Three Seaside Postcards (1995)

Large Children’s Choir and Symphony Orchestra   18 minutes

1.  Wish you were here
2.  The sea is calm
3.  Having a lovely time

When I was young, playing the viola in a youth orchestra was one of the most exciting things I did.  Not everyone can play an orchestral instrument, but nearly everyone can sing.  I wanted to write a piece where young people could sing something not too complicated and still join in with a full symphony orchestra – and be near enough to feel the excitement of all those musicians playing together.

In each movement there are four sea-shanties.  I haven’t changed these songs at all – I’ve woven them together with music for the orchestra to make three sea-pictures, perhaps the kind of postcards you might send back from a holiday.

The first postcard is like a journey.  It begins with dreamy calmness, drifting down the river to Row, row, row your boat.  The waves start to lap with My bonnie lies over the ocean; bigger waves roll into Blow the wind southerly and the sea becomes quite rough before we return to the calm river in Shenandoah.

A feeling of loss and sadness permeates the second postcard, with Tom’s gone to Hilo and Spanish Ladies.  Things brighten a little with Bobby Shaftoe and What shall we do with the drunken sailor? But then the seas become troubled, and the postcard ends elegiacally.

The final postcard celebrates seaside fun with Donkey Riding and Rio Grand.  And it turns out that two songs can be sung at the same time: The Keel Row and Fire Down Below.

Postcards 1 and 3 were first performed in July 1995 by the CBSO with Birmingham Symphony Youth Chorus and Children from Birmingham Primary Schools.  Postcard 2 was written for the Classical Roadshow at Hilary Davan Wetton’s suggestion, and he conducted all three postcards together for the first time in March 2004 with the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra in Dorking Halls.

Text: Traditional

Commissioned by the Classical Roadshow

First performance: 19th July 1995, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Birmingham Symphony Youth Chorus and Children from Birmingham Primary Schools, conducted by Simon Halsey, Symphony Hall, Birmingham.

Instrumentation

Children’s Chorus—2.2.2.2—4.2.2.1—Timp—2Perc—Hp—Str