Tag Archives: Alice in Wonderland

Coming home: Laura Osswald reflects on music-making and the impact of lockdown

Erasmus-student, cellist and singer, Laura Osswald, looks back on her time as part of extra-curricular music-making, and how she continues to be involved all the way from her home Germany during lockdown.

More than two months have passed since I have left the University of Kent. But the connection with the Music Department is still strong and will continue to be.

Card on the table: Laura (left) backstage in Colyer-Fergusson

Looking back on my Erasmus semester in Canterbury, music and the amazing people I got to know through it were a huge part of what turned this time into a great, enriching experience. Music allowed me to develop friendships not just based on the common fate of going to the same lecture or living in the same flat, but based on the shared passion of making music, especially making music together with others.

Within the music department, I never felt like a stranger – instead, going into the Colyer-Fergusson building more and more felt like coming home.

Being part of the Symphony Orchestra, the Cecilian Choir and the String Sinfonia and several small groups, I was very involved in the Music Department from the start. In my blogpost from November, I could only look back on the first concerts, but many more have followed. Christmas time had started wonderfully with the Advent Breathing Space with the Cecilian Choir in the medieval St Michael’s Church in Hernhill. My first term then ended with the fantastic concert with the Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. 2020 continued to be full of various musical activities. For Alice in Wonderland, I got the chance of not only singing in a choir, but also dancing as a playing-card which I enjoyed very much!

On the cards: the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ chorus in rehearsal

With the amazing University Camerata, we had a nice family concert of Peter and the Wolf where I was leading the cello section – so exciting and a great experience! I also continued to make chamber music: I joined a string quartet that performed at the Law Ball and a piano trio. With the Symphony Orchestra and String Sinfonia, we worked hard on our repertoire for the concerts in the end of March and I loved our rehearsals – but unfortunately, Covid-19 came in the way. Particularly the cancellation of the Cathedral Concert was very sad for me as it would have offered the unique opportunity to play in the impressive Canterbury Cathedral – I even would have had a small solo in Duruflé’s Requiem. It would have been a great finale for my musical time in Kent.

Laura (second from left) with the chamber group

But then, we found an alternative ending: a Facebook livestream concert with a piano quintet playing the beautiful music of Ólafur Arnalds. This was actually a dream of mine coming true, since I have loved his music for years and always wanted to play it myself – and now I could, together with four amazing musicians. I am very thankful that this happened, giving me a perfect ending to my Erasmus semester and bringing a bit of calm and peace into a troubled world.

When I think of all the music-making and concerts I have been part of, I am incredibly grateful that I had this opportunity and I am so happy I could experience all of this before the coronavirus started to change our lives so much. However, a positive side-effect is the emergence of the virtual music projects! Thanks to the great commitment of Dan Harding and the wonders of technology, I can continue playing with the people I love and miss. Of course, this is very different from making music together face-to-face and it can’t quite replace it, but nevertheless it is a beautiful opportunity to maintain my connection to Canterbury, the Music Department and joint music-making in general.

Social distant-strings; Laura recording as part of the Virtual Music Project from her home in Germany

The music, the memories and the people will stay in my heart. Thank you for welcoming me in Canterbury with open arms, I hope I can come back one day.

Coming to a screen near you: Alice in Wonderland: a Musical Dream Play

To keep you entertained during lockdown, why not join us for a screening on YouTube Live of a musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale following the adventures of Alice and a cast of wonderful characters ?!

This live performance, recreating a musical adaptation first written for the Victorian stage in 1886, was filmed in Colyer-Fergusson Hall back in February,  given by the University Cecilian Choir, soloists and instrumental ensemble; students and staff from across the University community bringing Carroll’s much-loved tale to life for the first time since 1927. Carroll himself was closely involved in the original adaptation, writing verses especially for the production. The film will be premiered on the University’s  YouTube Live channel on Friday 22 May at 7pm, and also broadcast at the same time on KMTV.

The cast includes a larger-than-life performance from third-year Drama student and Music Award holder Sophia Lyons in the title role; fourth-year French and Business Studies student and Music Award holder Matt Cooke as a wonderfully eccentric Mad Hatter and a curmudgeonly Mock Turtle; and a White Rabbit brimming with eccentric energy from second-year Robbie Frederick.

