10th August 2015. Paula Boulton wears a fetching pink hat. Those fortunate enough to work with her before and after this date will also know she has many hats in her creative wardrobe: musician; director; dancer; composer; artist; activist; feminist; pacifist. If Plato had written the Theory of Hats instead of the Theory of Forms we might understand each hat to represent a basic form of ‘hatness’, each having a particular hat like property but none being the perfect Hat that sums up Boulton’s entire creative oeuvre.
Boulton herself describes her practice as “collecting stories from the community in which she lives”, “rooted in the documentary tradition”, and presented to a wider audience wearing whichever hat feels most appropriate.
Over the past twelve months, Boulton has interviewed the diverse communities in her hometown of Corby asking the question, “What music reminds you of home?” Translating the responses into a new musical composition, the outcome is Boulton’s Sounds of Home suite.
9th October 2015. Boulton presents the first public sharing of the suite in a lecture recital, demonstrating both the diversity of the population of Corby and of Boulton’s ability as an artist, musician, composer and professional hat wearer.
Boulton’s standout production from 2007, Women of Steel, contained the line “we’re all immigrants here in Corby”. In many ways this is the starting point for Sounds of Home, immediately creating a level playing field by exposing the absurdity of the international postcode lottery, but also bringing into question the idea of home as a fixed location.
The lecture recital began by Boulton (clearly comfortable wearing her raconteur hat, glasses whirling at the lectern like conductor James Loughran’s baton) describing the process by which she attempted to ensure the piece would become “a unique demographic barometer of Corby at this moment in history”. Stories flowed of the serendipitous meetings with a Portuguese PCSO; a Chinese acupuncturist; Chilean, Ugandan and Kenyan neighbours; Zambians; Jamaicans, and a Zimbabwean JS Bach enthusiast. All before leaving the Kingswood estate, and each with a tale to tell about their own heritage and the music that reminds them of home. Ireland, Croatia, Wales, Estonia – and to cheers from the audience, Lancashire, all represented. Even the dark lands of Kettering (a mere six miles away).
Keen to cover as wide a demographic as possible, Boulton explained that she also consulted the results of Corby Community Partnerships’ 10-year study into the make up of the town. It speaks of Boulton’s working methods that a walk from her own front door could uncover so many of the nationalities of this study, however it also revealed she would need to find a Romanian in order to be truly comprehensive.
With official channels proving unsuccessful, Boulton again turned to serendipity: where else would the manager of your local health food store come from but Romania? In clone towns around the country the final thing you are likely to hear in Holland and Barrett is the maddening question, “Do you have your points card?” In Corby it was “Now all I need is a violin teacher” – another of Boulton’s hats.
Wearing one of her largest hats as an accomplished musician, and accompanied by the wonderful pianist Camilla Cancantata, Boulton shared with the audience a moving rendition of Porumbescu’s Balada – a piece of music first introduced to her by her new found Romanian, when answering the question “What music reminds you of home?”
This method of demonstrating the origins and motifs of the musical influences meant the evening was equal parts lecture and recital. Rather than the warm up to the main event, this honoured the participatory nature of the project and was intriguing and educational in its own way. Each story, each piece of musical heritage was given a platform that celebrated the individuals who shared their stories with Boulton, whilst offering insights into the other worlds on Corby’s doorsteps.
At times these motifs were performed by Boulton, often accompanied by other musicians from her growing international but local network, such as a recorder quartet. Other times these were led directly by the musicians themselves, such as Gretton Silver Band, or via the slick presentation of video footage documenting the specific concept that Boulton had absorbed into her suite. Likewise, Elio Andrade charmed the audience by adding a South American flavour into the mix, leaving us in no doubt as to what really constitutes a Cha Cha, as well as tuning our ears to the Samba inspired moments in the suite.
Perhaps a different hat to Paula Boulton the activist, and a signature of all of her projects is how she activates, both individuals and communities. This generosity of profile was also extended to Judy Caine, the project manager, surprisingly revealed as having some skill herself as a flautist, and invited to perform the relevant motif.
