Does anyone know Britten’s marvelous opera, Noye’s Fludde? It’s the story of Noah and the ark, with a text from a medieval mystery play. And it’s written for the musicians of an entire town to perform. Noah and Mrs. Noah need to be trained singers, Noah ideally an accomplished professional. The voice of God is a speaking part, and thus can be done by a community personality without musical training.
Teenage girls play Mrs. Noah’s coterie of gossips. Children play the animals, with the youngest ones playing the smallest animals, like mice. The moment when they make their entrance, squealing “Kyrie eleison” at the top of their little voices is always a high point of any performance.
The orchestra includes a handbell choir (apparently found in many British communities at the time Britten wrote the piece). And it has parts for beginning violinists, who only play open strings.
Why doesn’t an orchestra create a piece like this today? Find a composer to write it, and involve as many people from the community as possible. The musical range would be different from what it was in Britten’s time — we’d have to make room for nonclassical musicians. But the principle would be the same.
It would be especially interesting to have some of the piece written by people in the community, maybe by bringing in Jon Deak (the former assistant principle bass of the NY Philharmonic), who does spectacular workships in which kids and adults learn how to compose. The results, as I’ve observed first-hand, are miraculous.
One variant of this idea was done very successfully by the Houston Grand Opera. They commissioned Chris Theofanides to write an oratorio (“The Refuge”) about immigration and refugees. It involved immigrant and refugee communities, who contributed some of their own music. From everything I’ve heard, it was a great success. Chris certainly thinks so.