To whet your appetites, here’s the Mock Turtle’s aria, Beautiful Soup, in rehearsal, sung by Matt Cooke accompanied by a quartet of instruments arranged especially for the performance by Dan Harding.

Including an imperious Queen of Hearts, a dancing deck of cards and a mischievous Cheshire Cat, in a musical world filled with Victorian charm, step into the forest with us as we present the film of the performance on the University of Kent’s YouTube channel Live at 7pm on Friday 22 May.

Gather your family, friends, housemates, and take a trip into Alice’s world in an adventure for all ages.

Find out more about the production here:


Images from the production (c) University of Kent / Matt Wilson

Scholar’s Spotlight: Sophia Lyons

Continuing the series profiling this year’s new Music Performance and Award Holder students at the University. This week, final-year soprano reading Drama and Theatre Studies, Sophia Lyons.

My role as a University of Kent Music Award Holder I owe to my parents, who tactfully introduced me to my first singing teacher aged 9. I had been adamant that I would ‘never sing in front of a stranger’, but as soon as my first lesson was over, I knew I would have a lifelong dedication to my voice. Once I had shed initial tears in my Grade 1 Trinity singing exam and achieved a Merit, I made a commitment to get to Grade 8, continue training my voice, and maybe even perform. I very much ‘caught the bug’. Once I had one exam under my belt, 11 year-old me grew the confidence to audition for Annie with a local amateur dramatic society, and was offered the main role. To this day, my Grandmother still talks about how shocked she was when she first heard me sing in the curly wig; “I had no idea you could even sing!”

After Annie, I transitioned into secondary school, and began undertaking a variety of vocal exploits. I started singing Soprano, and then Alto with my local church choir, which encouraged me to join the school chamber choir. I discovered I had a natural ear for picking up harmonies, without having the experience of reading music, which meant I often enjoyed singing the Alto harmony lines. I performed in all the school concerts, often solo’s from musicals such as Les Misérables, The Wizard of Oz, and Oliver, as well as solos in the local church around Christmas times. I also played principle roles in extracurricular shows, such as High Society, Bugsy Malone, and Little Shop of Horrors.

Alongside, I continued my classical training with Trinity, but as I grew into my teens, my tastes in music and my voice primarily began to change. As a result, I began tutoring young students in Acoustic popular performance, and experimented with modern folk music. Throughout sixth form, I was a part of Gareth Malone’s ‘Sing While You Work’ P&O Choir, and for a short while, attached to an entertainments company ‘Blue Lemon’ where I duetted with a male pianist and singer, singing at gigs locally.

I then began working part time as a bespoke wedding singer, crafting setlists made from the Bride and Groom’s favourite songs, (having sung several brides down the aisle, I learnt the real pressure that comes with creating the perfect atmosphere with one’s voice!) When reaching my final year at school, I achieved Distinction at Grade 8, and my teacher noted my voice had range and potential to suit a variety of styles, but for me, classical music stood firmly in the forefront, as it was challenging and therefore most rewarding.

Leaving school, I moved to the University of Warwick to study English and Theatre Studies, and decided to audition for their music bursary. Instead, I was offered the Alto Scholarship, and as a result joined the Warwick Chamber Choir, all-female choir Gaudeamus, and started training with a teacher who toured with the English National Opera. In my first year, I was working with extremely difficult classical music, such as Mozart, Bach, and Purcell, which, whilst initially intimidating, I began to conquer. Singing in three choirs meant my sight reading improved extremely quickly, and by the end of my first year, I found I could read at the same level as those who played instruments. I took part in pieces such as Mozart’s Requiem, Verdi’s Requiem, Belshazzar’s Feast, Durufle’s Requiem, and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. I was often selected to sing solo, the most challenging being ‘Pie Jesu’ from Durufle’s Requiem in The Stratford Chapel. I was given the opportunity to travel to Nice with the chamber choir, and was lead Alto in a singing project to connect French and Chinese music together in a “Transcultural Cantata”. I worked steadily with my singing teacher to increase my vocal range to three octaves, and began to branch out into a more mezzo-soprano range. At the end of my first year, I entered the Leamington Festival, and placed 2nd in the under 25’s and 1st in the Novice category. I joined the Musical Theatre society, MTW and the Opera society. I played ensemble and solo roles in Die Fledermaus and student written opera, Jurassic Park, and then took on the principle role as Joanne in the musical Rent, performed at the Warwick Arts Centre in 2018.

I then took a gap year and transitioned into second year at the University of Kent. Whilst on my gap year, I found myself yearning to perform again, and by summer 2019, I revisited the amateur dramatics society whom I had performed with 10 years ago. I was in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, playing the top soprano part Johanna. Taking on this challenge meant my voice grew to a top Soprano range. Sondheim’s music I found bridged the gap between musical theatre and classical styles, reigniting my love for both.

The soprano section of the Chamber Choir at the Carol Service in Canterbury Cathedral

Therefore, upon entering my third year studying Drama and Theatre at the University of Kent, I took the plunge and nervously auditioned for a Music Performance Award. I was desperate to get singing and performing again, and the music department at Kent has given me endless opportunities to do so, a highlight being singing  the solo opening verse of Once in royal David’s city to begin the annual University Carol Service back in December in Canterbury Cathedral! I am currently singing with the University Chorus, Chamber Choir, and Cecilian Choir. I am working with an incredible singing teacher, and have plenty of concerts coming up this year, leading up to my graduation in July.

Music at Kent has also influenced my degree. As part of a module, I was involved in a project with children at St Nicholas School, Canterbury, facilitating music and drama workshops for children who were at risk of being excluded from the Arts due to having a range of complex needs. I used my knowledge of vocal exercises to create ambience and sensory environments with the children, leading up to an Applied Theatre performance on the main stage at the Gulbenkian.

Third-year Sophia Lyons in the title role

This combination of Drama and Music has also transferred into my role as Alice in the production of the  ‘Musical Dream Play’ Alice in Wonderland, by the Music Department. Drawing on both of these skills has meant my time at Kent has been thoroughly musically fulfilling, full of challenges, which has helped improve my vocal and musical knowledge in the most exciting way. I have a lot of people to thank for seeing potential in that shy 9 year-old, and will be eternally grateful for every opportunity I have been given, especially at the University of Kent.

You can listen to Sophia talking about her experience of being in Alice in Wonderland in a broadcast on BBC Radio Kent‘s The Dominic King Show online here, starting at 27′ 52”.

Domestic Parlour Music and beyond in the nineteenth century and its literature

As part of the Alice in Wonderland project by the Music department this year, the programme to the performances includes an essay on domestic music-making during the nineteenth-century by Dr Siobhan Harper. An alumna of the University of Kent and former Music Scholar, Siobhan read English Literature at Kent and graduated in 2009; she obtained her PhD in Victorian Literature at the University of Durham, and in the essay examines the role of music, and its portrayal in literature, during the era in which Alice in Wonderland was first published. Her essay, which features in the programme accompanying the performance of the Musical Dream Play, appears here in its entirety.

A sound of music issued from the drawing-room’: Domestic Parlour Music and Beyond in the Nineteenth Century and its Literature

England in the nineteenth century was known as ‘Das Land ohne Musik’ – the land without music. This is, of course, a ludicrous claim, and one that was heavily contested by musicologists at the time; there is ‘no doubt that professional and domestic music-making was an important part of daily life’.[1] So much so, indeed, that ‘much of the literature of the period is rich with musical scenes and themes’, with ‘novels throughout the century […] brimming with scenes at the piano’.[2]

The British were, however, ‘musical and not musical, depending on the speaker’[3] – and, more importantly, the subject. Music was for ‘women, foreigners, industrial workers, and professional musicians’, to the extent that it was considered an ‘emasculating [and] debasing activity for men of the aspiring middle classes and nobility to practise’; men of these classes were the audience only, always distanced.[4] Music was, then, ‘largely gender specific’, since it ‘was one of the few fields in which most middle- and upper-class girls were educated, and boys were not’.[5] As such, it was inextricably tied up with ‘perceptions of ideal femininity’.[6]

It was domestic music that dominated the first half of the nineteenth century, and ‘any household that could afford one was likely to possess a piano’.[7] But owning a piano was about far more than the instrument itself: it indicated that ‘not only can the family afford a piano, sheet music, lessons and leisure time, but the choice of instrument, the piece being played, and [the pianist’s] manner of execution all communicated her genteel taste, or lack thereof’.[8] The piano, its player, and all of the accoutrements therefore ‘visibly and audibly demonstrated a man’s respectable social standing and financial well-being to those who shared the same cultural capital’.[9]

Theodore Robinson, Girl at Piano, circa 1887

The quotation above specified ‘her genteel taste’ with good reason – for it was always her. The piano was the middle-class luxury ‘most significant in the lives of women’; it was ‘an emblem of social status’, a ‘gauge of a woman’s training in the required accomplishments’, and ‘its presence afforded women a particular distinction within domestic culture’,[10] as girls and women ‘performed for select gatherings of peers after dinner’.[11] And while men of this class certainly sang – think of Frank Churchill in Jane Austen’s Emma (1815), who is ‘accused of having a delightful voice, and a perfect knowledge of music’, and Mr Rochester in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), who ‘has a fine bass voice, and an excellent taste for music’ – this was generally only when accompanied by, and often duetting with, a woman. The most prominent male pianist exhibited in the literature of the period is Herr Klesmer, in George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda’s (1876), who is at once both foreign and a professional musician and music teacher; an outsider in two respects.

The performers of choice in the middle- and upper-class home were unmarried daughters, to the extent that ‘it seems that the greater use of amateur music was to obtain a good marriage’.[12] After all, as William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1848) espouses, what else could cause young people ‘to labour at pianoforte sonatas, […] and to play the harp if they have handsome arms and neat elbows, […] but that they may bring down some “desirable” young man with those killing bows and arrows of theirs?’. After-dinner or social performances in the parlour ‘presented potential suitors with an opportunity to watch a young lady’s graceful and beautiful movements, […] and/or to note her father’s social status which allows her enough leisure to practise music’.[13] But it was just as important for these young women to play appropriately as it was to play well: daughters playing ‘rigorous works which required virtuosic skill […] brought censure’,[14] and being ‘too technical is equated with being unladylike’.[15] Not least of the reasons for this was because ‘most male audience members were musically illiterate’,[16] and desired a wife with musical skill in order to relax and soothe, as Tertius Lydgate, of George Eliot’s Middlemarch’s (1873), muses that the society of a wife should be like ‘reclining in a paradise with sweet laughs for bird-notes’.

Chamber Music Concert, Jules Alexandre Grun, circa 1885-90

In addition to the music itself, the instruments that women were allowed to play were carefully regulated. The ‘model young lady sang and/or played the piano, the harp, or the guitar’; these instruments ‘were thought to display the player’s posture and movements advantageously’, and so ‘assisted the family’s upward mobility’ by way of their daughters’ advantageous marriages.[17] Violins were objected to on the grounds that ‘the players looked unattractive’,[18] and ‘the flute was especially problematic because of its shape’, which had been ‘a favourite symbol of masculinity’ during the eighteenth century. Given the disapproval of the flute for female musicians, we can only assume that the clarinet would have met with even worse favour due to the angle at which it is played; the bassoon due to its size; and the cello due to its unfortunate positioning between the legs. History does not relate the culture’s opinion of the piccolo, and one wouldn’t care to speculate whether its size would have made it more or less acceptable in the eyes of those who thought the flute too suggestive.

Despite the limited range of instruments available for amateur middle- and upper-class women, and although the piano held ‘indisputable prevalence … in the home’,[19] it is important to note that domestic music comprised more than just this instrument. String quartets also found a place in the parlour, principally made up of male amateurs or male professionals, and some with accompaniment from a female pianist.[20] A writer in 1924 ‘[deplored the] public’s ignorance of wind chamber music’ in the preceding century,[21] so it seems that this was much less popular for a home environment. These examples are few; but while it’s certainly true that domestic music remained firmly under ‘the smothering influence of the parlor piano, the ubiquity of which is impossible to deny’,[22] their existence does demonstrate that this was not a hegemony.

As the century wore on, however, the consumption of and knowledge surrounding music began to change. The school curriculum widened in 1839 to formally include music lessons.[23] The lower classes experienced wage increases, particularly in the 1860s to 1890s, while, concurrently, ‘music for the masses grew at unprecedented rates’.[24] Band competitions started in 1853 with the Belle Vue Contest, choir festivals began in 1855 in Manchester (excluding the notable history of Welsh choir competitions, of course), and ‘by the end of the century, there were thousands of brass bands and choral societies in Britain’.[25] More people were able to ‘participate in music-making’, and, importantly, ‘concert attendance rose mid-century as rural and urban workers took advantage of this newly available entertainment’.[26] An 1860 article in Macmillan’s magazine examined this phenomenon as it happened:

Not many years ago an orchestral symphony or a stringed quartet [sic] were luxuries hardly to be indulged in by those Londoners whose guineas were not tolerably numerous. Times are changed for the better; and not a week passes, even in the dullest season of the year, that some good music is not to be heard at a cheap rate in London.[27]

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (1855) alludes to this phenomenon as it affected northern cities; the fictional town of Milton (modelled on Manchester) has ‘good concerts’, though Fanny Thornton complains that they are ‘too crowded’ since ‘the directors admit so indiscriminately. But one is sure to hear the newest music there’.

There was at this point so much ‘performed music … available to an increasingly mobile […] audience by the middle of the nineteenth century’[28] that it was almost inevitable that the number of players of music would increase in a similar fashion. Pianos began to be ‘affordable by families further down the social scale’,[29] which was unacceptable to the classes of women for whom the piano had been theirs; there was suddenly ‘a need to secure a respectable domestic instrument for women from the upper social classes’ as a result.[30] By the 1870s, the violin’s grace overruled the unattractive appearance of the players, and women were permitted to take up this instrument.[31] Similarly, the flute was deemed acceptable for women once the phallic symbolism was overcome by supporters of female flautists encouraging focus ‘on the flute’s sound rather than the flautist’s picture’.[32] And ‘the cultural unacceptability for women to learn string instruments’ as a whole ‘finally crumbled around 1870’, and ‘many middle- and upper-class women took up the violin, viola, and cello’ as a consequence.[33]

Victorian music-making

Domestic music did not wane, but music consumption outside of the home widened and diversified hugely. The first performance of Alice in Wonderland: A Musical Dream Play for Children and Others in 1886 is situated in the centre of this expansion of music in the period. The musical choices made for this performance echo, without mimicking, the forms that domestic, amateur music-making took in the period; while remaining faithful to the musical styles of the period, these musical choices also succeed in evoking the changes that were occurring musically as the nineteenth century progressed. The small instrumental ensemble is reminiscent of the piano-accompanied performances, while the presence of the flute, clarinet, and bassoon are representative of the diversification of instruments and types of performance that occurred outside of the home, particularly in the last four decades of the period. Moreover, that the flute and bassoon are played by women gives more than a passing nod to the ‘cultural unacceptability’[34] of these instruments for female performers – even, or perhaps especially, in a private, domestic setting – only 150 years ago.

It is surely impossible to give an impression of a whole century’s musical fashions, endeavors, and habits; such an expanse would not be easily captured. The musical choices made here are, however, both gloriously resonant of the enduring and venerated domestic parlour performances, and evocative of the sweeping and significant musical expansion that marked the last half of the nineteenth century. All this pouring forth from ‘Das Land ohne Musik’.

© Dr Siobhan Harper January, 2020


Baron, John H., Chamber Music: A Research and Information Guide (New York: Routledge, 2010).

Bashford, Christina, ‘Historiography and Invisible Musics: Domestic Chamber Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 63, No. 2 (Summer 2010), pp. 291-360.

Burgan, Mary, ‘Heroines at the Piano: Women and Music in Nineteenth-Century Fiction’, Victorian Studies 30.1 (Autumn 1986), pp. 51–76.

Clapp-Itnyre, Alisa, Angelic Airs, Subversive Songs: Music as Social Discourse in the Victorian Novel (Ohio, Ohio University Press, 2002).

da Sousa Correa, Delia, George Eliot, Music and Victorian Culture (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

Gray, Beryl, George Eliot and Music (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1989).

Weliver, Phillis, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900: Representations of music, science and gender in the leisured home (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2000).

[1] Weliver, Phillis, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900: Representations of music, science and gender in the leisured home (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2000), pg. 19.

[2] Clapp-Itnyre, Alisa, Angelic Airs, Subversive Songs, pg. xv.

[3] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 20.

[4] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 19.

[5] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 21.

[6] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 1.

[7] Gray, Beryl, George Eliot and Music (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1989), pg. 1.

[8] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 33.

[9] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 33.

[10] Burgan, Mary, ‘Heroines at the Piano: Women and Music in Nineteenth-Century Fiction’, Victorian Studies 30.1 (Autumn 1986), pp. 51–76, pg. 51.

[11] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 33.

[12] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 33.

[13] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 33.

[14] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 34.

[15] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 36.

[16] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 37.

[17] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 47-8.

[18] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 48.