After being taken from project inception, through each of the sections and their origins, and without ever feeling like events were being drawn out, the audience were invited to sample some food during the intermission. Or rather the audience invited each other. The infamous Corby Café, once the alleged third best greasy spoon in the country, was in truth just like any other café. Yet here, the real flavours of Corby were on offer, the audience diversity expressed in homemade dishes and shared with one another. Guajarati English trying to uncover what was in the spectacular Polish dishes, by translation from a third generation Romany.
Where the lecture by nature was at times academic (although never pretentious), light-hearted moments like these were not trivial, but real and warm, their own demographic barometer, if one not as fluid and harmonic as the recital that would follow. Boulton had explained that she had not represented the large Scottish population of town through bagpipes as the strength of that sound would clash and overwhelm the others. Similarly the proud Scottish inclusion of a bottle of Irn Bru in the Tastes of Home intermission, mixed with the other culinary delights, meant the result was far less comfortable on the toilet seat than Boulton’s suite would be on the ear.
Before anyone could say tiramisu, the audience were excitedly retaking their seats for what would be the première performance of the Sounds of Home suite. Demonstrating you are never too old to expand your wardrobe, Boulton has discovered a new hat for this project by learning the music notation software, Sibelius. Once the software was used to compose and score the suite, the Corby based composer Stuart Sweeney rendered a MIDI orchestral version for playback on the evening.
The Prelude began already sounding familiar to the audience primed by the earlier lecture, and ended with Mahesh Karsandas adding live percussion on Tablas. An ancient-sounding Lithuanian Recorder section followed, preceding a Samba section led by Andrade, with Boulton this time providing percussion.
It is beyond the scope of this review to fully articulate the sounds and layers of the suite – you really do need to hear it. However, it is worth reconsidering more seriously how the mismatching foods anecdote is an inverted metaphor for what Boulton has managed to achieve here. The seemingly disparate musical sources are woven together with such skill and consideration that the result gives lie to the claim that multi-culturalism doesn’t work. There are at times uncomfortable time signatures, discordant notes and what one audience member described as a “questioning drone”. But by the time we reach the Silver Band section of the suite, any arguments as to whether the origins of this particular motif are from Estonia or indeed a Welsh rugby anthem are put aside in favour of a shared musical heritage.
However, Boulton does acknowledge that the concept of Diaspora can often be heart breaking for the individuals involved. Some fleeing the war torn countries that may once have been thought of as home. Nowhere was this more evident than the section simply referred to as Battle.
Beginning with some teasing piano variations of previous themes, the unpredictability of war was represented by a powerfully improvised section by the impressive Cancantata. During the lecture half of the recital Boulton informed the audience that Cancantata herself was a survivor from the sinking Empire Windrush, the ship more famously remembered for bringing one of the first large groups of post-war West Indian immigrants to the United Kingdom. This almost conceptually perfect coincidence added additional drama to the gripping improvisation, and appropriately it was a relief when the more optimistic Waltz and Mazurka section began. The serendipity of finding such an impressive pianist with a history so intimately connected to a project like this is again down to Boulton’s polymathic wardrobe: a chance meeting of musicians when each were wearing their pacifist hats.
At the end of the full suite Boulton was greeted with a well-deserved standing ovation, which also felt directed at each of the nationalities involved in a moment of mutual admiration and appreciation. Individually emotional, but collectively rejoiceful.
Hearing the suite played live by a full orchestra during the next phase of the project will be incredibly powerful, even without the insights afforded to the audience on this evening, and especially because of the added rubato improvisation sections the MIDI format currently prevents. At present it is unknown where and when this will be, but I do know that when it does happen, it will sound like home.
Reproduced with permission : https://www.a-n.co.uk/reviews/sounds-of-home-suite-lecture-recital
Paula is a Composer and Musician, born and bred in Corby who studied music at the College of Ripon and York St John, Royal College of Music in London and Het Conservatorium in Rotterdam.