Sussex student’s poem set to music by Glyndebourne and sung by local school children in festive concerts

A poem by an English Literature student from the University of Sussex has been set to music by composers at Glyndebourne as part of the Big Sing 2017, a series of festive concerts featuring local primary school choirs in collaboration with Glyndebourne, East Sussex Music and the University of Sussex.

58 local primary schools will take part in the Big Sing 2017, at concerts in Hastings, Eastbourne, Tunbridge Wells and Bexhill in early December. More than 2,000 primary school children will perform.

The festive concerts will feature two new songs with music composed by Lewis Murphy at Glyndebourne, and words written by University of Sussex student, William E. Shier, and Professor Carol Watts, head of the University’s School of English.

William E. Shier’s lyrics are a fragment from a poem entitled ‘Blink’, which wonders what it would mean if everyone on earth blinked simultaneously. As a child William was diagnosed with dyslexia but he learned to harness different ways of looking at language as part of his creative writing.


What if everyone blinked at the same time?

Would it be a moment that we all missed?

Or the only one we all ever shared?

Would it be both? Would it show our blindness,

How we’re always looking but fail to see?

Only in recent times do people know,

You know, what they look like with their eyes closed.


Professor Carol Watts has had a poem entitled ‘Firle Song’ set to music in a new Christmas carol. It draws on the John Piper window in Firle Church, a stained glass which is based on Blake's Book of Job. A newspaper clipping from November 1940 sits beside the window in the church, about a shepherd from Firle who saw six angels out on the Downs, reported in the Daily Mirror during the Blitz.

The concerts will also feature readings written by other students and staff from the School of English, developing their Sussex Writes programme in new directions with schools across the region. Contributors include James Cohen, Evelyn Conn, Sally Henderson, Delaney Kranz, Alexander Leissle, Freya Marshall Payne, Riz Millanzi, Emma Newport and Katie Wentworth.

Lee Reynolds, Music Director of Glyndebourne Youth Opera, will conduct the concerts, and the singers will be accompanied by the Big Sing band.

Tickets for the Big Sing 2017 concerts, 5-8 December, are available for purchase.

By: Rose Tremlett
Last updated: Friday, 7 September 2018