angry Planet',
07 August 2012, Oxford Academic (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YDHiDMKpE0).
(5.6) Chilcott, Bob (Libretto by Charles Bennett), The Seeds of the
Stars (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). Track 18 on Bob
Chilcott/Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir, The Seeds of the Stars
(Signum Classics, 2012).
(5.7) Chilcott, Bob (Libretto by Charles Bennett), Marriage to My
Lady Poverty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
(5.8) Chilcott, Bob (Libretto by Charles Bennett), Five Days That
Changed the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). For a
review of Five Days at Worcester Cathedral in Seen and Heard
International, see: http://www.seenandheard-international.com/2013/07/28/youth-choirs-
celebrate-in-ancient-cathedral/ Accessed: 28.07.2013.
(5.9) Oxford University Press sales figures for the quantity of copies of
Chilcott and Bennett Scores sold for the years 2012 and 2013. The 2013
sales figures cover the period 1 April 2013 - 1 September 2013.
|SWIMMING OVER LONDON
|THE ROSE IN MIDDLE OF WINTER
|THE SEEDS OF STARS
|FIVE DAYS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD