Manchester Museum hosts free show celebrating ‘awesome scale of everything’

Choirs and performers across the city will be coming together to celebrate the ‘awesome scale’ of human history this weekend for a two-day event at the Manchester Museum.

The free performance called ‘Wonderstruck’ will feature original songs and spoken-word pieces inspired and complemented by artefacts.

More than 100 performers, including five choirs, will team up to perform works inspired by the wonders of the Oxford Road museum collection.

Director and writer, Daniel Bye, one of four creative minds behind the performance, said: “The scale of the history of human culture and the history of the universe is represented in this museum.

“To dwell on any one of these artefacts is to dwell on the awesome scale of everything that has happened to get us here, to where we are – to get these human beings in this room.

“Everything in history has conspired to arrange that things are the way they are, and if it weren’t for these several billions of years of history we wouldn’t be here singing these songs in the first place.

“If you feel that, rather than think it, then it’s quite awe-inspiring.”               

‘Wonderstruck’ will feature songs inspired by the museum, with lyrics by Daniel Bye, and music by Boff Whalley of Chumbawamba fame.

“Boff writes these songs and they consistently knock me off my feet,” said Bye.

“One of the greatest pleasures, in terms of writing, is that I’ve written words, sent them off to Boff and they’ve come back as these beautiful songs – it feels like there’s a sort of alchemy and magic to it. It’s a real thrill.”

Five local choirs, Ordsall A Capella, SHE, Golden Voices, the Network Choir, and a fifth formed especially for the event, will perform as visitors travel through time and around the world, from ancient Egypt to industrial Manchester, taking in dinosaurs, fossils and plenty more as they go. 

Bye admits the logistics of arranging 140 performers in a way that allows them to move between exhibits elegantly are beyond him, but praises director Sarah Punshon for her ability to solve this problem.

“It is just tremendously complex, almost like a mathematical puzzle coordinating it,” he said.

“Sarah’s the one who does have experience of doing something on this sort of scale. She is much more the director of the thing as a whole.

“She’s brilliant at that kind of interaction between logistics and art – to think creatively, but also at the same time, sensibly.”

This practical concern posed a challenge, but it is one Bye is confident the group, which also includes associate director Josh Coates, has overcome.

It is also one that he feels is trivial, albeit crucial, when compared to the grand, awe-inspiring message at the heart of the project.

“One of the real ‘take-home’ things about the project is this sense that although all of us are tiny in the face of all of this, we are all essential to its continuation,” he said.

“The choices we make will affect the next periods of human history and the history of the earth and the universe after humans and the earth are gone – you’re an essential part in the history of everything. This is not an ambitious project in comparison to that.”

Wonderstruck takes place at Manchester Museum this weekend, Saturday November 15 – Sunday November 16.

Image courtesy of Carla de Souza Campos, with thanks.

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