[19] Bashford, Christina, ‘Historiography and Invisible Musics: Domestic Chamber Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 63, No. 2 (Summer 2010), pp. 291-360, pg. 303.

[20] Bashford, ‘Historiography and Invisible Musics: Domestic Chamber Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, pg. 307.

[21] Baron, John H., Chamber Music: A Research and Information Guide (New York: Routledge, 2010), pg. 94.

[22] Bashford, ‘Historiography and Invisible Musics: Domestic Chamber Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, pg. 312.

[23] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 28.

[24] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 27.

[25] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 28.

[26] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 28.

[27] ‘Classical Music and British Musical Taste’, Macmillan’s, quoted in Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 29.

[28] Gray, George Eliot and Music, pg. 1.

[29] Bashford, ‘Historiography and Invisible Musics: Domestic Chamber Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, pg. 317.

[30] Bashford, ‘Historiography and Invisible Musics: Domestic Chamber Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, pg. 317.

[31] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 48.

[32] Weliver, Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900, pg. 50.

[33] Bashford, ‘Historiography and Invisible Musics: Domestic Chamber Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, pg. 294.

[34] Bashford, ‘Historiography and Invisible Musics: Domestic Chamber Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, pg. 294.

Image Gallery: Alice in Wonderland – a Musical Dream Play

Congratulations to the University Cecilian Choir, soloists and instrumentalists on a marvellous performance of the Victorian stage adaptation of Carroll’s classic tale – Alice in Wonderland: A Musical Dream Play which came to life in Colyer-Fergusson Hall for the first time since 1927.

Third-year Sophia Lyons in the title role

The adaptation, overseen by Carroll himself and first performed in 1886, was brought to vivid life by University musicians, including students and staff from across the university community, Music Performance Scholars and Award Holders, in a reconstruction by Deputy Director of Music, Dan Harding, who also played the piano as part of the onstage chamber ensemble which accompanied the production.

If you missed it, the production returns to Colyer-Fergusson for a second performance on Friday 29 May, to launch this year’s Summer Music Week. #AliceatUKC will return…

Images © Matt Wilson / University of Kent

Alice in Wonderland project: the Nonsense Songs quartet

As part of the build-up to this Friday’s performance of Alice in Wonderland: A Musical Dream Play by the University Music department, we’re pleased to present a series of films each day this week of some of the Nonsense Songs, written by Liz Lehmann and published in 1908, that will be performed at the event.

The suite of characterful and charming songs takes its text from the nonsense rhymes that appear in the book – including How doth the little crocodile, You are old, Father William, and Will you walk a little faster – and creates a series of pieces for variously a quartet of voices, solos and duets. The songs will be performed live on the foyer-stage in Colyer-Fergusson by a quartet drawn from the principal cast, who will sing as part of the Hatter’s Tea Party which takes place immediately before the performance.

The first song – How doth the little crocodile – is here performed by Will Clothier (baritone), Maddie Jones (soprano), and two University Music Award Holders, Matthew Cooke (tenor) and Sophia Lyons (soprano). The rest of the songs will be released daily on YouTube over the course of this week, building nicely up to Friday’s performance of the Dream Play.


Tuesday: the second song, a duet of You are old, Father William, featuring baritone Will Clothier and tenor Matthew Cooke.


Wednesday: the Duchess Lullaby, Speak roughly to your little boy, sung by third-year soprano, Maddie Jones:


and the quartet sings Will you walk a little faster said the whiting to the snail:


ThursdayThe Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts sung by third-year soprano, Sophia Lyons:


And the final song from the cycle features the whole quartet in the heart-breakingly beautiful Epilogue.


Details and tickets for Alice in Wonderland: a Musical Dream Play can be found online here. Watch all songs as they are released on a dedicated YouTube playlist throughout the week here.

Celebrating Alice in Wonderland in music and two ancillary exhibitions

The Music department is preparing to deliver an ambitious production of Alice in Wonderland: A Musical Dream Play next week, bringing to life a musical stage adaptation of Carroll’s classic tale first performed in 1886 and written with Carroll’s close involvement. The University Cecilian Choir, soloists and ensemble lift the curtain on Alice’s mysterious, magical and musical world on Friday 21 February at 7.30pm.

