An unexpected connection prompted this blog post. I had tweeted about an audio book of Treasure Island I'd just finished and this got me chatting to @Starshine_Music about their musical version of the book. I had heard the Starshine name round and about, but didn't realise quite what significant resource they are.
The music publishing company, which is based just down the road in Hankham, writes musicals, nativities, and songs for children to perform. They include all the back-up materials necessary for teaching the works such as CDs of the music and photocopiable word sheets. My Mum used to be a primary school music teacher and, as a child, I remember hours of 'shhhhh' as she had to compose her own assemblies, nativities and school concerts. Ruth Kenward explained how finding herself in a similar situation led to the founding of Starshine Music.
RK: Our aim is to provide songs and scripts for young performers that a) are appropriate and enriching in content and b) will help develop and strengthen higher order skills. Back in 1998, I was teaching at Bourne School in Eastbourne. I was looking to produce a Christmas musical with my pupils that would be appropriate for the Millennium, and at that time there was very little available in the way of Nativity material that wasn’t way too ‘young’ for juniors to perform. I wrote ‘Miracle Child’ (which begins at a family Christmas party where one of the children doesn’t ‘get’ the meaning of Christmas at all, and is only interested in getting presents!) – and we published it in 1999. It sold 800 copies in the first year… and the rest is history! Since then we’ve published over 50 other titles, and are now moving into single song downloads as well.
tE: Do you only work with schools?
RK: Mostly. About two thirds of UK schools have performed at least one of our musicals in the past decade, and we have sold to hundreds of English-speaking schools worldwide as well. We also sell to Sunday schools, choirs, youth theatre groups…
tE: And local connections are important to you?
RK: Most of the local primary schools in the Eastbourne area have performed at least one of our musicals, and several have performed virtually all of them! All of our singers are drawn from local schools and performing arts groups. We’re currently recording children from Parklands Junior School and Bourne Academy.
RK: Oh yes! There’s always a lot of Christmas going on at Starshine from about Easter onwards! We’ve just sent off two infant nativity musicals to the printers, they’ll be published next month, and we’re just about to record two single songs for Christmas that will go in our download collection. Plus we're about to launch two interactive ebooks for iPhone & iPad designed for young children, based on two of our nativity musicals. The two are 'Wriggly Nativity' (which nearly 4000 schools have bought from us) and a new show, 'I Spy Christmas' and they're due out in November. We're really excited about these as they're both brilliantly illustrated and have lots of musical content!
tE: I noticed the SongZone section on your website. What should composers consider before submitting songs for children?
RK: One of the most important aspects of a song for children is that it should have something good to say. Most schools don’t have a music specialist, and children are expected to learn songs from a CD, which only works well if a song is clearly structured, with a catchy melody. At the moment we’re particularly interested in songs that are suitable for choirs, with accessible harmony and counterpoint parts.
This YouTube clip shows a cast of 9 and 10 year old children from Edinburgh performing Treasure Island.
Although Starshine Music does not have a physical shop, their comprehensive website has details of all their products and includes sound files, script samples and reviews.