The Fire Event is the flagship Closing Ceremony of the Woodford Folk Festival, and is one of the largest outdoor theatre productions in Australia. The music alone is an enormous feat of creativity, musical prowess and serious logistics and this festival’s production ‘What We Learned From The Sky’ was the most ambitious, both musically and logistically, in the thirty year history of the event.
Under the musical direction of Nick Lavers, a team consisting of composer/orchestra director Andrew Veivers, sound designer Josh Wilkinson and choir director Beat Lehmann create an original soundtrack with a team of incredible musicians and guest composers, and present it once to an audience of 20 000 on the first day of the year.
The music is created through a lengthy collaborative process between the music team and director Alex Podger to create a vivid musical landscape, including themes for the various characters and story elements, and a vivid and memorable sound that transports the audience to a mythopoetic world. Timings are constantly updated between performance and music, and in many instance the timings of various fireworks are also worked into the compositions.
A number of guest artists feature throughout the performance, but the biggest logistical feat is the People’s Orchestra and the Fire Choir, both consisting entirely of festival patrons who rehearse for an hour each morning of the festival – that’s only 5hrs of rehearsal! On January 1st, some 450+ musicians in total gather together on the Amphitheatre stage to perform a 70 minute score for the first and only time – there isn’t even time for a dress rehearsal!
Add to the mix the unpredictable nature of giant puppets and burning props, and you start to have quite a lot of variables. We work around this by writing various parts of the music to be flexible if something takes longer than planned. If the thought of trying to coordinate an orchestra improvising live gives you a cold sweat, spare a thought for the conductor Mal Webb, and the section leaders Andrew Clermont, Zaia Kendall and Rick Halstead who sometimes have to work together with 120 other musicians on the fly!
Presiding over all of this is Nick Lavers, who conducts the entire musical operation from a platform in front of the stage, using a pile of hand painted signs and a torch, who somehow keeps a level head while things explode and giants walk past.
Below are the various tracks from ‘What We Learned From The Sky’, recorded live and released online for the first time.
We hope you enjoy it!
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM THE SKY – THE MUSIC
by Josh Wilkinson
A comet soars through the sky, drawing ever closer. Some members of Bullhorn dropped into Josh Wilkinson’s studio The Burrow to record the horn section.
Aboriginal Fire Lighting Ceremony
by Bob Robinson
Rick Roser lights the first fire of the performance, with Bob Robinson on didgeridoo. Together, Rick and Bob have performed the Woodford Fire Lighting Ceremony for over 12 years.
An Ocean on Fire (Anemone)
by Linsey Pollack and Lizzie O’Keefe
An ocean appears in fire across the stage, with fire fish leaping from the waves.
The South Town
by Andrew Vievers
Performed by The Peoples Orchestra
We meet The South, a colourful world of seaside fun without a care in the world, where they fish for sky-jellyfish and mischievous seagulls cause havoc.
The North Town / North and South
by Linsey Pollak and Lizzie O’Keefe
Astrid watches the seagulls fly past. The Northerners fish and work in their peculiar, angular way as Astrid casts her fishing line into the sea.
We meet Naut and he too casts a fishing line into the sea.
Astrid and Naut’s fishing lines get tangled, and they meet. They’ve never seen someone the same before – another giant with horns!
by Keir Nuttall and Josh Wilkinson
Performed by Keir Nuttall and Band, Josh Wilkinson, the People’s Orchestra and the Fire Choir
A comet destroys the North Town. The Northerner’s manage to save the stars that light their town but nothing else.
by Linsey Pollak
The Northerners, now with nowhere to go following the destruction of their homeland, set sail – adrift on a vast ocean. Astrid leads the way, hoping they might make it to the South where Naut might be able to help them. All they have left are the stars from their town.
This piece was performed on Linsey’s grandfather’s smoking pipe, which he crafted into a unique musical instrument. He was Norwegian, and came to Australia by boat.
Traditional Romani, arr. Beat Lehmann
performed by the Fire Choir and Andrew Veivers
The Northerner’s float on the open ocean, and find a moment of piece together, before waves begin to break up their boats.
Balvaj is a traditional Romani Gypsy song about displacement.
by Josh Wilkinson
The Northerners arrive on the beaches of the South, but the Southerners will not let them in, until Astrid gives Naut her only star, and the attitude of the South begins to change.
Taking their lead from Naut and Astrid, the South rescue the Northerners and sheepishly welcome them to their world.
Let Them Stay
by Keir Nuttall
Performed by Keir Nuttall and his Rock Band, the People’s Orchestra and the Fire Choir
The North gift their only possessions, the stars, representing the contributions that other cultures bring – food, music, style, language, dance and song.
The stars are hung in the South shops, and a new constellation rises in the sky.
Together, they light their beacon as a signal to the rest of the world, as more constellations burst into life in the sky above. The North, with nowhere else to go, gave their only belongings to the South in thanks. That’s how we got the stars.
Anytime The Wind Can Change
Written by Kavisha Mazzella and Arnold Zable
Performed by Kavisha Mazzella, the People’s Orchestra and the Fire Choir featuring Linsey Pollak (zurna) and Andrew Clermont (violin)
A joyful tale about a village welcoming new arrivals, and not being afraid to help people when they need it. The North and South dance together on the beach, as their beacon of hope burns brightly in the distance.
A reference to our Anglo-celtic roots, and the origins of the Woodford Folk Festival, we love to finish the Fire Event with some gloriously rousing Irish reels as we farewell the old year.
THE MUSIC TEAM:
ORCHESTRA DIRECTOR / COMPOSER
Andrew Veivers: director/composer
Mal Webb: conductor, brass section leader
Andrew Clermont: string section leader
Zaia Kendall: percussion section leader
Rick Halstead: woodwind section leader
Richard Grantham aka Viola Cloning Project