We pride ourselves on delivering impactful, spectacular, large-scale performances, whilst caring deeply about the experience of each individual performer or participant. Energy 2024 was certainly no exception to this. Creative Projects Producer, Hattie Coupe, takes us behind the scenes of producing a creative project of such epic proportions.

We worked with over 100 students on the creative thread of this project alone!

Dave Ayre (Double Bass), Maddy Aldis-Evans (Oboe) joined me in delivering creative music workshops with four groups: two primary school groups led by Jessie Grimes, and the secondary school and college students led by James Redwood.

In these sessions, each group composed a brand-new song, telling their chapter of the Energy story. This is how we came up with four distinct songs with totally different messages and stories to tell – each group had a different starting point, which led to very different conversations about our relationship with Energy and the natural world.

The Derby College group was tasked with the discovery of electricity. Discussions led quickly to hedonistic messages about the excitement of technology, how it must have seemed so thrilling as electricity gave way to such progress so quickly. Musically, the content lent itself beautifully to a prog-rock, anthemic piece which you could imagine being sung at Woodstock ’69! The chorus line “I’m living in an electric daydream” evocatively rang out into the Derby Theatre auditorium. The music then kicked into a punk-rock section, which also lent itself so well to the message of out with the old and in with the new, in lyrics such as “There’s no going back now, old ways are dead in the past!”

Next up, Bemrose Secondary School created a protest song called “There’s No Planet B”, which not only lyrically told the story, but also richly in its musical stylistic references, such as the reggae style section, nodding to the history of reggae music and its power to move people politically, and call out the hypocrisy and failures of the ruling class. Lyrics such as “There’s no Planet B. Can’t you see? No more hypocrisy” was a direct and urgent call-to-action.

Becket Primary School brought their A-game, especially if A stood for ANGRY. The very real climate-anxiety felt acutely by young people was present throughout the creative process – in small groups the students wrote every single lyric themselves, including “Trees choke. Animals drown. Our planet is doomed”. Heavy stuff. But the truth is, it IS heavy stuff, and it was incredible to hear how eloquently these 10-11 year olds articulated their fears, and worked together to create this incredibly powerful rallying cry of a song. Their message was loud and clear, enriched with strong actions inspired by British Sign Language with support from BSL Interpreter Sarah Cox: “Murderer, Murderer! Leave coal deep underground!”

At the end of the performance, Firs Primary School had their moment to take charge of the narrative, with an upbeat song which they named “Together We’re Unstoppable”. They too wrote every single lyric within small groups, looking at specific topics such as the natural world “let the grass grow wild with a frenzy of flowers” and modes of transport, “we’re riding our bikes to school, we’re walking and scooting too”. They didn’t hold back with holding the audience to account – with one student offering “What are you gonna do?” as a line to finish each verse. It was such an emotionally mature and progressive song, written and composed by the youngest students on our stage.

It was a privilege to watch these songs develop week to week, tweaking the lyrics and the melodies, with students offering such thoughtful lyrical and musical ideas. One student in Becket Primary School insisted we use an “ostinato”, which created the perfect framework for the climax of the song, as this repeated line “coal..mines..oil..gas..smoke..this must stop!” rousingly built underneath the final chorus.

I watched as James and Jessie led these creative music sessions and enjoyed seeing them handover the creative control to the students. The students thrived, taking total ownership of the music, making key decisions about which lyrics to keep in or scrap, how to build the song, which musical references and styles to use... all forms of storytelling. Ultimately, it was their story to tell. For such a complex and spectacular large-scale performance, that, for me, was the biggest, most important success of this project: supporting those individual voices and ideas to shine.