James Mayhew @ Cheltenham Music Festival 2012

James Mayhew

Music for Families

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I can think of no other Music Festival that has such a strong thread of family events as Cheltenham does and I am exceptionally honoured to be the Guest Director of them this year. And what should you expect? There will be music, of course. Fantastic, beautiful, exciting and magnificent music. There will be stories and pictures… lots of those. And most of all, there will be fun!

As a children’s writer and illustrator, I love the way music can tell a story or paint pictures in the imagination. And this is something I want to share in Cheltenham this summer.

With Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra, there will be A Young Person’s Painted Guide to the Orchestra, by Benjamin Britten. I’ll be painting as fast as I can to draw knights in armour one minute, dinosaurs the next, and beginning with a fluttering songbird, sketched in just a few seconds, as I introduce the sounds of the instruments in pictures. All the art will be projected onto a screen so everyone can see the pictures grow in time to the music. I hope they don’t go wrong!

Then there’s Stravinsky’s Firebird, a magical fairytale ballet. In Cheltenham we have a rare chance to hear scenes from the composer’s solo piano version, performed by a brilliant young Russian pianist, Nikolai Ponomarev. The story will be narrated, and illustrations in fiery colours will again be painted in time to the gorgeous music.

When it comes to musical storytelling, it doesn’t get much better than an opera. And here’s one written just for children: Britten’s Noye’s Fludde – the story of Noah and his ark. I’ll be designing an ark, and all the animals, two by two. A wonderful pageant of colour and story and image and sound performed for, and by, local children.

There are many other events for children to get involved in too – all of them look fantastic.

It’s rare indeed to have musical opportunities like these for families. Make the most of them, bring along your children, and open their ears and eyes to a fantastic world of imagination!