Amazing Grace Confidential: Composing Original Music for Amazing Grace

June 30th

As the play Amazing Grace  by Michelle Lipton goes out in 5 episodes  between the 28th June and 2nd July 10.45am-11  and is edited down into an omnibus on 2nd July  21:00 (Listen again on the iplayer for 7 days following)  - each day we focus in on a different aspect of the production.  2nd feature: Music.  In this case original music.

You can read the composer Stephen Kilpatrick’s  thoughts and process  in full via his blog at

As with film and other dramatic mediums, music can and often does set the tone, the mood and so much more.  Amazing Grace focuses in on 2 distinct worlds.
1 The UK, York – living as a Christian, church going refugee present day
2 Africa – in refugee camps now and when war displaced this Dinka Sudanese family 7 years previously.
We also wanted to reflect Graces ability to empower those around her.

Composer Stephen Kilpatrick and I as Director wanted to reference the different musical traditions  - the African Christian tradition, Anglican Choral tradition, Dinka tribal rhythms and inevitably – with a title like Amazing Grace – we wanted to be very careful about thesongs use in the programme.  All good reasons for composing original rather than using pre-recorded music.

Whilst a producer / director may have a composer in mind for a long while – it is not until the final draft of the script is ready  – that thedetail of the commission is fully clear.  In this case this gave Steve weeks rather than the ideal – months to create content. The writer Michelle was also keen for original music – but was not prescriptive in the script about musical tone / rather, she was open to collaboration, so Steve had a somewhat free reign.

I confess as a director I find it difficult to express in musical terms my desires for a production in a brief. (shameful as I am married to a composer!)  It is my job to define what I wish for the programme and how much of that is music.  In this case we wished to combine “electronically realised music” and live choral music – a big ask!

As a director / editor  you need a variety of blocks to build the world with
Opening and closing music (thematic setting tone  / place / space / culture / period / context)
Stings (short bursts that are often scene / passage of time separators) 1,2,3 seconds
Mood Music to reflect differing mood – elation, fear, resolution, desperation.
In this case also music to reflect culture, religious identity and place

Steve used subtly different musical scales to represent not only differences in mood but cultural context – well done to Leeds University Liturgical Choir!

Openings and Closing (and a few bits elsewhere!)
Pentatonic Choral Composition:  Choir Pentatonic Theme Reflecting Dinka women’s songs: based on a minor pentatonic scale with a heavily accented downbeat:  n1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 etc.

Diatonic Choral Composition Diatonic Chorale melody (the usual 7-note major or minor scales we are all familiar with) to harmonise it in a very traditional choral way.
Aeolian Choral Composition Choir Modal Theme mode to produce a melody and harmony
Different versions are used as opening and closing themes for the play depending on the dramatic context! I Challenge you  to identify which one was used where – and why!

Arrangements for Piano and Voice  Piano Main Sting Low Ahh Sting added intimacy and is used to signify scene ends and moods:  the vocalist sings an octave lower close mic to achieve a warm, intimate atmosphere. Piano Kingsley Ash,  vocals Aniko Toth.
Drums Audio File  Africa Drums Conflict Used in africa for tension build in some scenes and also short bits of this as stings to signify scene changes / dramatic moments.
Stings Hum Sting Piano Main Sting High Ahh Sting Piano Short Sting

If you want to hear the music embedded in the drama – there is an audioboo published that walks you through snippets of the production – where and why we chose to use  Steve Kilpatricks music .

I’d be interested to hear whether you think it works and what you felt about the use of the choir  / themes / stings etc.  Let me know.

And I hope that answered some of your questions

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