Heritage & Culture

Music Hub: The Thought Machine

Peterborough Music Hub’s mission to ‘Make Music Matter’ for all young people in Peterborough has many activities and opportunities. One element of this is to provide access to high quality music experiences for pupils, working with professional musicians. The Thought Machine is an exciting new production by local professional composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad. It is an interactive performance with professional live musicians, singers and shadow puppetry aimed to engage and inspire students in KS2 at school. Around 3,200 students from 16 schools will experience this intriguing performance, ask questions and have the opportunity to workshop with the musicians across the summer term

‘I work as a composer,’ explains Cheryl, ‘and in 2016 was commissioned to write a piece for children. That piece, based around poems by Kate Wakeling, was performed at Oxford Lieder Festival. Sadly, not many children got to see it, but those that did were really captivated by it.’ Soon after, Cheryl had a residency at Metal in Peterborough and got some funding to turn the piece into a show. ‘I had met this amazing hand shadographer, Drew Colby, and spent a week with him and the other performers at Metal putting it together. It was great fun and got really good feedback, and everyone was really keen to bring it to a wider audience. That’s when the current tour’s producer, Sarah Rennix, came along.’

‘There was this idea about touring it around schools,’ says Sarah, ‘so that became my job, working out how to do it! In my other job I work for Britten Sinfonia, and I knew a lot of rural schools that would be especially interested in it, so I put together a tour of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.’ The show itself involves more than music – and much more than just a performance. ‘You’ve got classical singing and amazing musicians from the Guildhall, performing really beautiful modern music that is accessible but not dumbed down. Then there are the added elements of poetry, and the incredible Drew Colby who can literally make any shape with his hands. Shadow puppets are great because they are something that kids can instantly try, and there will be workshops as well to allow them to do that – they’re not just passive shows. We’ll also be getting them singing sea shanties and asking them to make up their own characters.’

To link the various parts together, Sarah came up with a story framework which almost any parent – or child – can relate to. ‘The characters in the story are on a long car journey and are really bored, so they decide to turn their car into a thought machine! They look through this magical telescope and create different characters to keep themselves amused. I think it’s going to go down really well, because it’s a great combination of different arts, but also it’s a chance for the children to just not be thinking about tests and monitoring; a chance for them to just be a bit creative and have that space to use their imagination.’

And if the show isn’t coming to your local school, don’t worry; Sarah is planning to take the show further afield on a tour of summer festivals, where it will be performed for family audiences. Peterborough, however, is where the show was born, and holds a special place in the creators’ hearts. ‘If it wasn’t for Metal it wouldn’t have happened,’ says Cheryl. ‘And Peterborough Music Hub have been incredibly supportive. When I first contacted them I had a reply within the hour, and Peterborough was the first place to go for this show – I just found them to be so open-minded and helpful. I really hope it makes a wider appeal to children who wouldn’t necessarily go to a concert. It was hearing live music that first made me want to be a composer – there’s really nothing quite like that experience.’

The Thought Machine is fully booked, but if you are a teacher, governor or parent interested in your school taking part in future professional tours, please email

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