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The Arms of Sleep is an epic 11-hour choral sleepover for fifty audience members and a choir of eighty. Guests are given a bed each before spending the night surrounded by sound and shadows, poised between sleep and wakefulness as the choir performs specially-written music from twilight until morning. Commissioned by the Brighton Festival and the Norfolk & Norwich Festival.
The Arms of Sleep
Created and directed by Jonathan Baker and Sian Croose
Music composed by Helen Chadwick, Orlando Gough and Jonathan Baker
Production Design: Laura Hopkins
Lighting Design: Tim Tracey
Films: Sal Pittman
Sound Design: Jason Dixon
Project co-ordination: Iain Lowery
What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in you hand
Ah, what then?
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Choir Experience
All Voice Project productions are open-access – there are no auditions and no previous experience is necessary. As all the music is taught by ear from scratch, there is no need for the singers to read music although scores are available as downloadable PDFs from the Voice Project website. All songs are recorded in advance so each individual part is available in audio form as an mp3 file – also accessed via The Voice Project website.
An initial ‘taster’ session is held for potential participants at which short excerpts from the Arms of Sleep are taught. Singers are subsequently given the choice to sign up to the project. Typically, there is a ten-week rehearsal period with rehearsals held once a week on a weekday evening as well as some weekend daytime rehearsals.
In performance week, there are extra rehearsals plus the preview performance and four or five public performances. The choir for the piece usually comprises up to a hundred singers.
The Audience Experience
Members of the audience arrive at dusk and, after a glass of wine, are escorted to a changing room to get ready for bed. A choir member is assigned to each guest, taking them to their allocated bed –fifty comfortable beds are laid out in a large bedroom. When all the audience is in bed, the choir enters the room. A choral performance takes place involving the choir, solo singers and instrumentalists with specially-written music, bedtime stories and projected images lasting forty-five minutes. The performance ends gently, inducing a restful state and the audience sleeps.
At 2.30am, the audience is woken and led out of the sleeping area for a middle of the night ‘dream-sequence’ performance culminating in a midnight feast before they are once again returned to bed and sleep.
An early morning choir gently sings the audience awake at 7.00am before taking them to breakfast after which the guests change into their day clothes and are sung on their way to start their day.
The Partner Experience
The Arms of Sleep is a large-scale overnight choral piece for an audience of fifty people in bed and an un-auditioned mixed choir of between eighty and one hundred singers plus professional vocal soloists and instrumentalists. The Arms of Sleep was devised by its directors, Jonathan Baker and Sian Croose and commissioned by the Brighton Festival and the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. It has received five public performances at the Assembly House in Norwich and four public performances at Firle Place near Lewes in East Sussex. Selecting a building for this piece to take place is a key component; the sleeping area needs to accommodate fifty beds plus the choir. The partner is responsible for recruiting the singers from the local community. It may also be necessary to recruit a locally-based choir teacher to teach material in the absence of the directors.
Our Performance Team
The two choir directors are also soloists in the piece. In addition, we have three professional solo singers, two instrumentalists and an actor (Master of Ceremonies).
Our Technical Team
We will supply a lighting director/operator, a sound director/operator, a production designer, 2 production managers and a company stage manager. Technical Requirements and Crew We will require a crew of up to eight for a two-day get-in and a one day get out.
Sound requirements: The Voice Project will supply all sound equipment. This comprises a nine-way Genelec speaker installation.
For further details, requirements and site visits, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Brighton Festival review: The Arms Of Sleep, Firle Riding School, May 11 to 13
★★★★★ Brighton Argus
Arriving down the long drive, newborn lambs unintentionally risking their lives as they sprung in the way of cars, Firle House was visible in the distance at dusk.
Surrounded by buildings including a church and riding school, peeking above the treetops, it felt like a perfect setting for an Agatha Christie novel. So when the evening’s host quietly introduced his carved walking stick topped with a tiny badger head, the eerie atmosphere was only heightened.
After an incredible walk through woods, by a lake and alongside houses serenaded by both stunning and intriguing voices, which set the tone for the evening, the formally dressed choir picked attendees off one-by-one.
