The Thought Machine
For Soprano, Baritone and Piano
(2016) 16 minutes
Premiered by Sophie Daneman, Mark Stone and Sholto Kynoch at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, as part of the Oxford Leider Festival on 27th October 2016.
Commissioned by the Oxford Lieder Festival, The Thought Machine (August 2016) sets ten poems from Kate Wakeling's first collection of children's poetry, Moon Juice (2016) – an anthology "full of curious characters and strange situations ... musical, sometimes magical, and full of wonder at the weirdness of the world". On the one hand, the words and currents, the fantasy, of a child. On the other, the sophistication and tides, the fantasticality, of an adult. Cheryl has journeyed the Schumann road before (One Life Stand, 2011), and her way with subtexts, associations, parody and distillation – the notion of obeisance - has always been Schumannesque. At times Robert's Album for the Young or Scenes from Childhood seem but a step away from The Thought Machine. The creator as 'moonstruck maker of charades'. The trickiness of the vocal and piano writing is considerable. Especially, one notes, the attention to pedalling, prolonged depression of the damper (as well as sostenuto in New Moon) leading to a dancing resonance of overtones and misty images floating in and out of focus. Unexpected twists bring a smile, for one the 'optional egg shaker, or any other percussion instrument that rattles' allocated to soprano and baritone in the sixth song, Machine. For another the theatrical cues: "Baritone could act as if asleep in a car" (Night Journey); "Soprano could have been staring horribly at the baritone … making the baritone freeze" (Rita the Pirate). Shadow Boy touches magic, Comet, closing the cycle, thrills.
The Thought Machine was given its first performance by Sophie Daneman, Mark Stone and Sholto Kynoch (dedicatees respectively of the second, third and sixth numbers), at the Holywell Music Room, 27 October 2016.
© Ates Orga
"Frances-Hoad’s delight in the whimsical and wry is ever-present in these songs, as is her feeling for the sophistication of a child’s perspective and assimilation of the ‘weirdness of the world’."
Claire Seymour, Opera Today
"The Thought Machine is ten songs setting poems from Kate Wakeling's collection of children's poetry, Moon Juice, for soprano (Sophie Daneman), baritone (Mark Stone), and piano (Sholto Kynoch). Despite the source material, these are not children's songs and form a remarkably varied and coherent group. Moving from the quiet intensity of the spare opening song, through dramatic moments, strong story-telling and a duet which is amost a patter song. Frances Hoad uses her soloists both singly and severally, so that this is very much about the two acting together in a series of striking duets." Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill
Review(s) of the Children's Show version
"I certainly wasn’t the target audience for Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s delightful show The Thought Machine - playing across the city last month - and promoted locally by Peterborough Music Hub. However, watching the production with a receptive audience of very polite and appreciative KS2 children ensured I saw the show with a fresh perspective. The children had a wonderful time whilst being introduced to a classical music experience. The link between the music, story and the visual talents of shadow-puppeteer Drew Colby was a terrific way of engaging the young audience."
Brad Barnes, The Peterborough Telegraph
Performance history (post-premiere)
19th October 2019 - Song Spiel with Drew Colby, shadowgrapher at Henry Box School, Witney, UK (Children's' Show format)
13th October 2019 - Song Spiel with Drew Colby, shadowgrapher at Wallingford School, Oxford, UK (Children's' Show format)
12th October 2019 - Song Spiel with Drew Colby, shadowgrapher at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford UK (Children's' Show format)
1st September 2017 Song Spiel and Ensemble Perpetuo with Drew Colby, shadowgrapher at Metal, Peterborough, UK (Children's' Show format)
Performed at twelve schools in Peterborough and six schools in Cambridgeshire during March 2019 (Children's' Show format with Song Spiel and Drew Colby)