The Sky Engine: bringing communities together

On Friday 14 July 2023, JAM’s largest ever commission will premiere in St Nicholas Church, New Romney, with over 150 performers on stage.

Local amateurs join professional musicians to shine a light on one of the most pressing issues of our time in Richard Peat and Timothy Knapman’s Community Oratorio, The Sky Engine. This commission brings a diverse group of musicians together, with all of them playing a meaningful and integral part in the performance: children from two Romney Marsh schools and community players will perform alongside the choristers of Canterbury Cathedral Choir, the London Mozart Players (LMP), opera singers Rebecca Afowny-Jones and Julian Close, actor Kudzanayi Chiwawa and conductor Michael Bawtree.

World premiere of this community oratorio with local schools, the London Mozart Players and Canterbury Cathedral.

“As a composer, it’s always a special privilege to be asked to write a piece, but to create something on this scale that brings together local and professional musicians, alongside opera singers and a narrator, has been an exciting challenge.”

The Sky Engine tackles the important subject of climate change, following in the footsteps of Britten’s Noyes Fludde, and builds on JAM’s decade-long work with schools – a true Pro-Am collaboration. The libretto, written by children’s author Timothy Knapman, tells the story of an ambitious inventor who attempts to solve the climate crisis by creating a machine that can draw energy from the sky. Unfortunately, things go horribly wrong and it’s left to the scientist’s daughter, Flora, to put things right.

Richard Peat composes largest commission by JAM for the JAM on the Marsh music festival in Kent.
Richard Peat, composer

Over the past year professional singer Rebecca Lodge Birkebaek has been working with children from St Nicholas and Brookland primary schools, enabling them to take part and get introduced into the world of music. At JAM on the Marsh they will have the opportunity of a lifetime, playing side-by-side with established performers to bring this wonderful story to life.

The Sky Engine is not just a delightful new piece of music, but a powerful commentary of what is possible when communities come together to take action. The world premiere on 14 July will be an unforgettable experience, for both the audience and performers alike.

The Sky Engine is JAM's largest ever commission, involving children and adults, amateurs and professionals. Hear Richard Peat (composer) and Timothy Knapman (librettist) discuss their new work with Nicholas Cleobury, just before its world premiere.

Richard Peat and Timothy Knapman will discuss their new work with Festival Curator Nicholas Cleobury on Fri, 14 July at 5.30pm in The Ship Inn, New Romney. Meet the composer and librettist to find out what inspired the story and how the music was created – no tickets needed.

“We would love it if this first performance at JAM on the Marsh inspires other groups and festivals to take on this work and bring diverse communities of musicians together.”

Read more about the “joys and challenges of composing a community oratorio” in Richard’s BBC Music Magazine article.