EVERYTHING – was due to be premiered in 2020 but had to be postponed because of COVID and only two of the twelve songs were released. The ten unheard Friday Afternoons songs by composer Russell Hepplewhite with texts by renowned children’s author and former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen will now be premiered on 14 May on Britten Pears Arts’ YouTube channel.

Hepplewhite is becoming increasingly known for his operatic, musical theatre and choral music. His operas commissioned by English Touring Opera for young audiences have been widely performed and won much critical acclaim. He was described by the Evening Standard as, ‘One of the brightest young talents to emerge in recent years.’

EVERYTHING is a cycle of 12 songs about…well, pretty much everything! The elements, human discovery, invention, movement, language, atoms and cells all feature. These songs are designed to fire up the imaginations of infant and primary school children with a healthy dose of fun, humour, playfulness, and heart.

Each of the ten songs that have not yet been heard will be performed by ten choirs who were selected after entering an open call in December last year and hail from across the UK. The ten choirs are:

  • Amherst School Choir, Kent
  • Cornwall County Choirs
  • Dublin Youth Choir
  • The Grange Choir, Monmouth Boys’ Prep
  • Lodge Moor Childrens Choir, Sheffield
  • The National Youth Choir of Scotland
  • Poco Amabile, Cumbria
  • Scunthorpe Co-Operative Junior Choir
  • Somerleyton Primary School Choir, Suffolk
  • Southend Boys’ and Girls’ Choirs

Russell Hepplewhite commented, ‘We wanted to create songs for absolutely everybody to enjoy so the cycle is packed with rhymes, patter, curious facts, varied musical moods, and heartfelt melodies that children will hopefully find memorable and inspiring to sing. Some songs are a little more challenging than others, but the cycle is designed so that any of the songs could stand alone in a concert, or alternatively the cycle can be divided neatly into groups of songs which will work well together. For the most ambitious, performing the whole cycle should be quite a showstopper. In months and years to come it is hoped that these songs will bring children together unhindered by social restrictions so that they can once again enjoy the delights of singing as an ensemble in one place together.  But for now, against the on-going pandemic I hope that these digital premieres can give some hope and joy to the children who are taking part in creating them.’

Michael Rosen commented, ‘It has been a treat and a privilege to be asked to write lyrics for Russell to turn into songs. It’s so exciting for me to know that thousands of children will sing these and feel the spirit of the music and ideas in the songs. When I heard Russell’s tunes for the first time, it was a bit of magic. It’s as if the words had got new clothes and were off out dancing in them. From a personal point of view, I very much hope we are keeping the intentions of Benjamin Britten alive by making new work for all children to sing.’

Friday Afternoons has five Ambassadors – Tom Appleton, Emily Barden, Charlotte Brosnan, Dominic Ellis-Peckham and Charles MacDougall – who are all professional choral leaders to act as a creative advisory group. The Ambassadors help to develop the online and in person resources with a focus on supporting classroom teachers and improving the skills and confidence of music specialists. Each of the five ambassadors has been paired with two of the choirs premiering EVERYTHING

Britten Pears Arts’ Friday Afternoons mission is for every young person to have access to high quality music through using their voice. The songs are available online for young people around the world to sing, adding to the Friday Afternoons Song Bank.

Friday Afternoons was originally conceived as the culmination of the worldwide 2013 Britten centenary celebrations, taking its name from the set of simple songs the composer wrote for his brother’s school to sing every Friday. Since then a new collection of songs and additional resources has been made available annually, with Friday Afternoons projects being run in schools all around the UK and across the world.

Friday Afternoons was relaunched in 2019 as a direct response to evaluation carried out in 2018 and includes new online resources featuring curriculum-based teaching materials, support videos aimed at skills development, and case studies of national projects to showcase the breadth of the project and encourage deeper engagement www.fridayafternoonsmusic.co.uk.   

Friday Afternoons has expanded its scope as part of its relaunch to develop the skills of teachers to confidently lead singing in the classroom, and to encourage young people to connect with contemporary classical repertoire creating challenging and exciting music making experiences for all.