Alongside the production, there are two art exhibitions on campus celebrating the bicentenary of Sir John Tenniel, illustrator, and cartoonist, whose illustrations graced the pages of the first publication of Alice in Wonderland in 1865. The production of the Musical Dream Play will feature many of Tenniel’s ilustrations projected above the stage during the performance, and these are currently on display in Colyer-Fergusson Gallery throughout February, allowing visitors the opportunity almost to walk through pages of the book…

Our colleagues over in the University Special Collections and Archives have also responded to the project, creating a special  exhibition celebrating Tenniel’s contribution to political cartooning in his own work for Punch, and  also in the lasting influence his Alice illustrations have had on subsequent generations of political cartoonists.

Politics in Wonderland: Sir John Tenniel at 200 features original cartoon artworks, cuttings and publications from the British Cartoon Archive by cartoonists including Nicholas Garland, Vicky, Strube and E.H. Shepard, and can be viewed in the Gallery, A Block Floor 1 of the Templeman Library until 20 March; more details here.

Tickets for the performance available here.

Scholars’ Spotlight: Ellie Gould

Continuing the series profiling this year’s new University Music Performanc Scholars and Award Holders. This week, first-year Biomedical student and soprano, Ellie Gould.

I began taking piano lessons when I was five years old and soon after, my teacher noticed I had good pitch, so offered to give me a few singing lessons to see if I enjoyed them (which I did!) 13 years later, I am still thoroughly enjoying both piano and singing, having reached up to Grade 8 standard on piano and achieving Distinction in both my Grade 8 exam and diploma in singing.

During primary school, my love for all things music grew even more, as my biggest excitement was the weekly music lessons, both in and out of school. I soon discovered my love of performing through taking part in the yearly Rotary Young Musician of the Year Competition and being involved in Stagecoach for eight years, which enabled me to take part in many productions; to name a few: Aida, Macbeth, Bugsy Malone and a Michael Jackson inspired ‘Thriller’ flash mob!

I would say that my musical journey really started to take off once high school began. It was towards the end of the summer holidays before the beginning of Year 7 that my Dad fortunately saw an advertisement in the newspaper regarding music scholarships at Harrogate Ladies’ College.  As soon as I joined  I fully immersed myself in all the musical opportunities that was on offer. I immediately joined Gallery Choir, which consisted of students from Year 6 to Year 9 and involved regularly performing at school events and singing works such as The Peacemakers by Jenkins in the Royal Hall, Harrogate. In order to improve my solo singing, I entered myself in both singing and piano at the annual Harrogate Music Festival.

At the start of Year 9, I was accepted into my school’s prestigious Chapel Choir. The highlight of Chapel Choir for me were the biennial choir trips, including Barcelona where we sang in La Sagrada Familia and Venice where we sang Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater in St. Mark’s Basilica. Other moments I will never forget were singing live on TV in the semi-finals of BBC Songs of Praise Competition (mainly because we were all dressed in bright fuchsia pink shirts!), singing in the Royal Festival Hall in London for the Barnardo’s Choir of the Year Competition, Choral Evensongs in York Minster and Durham Cathedral, performing Britten’s challenging War Requiem in Ripon Cathedral and participating in the production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.

In rehearsals and certain performances, we sat in choir stalls in our school Chapel and after each year when students left, you would slowly make your way up the row to the front. It was so lovely because as I progressed further up the row, I was given more opportunities to develop my solo singing within the choir and undertake more responsibilities. This culminated in eventually me becoming Row Leader and during Year 13, I was chosen to be Head of Chapel Choir, which was and still is a position which meant so much to me. Having been a part of the choir going on five years at that point, it was such a lovely role to have to bring my time at Harrogate Ladies’ College to an end. Within this role my confidence in my own music ability grew massively. I was tasked with leading the choir during services, performances, keeping the beat during the unaccompanied morning Amen’s in Chapel (a much harder task than it originally seemed!) and regularly singing solos.

During my time so far as a Biomedical Science student at the University of Kent, all of the extra-curricular music activities has been a lovely way for me to relax away from my studies. I have been extremely lucky and grateful to be a part of the University Chorus, Chamber Choir, Cecilian Choir and a recipient of the Music Performance Scholarship. The Chamber Choir sang at the Cathedral for the Carol Service in December, and I’m currently singing the role of the Queen of Hearts for a production of Alice in Wonderland, and looking forward to singing in Canterbury Cathedral with the Chorus, Chamber Choir and at Choral Evensong with the Cecilian Choir later in the year.