Settling down in one of the 50 beds set up in Firle Place’s old riding school, the audience were treated to a stunning performance by talented singers, both in the volunteer choir and professional. Harmonious melodies ranged from sweet to obtrusive, but always perfect and arrestingly impressive.
Visuals drew out different experiences of sleep – lucid, restorative, restless, about counting sheep or bedtime stories – to create a fascinating experience as audience members battled or surrendered to different stages of sleep.
The programme listed 11 parts which cover the 11 hours – including a daunting “second sleep” after a section entitled “wildest dreams”. Shrouding the night in secrets served to maximise its impact.
At points the experience was disruptive. But the production was entirely gentle and kind. The night was perfectly summed up in a promotional video: “the best worst night’s sleep I’ve ever had”.
Lucy Farrant – Choir Member
Participation in the Arms of Sleep was a huge privilege from beginning to end. It was a unique and truly rewarding experience to be part of both the grand vision for the project and the intense intimacy of becoming guardians of the audience’s sleeping, waking and dreaming. Unforgettable.
Charlie Watson – Choir Member
The Arms of Sleep was like no other choral project I’ve sung in. Forget any idea that choirs always stand on a stage and sing at the audience in front of them. Here, in character, we welcomed them as guests as they arrived for a full 12 hours in our surreal, musical, dreamlike world. We moved through the building, forming and re-forming in different combinations; we sang to them and among them; we sat on their beds – one to one, eye to eye – to read each sleeper their own bedtime story from the Brothers Grimm; we serenaded them at breakfast and waltzed between their tables; and finally, always in character, we gathered outside in the morning sun to see them leave. It was tiring, it was demanding, it was intense, it was something I’ll never forget. It was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
The Voice Project is an open-access singing project offering a whole range of creative ways to use your voice. The Voice Project was created by singers Sian Croose and Jonathan Baker in 2008 and since then we have involved hundreds of singers in performances of great new vocal music as well as workshops designed to build vocal confidence and explore a wide variety of uplifting and inspiring vocal music.
Sian Croose is a singer and conductor with over 30 years experience creating and directing music projects in the UK. After an apprenticeship in bands and alternative theatre, she trained on the Community Music programme founded by John Stevens. She is co-director of The Voice Project, developing large scale, site-responsive performances that bring together community choirs and professional performers in innovative pieces of choral theatre with singer and composer Jonathan Baker. Since 1997, she has conducted new choral works by a long list of great composers, including Barbara Thompson, Karen Wimhurst, Andy Sheppard, Jon Hassell and Gwillym Simcock. She has sung with the Helen Chadwick Group and Human Music and performs in the Voice Project Quintet with Sianed Jones, Jeremy Avis, Lisa Cassidy and Jonathan Baker. Other projects include The Dawn Chorus, with American singer and composer Brendan Taaffe, writing and performing new songs inspired by the Shape Note tradition and Harmonium, a wordless systems-based a cappella project for 12 women‘s voices that premiered in 2016. She runs a Norwich based choir – Big Sky, regularly commissioning new music from award-winning songwriter Chris Wood and performing with storyteller Hugh Lupton and multi-instrumentalist Adrian Lever She also runs workshops for choirs and vocal groups throughout the UK and Ireland and training and coaching for vocal leaders and singers.
Jonathan Baker is a composer and sound designer for commissions from Metal, Norfolk and Norwich Festival, Brighton Festival, the Sage Gateshead, The London Jazz Festival with jazz promoters Serious as well as TV music for BBC, ITV and Channel 4. He is a founding co-director (with his colleague, Sian Croose) of The Voice Project creating large-scale, site-specific choral pieces collaborating with artists including Arve Henriksen, Jan Bang, Barbara Thompson, Jon Hassell, Andy Sheppard, Nik Bärtsch, Gwilym Simcock, Helen Chadwick and Orlando Gough. Jonathan is a founder-member of KlangHaus an award-winning performance and art collective for which he devises, sings, plays bass, keyboards and electronics.