Photos by Nathan Clarke
I will confess to being a bit grumpy when I turned up in the rain at St Mary’s Works for the latest Voice Project offering last night. Lockdown is getting to me – not so much the social isolation, that quite suits me, but rather the plethora of stupid and self conflicting ordinances and dictats from a government that is plainly incapable of anything apart from filling their own pockets. So when Jon Baker cheerfully said hello I was rather surly in my response.
On reaching my seat after the most careful Covid-proof organising I have come across I started to relax and take in the strange atmosphere in the old shoe factory. As ever, it had been carefully prepared to enhance the atmosphere with hundreds of tiny candles offering the only light as the audience settled to an expectant hush.
Arc of the Sky started as a project focusing on the magnificent Blythburgh Holy Trinity Church, a spectacular cathedral sized church located near the Suffolk coast in an area with a history full of myth and legend. The wooden door to the church still bears the scars of the great black hound, Black Shuck, trying to devour some poor sanctuary seeker. There are rumours of secret smugglers’ tunnels from the nearby Queen’s Head pub in Blyford, a remarkable drinking haunt that I enjoyed visiting often over forty years or more ago.
The planned choral performance there fell victim to lockdown law and sensible precaution, but the Voice Project is led by an imaginative bunch who will not let some fine music go to waste. So Arc of the Sky became a film project, with impressive and evocative visuals supplied by Nathan Clarke. Contributors recorded their voices and images at home on phones, and the whole was then mixed together to give an impressive, moving and enjoyable end result. The performance started with a few bars sung live in the acoustically magical space of the shoe factory from singers way behind us. The tone of the building fits well with one of the previous occupants of the building who produced the hymn and prayer books used in many a church. The live voices pre-empt the film itself starting, where a selection of songs are set against the stunning views of Blythburgh and the Blyth estuary, including many aerial shots from a drone which give new perspectives to this beautiful location. The photography is very good. One fascinating set of images showing waves breaking on the shore, filmed from directly above, which has remarkable echoes of the famous Hokusai wave, with the same white and blue colours. The film will make you want to go and wander around this special part of the world.
With these inspiring images the music is uplifting too. It is hard to believe that Jon Baker has edited this elegant soundscape from multiple voices all recorded in different spaces each with their own characteristics, the end result sounds just as I would expect from a live performance within the church itself. The music is spiritual, but not religious, and for me this helps to link me to a long historical tradition based on faith that has no personal relevance to me and to look again at the insides as well as the exteriors of historic churches like Holy Trinity. In this region we are blessed with a fine legacy of interesting church buildings.
Some of the filmed images have had a bit too much digital processing and are over-complex, but the film overall is moving and engaging and turned around my rather sour mood into an appreciation of how art can thrive in the hardest of times, as long as we all keep supporting those who take the trouble to find new ways of working. Real live performance is a rare treat these days and although this is a filmed performance it has all the drama and intimacy of a good live show. Sian Croose and Jon Baker have marshalled their fine chorus of voices to great effect. If you are quick, you may still get a ticket for the remaining shows and the film will be online at some point. Check out the Voice Project website for more information.
© Julian Swainson 2020
The Voice Project is an education charity that also runs regular courses in singing for people of all abilities. For full details of all their activities visit www.voiceproject.co.uk
The Arc of the Sky film screening (no cert)
The Shoe Factory at St. Mary’s Works, St Marys Plain Norwich NR3 1QA
Friday October 2 and Saturday 3 at 7:00 pm, 8:15 pm and 9:30 pm
October 4 at 5:00 pm, 6:15 pm and 7:30 pm
Tickets are £5 / £10 Donation Rate (limited to 45 per screening)
Available to purchase from www.voiceproject.co.uk
See the film here: https://youtu.be/Q0uQagXZlMA
Read more in the Norwich Eye preview: http://norwicheye.co.uk/whats-on/the-voice-project-choir-announce-arc-of-the-sky-film-premieres-130-strong-choir-to-show-film-of-latest-project-created-digitally-during-lockdown/