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Our Paston Footprints Project

Thu Mar 29 2018

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The Paston Papers are a collection of hundreds of letters dating back to 15th century Norfolk, which are a fascinating record of the life and times of the Paston family who lived there.

The earliest known Paston letter was written in 1408, and to mark the 600th anniversary our Education team is involved in a series of musical events. This is followed by a concert with the Orchestra at St Nicholas Church in North Walsham on Sunday 1 July, featuring a specially-commissioned piece by composer Sarah Rodgers.

Sarah is going to be writing a blog for us as she composes her piece and here is the first instalment.

Paston papers provide inspiration for contemporary composer

One of the most enlivening aspects about being a composer is ‘the phone call’ (or nowadays the email) that says, we want you to write us a new piece. My most recent one came in December with enough information to intrigue me but it wasn’t until the beginning of February when I met with Stuart Bruce, Orchestra Live’s Partnership Manager and Cherry Forbes, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s, Education Director (and oboist) that this proposal revealed its full fascination and inventiveness.

In a nutshell, (if that’s possible), the new piece is to celebrate the anniversary of the Paston Papers – a collection of correspondences between members of the Paston family and others connected with them in England between the years 1422 and 1509. A nationwide celebration, the focus is Norfolk as the birthplace and home county of generations of Pastons – I have lived here a mere decade, but love Norfolk’s history and individuality.

I knew the nutshell wasn’t going to be big enough! The new piece, (title still to be decided) will bring together the OAE, the North Walsham Church Choir (North Walsham is central to Paston history) and a solo soprano, all facilitated by Orchestras Live.

I’m going to focus on the letters of the Paston women, who intriguingly, were just as prolific in both their letter-writing and the politics of family life as were the men folk. In a year when the centenary of women’s suffrage is being celebrated and also when St Nicholas, North Walsham are starting a new girls choir, this seemed an affirming decision.

There will be all sorts of challenges. First I have to put together the text for which there is a superabundance of material. Then I need to understand the characteristics and qualities of a period instrument orchestra. Lastly, the new music has to be possible to draw together with diverse forces in a relatively short amount of time.

Can’t wait to get stuck in – and I’ll keep posting progress.

Sarah Rodgers

If you’d like to find out more about the Paston project have a look here.

This project is being made possible thanks to the support of North Norfolk District Council and Orchestras Live.

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