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There's A Sea In My Bedroom with the Australian Chamber Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House. Image: Clare Hawley

How do you teach creativity?

Beloved picture book There's A Sea In My Bedroom comes to life with new music from the Australian Chamber Orchestra

Bridgette Van Leuven
Head of Children, Families & Creative Learning

“Music must be a vital part of our children’s education,” said cellist Yo-Yo Ma. “It enhances the education of our children by helping them to make connections and broadening the depth with which they think and feel.” The research is irrefutable; music is essential to the educational and personal development of a child.

In creating musical experiences for children that is relevant, authentic and meaningful, we’ve been inspired by evidence showing that babies and toddlers process music in a way which assists with their future language development. This is crucial in the early years of childhood, as shown by research from Dr. Anita Collins in Don’t Stop the Music. With Kids Music Café, we expanded the age range to 2 years and under, creating a new pathway that ensures babies can also visit the Opera House for regular and relaxed introductory experiences to live music, complete with play and nap times and a coffee for parents and carers.

This year we made a dynamic move in partnering with the internationally respected Australian Chamber Orchestra to commission new music from Paul Stanhope for the stage adaptation of Margaret Wild’s classic picture book There’s a Sea in My Bedroom. This new work aims to re-position children’s music as a rich, sophisticated and rigorous experience for both adults and young people. Both the musical score and dramatic narrative combine to offer a valuable listening, interpreting and educational journey that explores a range of themes including imagination, identity, safety and conquering fears.

We caught up with Paul Stanhope, Australian composer, conductor and educator to chat about how the music in There’s a Sea in My Bedroom came together.

There's A Sea In My Bedroom with the Australian Chamber Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House. Image: Clare Hawley

“Adults underestimate the sophistication that children bring to music performances. They respond, sometimes in a brutally honest way, but with open hearts.”

Could you share with us your background in composing music for children?

I’ve actually had extensive experience writing for young voices, especially in the context of Sydney Children’s Choir. I’ve written songs for kindergarteners all the way through to material that the Senior Gondwana Choirs students have gotten their teeth into. This is however the first piece of music theatre I’ve written with young people in mind. My experience with young minds has been with how sophisticated they are in terms of musical reception. Perhaps it is only when we become adults that we become hardened and more fixed.

What are the different considerations when composing music for children as opposed to adults?

I think adults underestimate the sophistication that children bring to music performances. They respond, sometimes in a brutally honest way, but with open hearts. In this piece, music is an essential part of the narrative process. It is not background, but rather an integral partner. The music reflects the state of mind of David, a young boy who goes from confronting his fears to resolving it with a fantastical, imaginative voyage.I think adults will find the child within themselves as they experience this show.

How do words and pictures become sound?

Music is journeying, in that it can lead us on certain paths which we interpret with our emotions. It can also be very suggestive and complementary to the storytelling process, something that is age-old. The human brain is so creative and easily makes associations between sound objects, narratives and visual images. There are musical techniques like the 'seagull’ glissandos which are a contemporary string movement highly evocative of seabirds. Other sound ‘pictures’ are more intuitive, but they are written based on the pace of the story and underpin the emotional journeys. Children are enormously creative and imaginative, and for this reason I hope the music really helps paint the emotional arc of the story.

There’s a Sea in My Bedroom is on until Monday 20 May.


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