Making Manchester interview 1 - James Whittle, composer
James is a composer and musician based in Leeds. James' devised, collaborative work blends music, theatre and movement – often with a satirical edge – with influences from performance art and dance-theatre practices. In 2017 he completed a PhD in Composition, entitled 'Music is Theatre', at York University. Community arts and education are key aspects of James’s work. James's role in Making Manchester will be to collaborate with pupils from DTA, Kabantu and the Vonnegut Collective to workshop and compose music for the show - in particular, the final song with DTA pupils and Kabantu.
What interested you about Making Manchester, and why did you decide to get involved?
I was drawn to the unique focus on giving schoolchildren the opportunity to talk about migration – researching genealogy and writing their families' migration stories – before exploring how they feel about them and responding musically. For children to have a direct voice in a new, large-scale theatre work, and for them to inspire new poetry, music and theatre, is a wonderfully creative culture. Although I'm not local to Manchester myself, I was thrilled at the prospect of collaborating with the project's brilliant artists and shaping the music across the piece. I love multi-layered collaborative projects like this. Writing a song with 60+ young people can only be lots of fun!
How do you see Making Manchester being different from other projects you've been involved in?
What sets Making Manchester apart is that it aims to combine music-theatre with intergenerational research into migration foster nuanced reciprocal creativity between all participants. What makes the project special is that the children's voices, and their families' stories, are centre stage. In devising workshops in June, the children will create a song to sing at the piece's end. Their ideas will inform all aspects of the piece. This dialogic form of collaboration is so important for growing confidence, trust, and openness in a community. Whenever you work with a group, you understand that everyone involved is an individual artist. I think it's absolutely right that the next generation have platforms to tell their stories and tackle contemporary issues.
What are you most excited about, as part of Making Manchester?
Devising new music and theatre! Finding the message the schoolchildren want to sing in the new song that'll close the piece is absolutely the most exciting part of the project. I also feel incredibly lucky to be working with such a talented and inspiring team of artists as Kabantu, Vonnegut Collective, The Opera Shack's Emma Doherty, Shamshad Khan, Hayley Suviste, and our four actors. The final performance will feature musical composition and improvisation, recorded sound, theatre, poetry, a cappella voices, choreographed musicians – all elements I've worked with before and love seeing in a creative melting pot.
What do you hope to achieve in your role as part of the project? As the composer for the live music, I'll be looking to find moments of connection between materials. Each ensemble will have a specific role in the piece. I'l also bring my interests in the physicality and gestures of musical performance to the table when working alongside director Emma Doherty and movement director Tilda O'Grady. The notion of finding a shared language, a common understanding built on celebrating difference, is necessary now more than ever. I hope to give everyone's voice a chance to be heard, from the schoolchildren's melodic and lyrical ideas to the actors' and Vonnegut Collective's interpretations of Shamshad Khan's evocative poem. To help the schoolchildren own the stage when they sing their own song. I'd love for audiences to take away their energy and message most of all.