Following the success of Notre Dame High School’s 2015 performance of Les Miserables, two students aged 14 at the time approached their music teacher, Chris Ellis, with a new musical they had written together. With support from their school and much dedication, the students finished the musical in time for it to be performed as their next school production, at OPEN, Norwich, on 22 – 25 February 2017.
We chatted to students Iona MacQueen and Anna Savelli to find out more about how they wrote their own musical and their ambitions. Read more below.
How did the show go?
It was really good! We knew it would go well but we didn’t expect it to surpass people’s expectations. A lot of people said it looked quite professional and not like two school girls had written it. We were worried about living up to Les Mis which we did two years ago, but people said it surpassed that, so that’s amazing!
What was your inspiration to get started?
It was simply just our musical ideas, just bouncing off each other, because we love writing songs and playing around on the keyboard. We never set out to write a musical, it was just us two writing music together. We wrote what was the opening song and then we thought this could be a musical! The storyline started forming around the songs…and it grew from there!
How did it develop then?
We went to Mr Ellis and we said ‘Sir, we’ve written a musical’! He said we could take it to Mr Conway, our Headteacher, and he said that we could do it as our show, so we definitely had the support of the school there. We also called on Alex Kennett [a former A Level music student and accomplished young composer who had just left the school and embarked on a gap year] to orchestrate the songs. He did all the arrangements, which we couldn’t do!
What was it like to have this opportunity?
It was incredible, because we had just been round each other’s houses writing songs for fun, and suddenly our Headteacher said ‘put it on a stage’! We thought ‘wow, we’re going to have to really work hard’, so we worked on it twice a week and at school.
How long did it take?
A year and a half all together.
What was it like to see your vision through, and have your work performed in front of an audience?
Amazing! Just to hear other people singing our songs was amazing, but so nerve-wracking. But the whole cast was lovely and we had their support. There was more pressure because everything was on us because we’d written it, but more excitement.
Are you going to continue and write another musical?
*laughs* Don’t know!
It might happen, but we don’t want to force it. We just want to naturally carry on writing music like we always do. And if a musical comes from it, then yay!
Has anything else come from this?
We had workshops [with musical theatre professionals] and they were really supportive. We’re going to send them the DVD. We also had one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s representatives come to watch the performance. He said he was really impressed, so we’ll see if anything comes of that, but we’re not sure yet!
What’s your favourite musical at the moment?
Iona: Waitress, The Musical. It’s a new one, I love the soundtrack and I’m hoping to go see it for my birthday. I’ve always wanted to be a musical theatre performer when I’m older but I never thought I’d write one!
Anna: One of my favourites is Oliver, I just love all the songs from it. And The Sound of Music. You can’t go wrong with the classics!
What’s your advice for anyone else who wants to write a musical or start composing songs?
Don’t put pressure on it. The best songs that we wrote were the ones that just came naturally.
Iona: When I was younger I tried to write lots of music, but I think actually doing this in a partnership helped.
Anna: It definitely helped because we motivated each other to finish it. Often you start a project on your own but never finish it, but having each other really helped.
Iona: I think also just listen to lots of different music. If you’re new to writing songs or just want to start writing, definitely listening and looking at different chords…that’s a massive part of building a song.
Anna: I went through a phase of writing a song a day and some would be awful and some would be good, so you just have to carry on, even if it doesn’t work. Just work at it and sometimes something good can come of it. If I thought ‘I’m not going to be a songwriter’ because of one failure, then I wouldn’t be where I am now, so you’ve just got to keep going.
Does playing an instrument and learning music from a young age help you to get to this point?
Definitely. I think so because we have an understanding of notes, and what works and what doesn’t. But I don’t think knowing the notes is all that there is to songwriting. I think it’s about being inspired. Building your understanding of music definitely helps, but it’s not all there is to it. It’s about enthusiasm and your passion for it.
Watch Mustard TV’s coverage of the production here.