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The Great Grumpy Gaboon: a chat with Jay Capperauld and Corrina Campbell

14 Nov 2023

News Story

Our Family Festival for 2024 is the tale of the Great Grumpy Gaboon - but what, we hear you ask, is a Gaboon, and why is this one so grumpy? We were wondering that too ... so we sat down with SCO Associate Composer Jay Capperauld and author/illustrator Corrina Campbell, the team behind this story, to find out.

You’ve clearly had a great time working together on The Great Grumpy Gaboon. Which part of it sparked your imagination right from the start?

Corrina: At the start of the project Jay and I had the opportunity to meet with all the musicians, as well as the creative team (including Laura Baxter, Creative Learning Director) who would be working on this production. For me, this was the perfect way to get to know everyone as individuals, their instruments and indeed the Scottish Chamber Orchestra as a whole. I listened as they shared stories from their time together in the Orchestra, explaining their different roles and demonstrating the incredible sounds that their instruments could make, collectively and individually. It was really interesting to learn about the musician, the instrument and then the musician and instrument together. It quickly became apparent that the musician, combined with their instrument, was really what we wanted each character to be based on. In terms of writing I then knew that I would have to create imaginary characters that would embody both musician and instrument.

Jay: It was through conversations with our incredible musicians that we heard a brilliant story from Cerys, our phenomenal bassoon player, who said that while giving music workshops for children, a particular young person continued to ask her about her Gaboon – meaning to say bassoon – and that sparked something fun and interesting for Corrina and I.

Corrina: It was that comment that formed the basis of what would become the story of the Great Grumpy Gaboon.

Jay: We began to wonder who or what a Gaboon might be if it were to become a character in the story we wanted to tell; and suddenly the “Great Grumpy” Gaboon was born! From there I set about composing a huffy, curmudgeonly theme for the Gaboon that tries to capture a sense of a character who is in a very bad mood and who might be a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, but whose music has the potential to overcome its grumpy qualities to become more like its cheerful self again.

Illustration @ 2023 Corrina Campbell

Beyond the Gaboon – sorry, bassoon! – it must have been a lot of fun matching up characters with the instrument that portrays them. How did you set about this, and were there any ideas that didn’t quite make the final cut?

Corrina: After deciding that the story would focus around the main character ‘The Great Grumpy Gaboon’ I knew that each of the other characters would also have to have a name that reflected their instrument.

Jay: Corrina came up with descriptions of each character before any of the story was written, based on a sense of the SCO musicians who would be portraying them onstage.

Corrina: As with all my work, I tried to approach this from a child’s perspective and think of fun and interesting ways that the name of the instrument could be said or adapted to lend itself to a character name.

Jay: We asked our musicians lots of questions, like: “what’s your favourite piece of music?”, or “what is it about your instrument you’d most like to share with a young audience?” and even, “what is your secret, hidden talent?”. This gave us a wealth of information to build each character from so that our musicians are reflected in the characters and so that their musical personalities are celebrated through the music that I was going to compose for them.

Corrina: I also considered each of the musicians’ personalities as part of this process and sketched each of them out as a fictional character to see if I had managed to capture the instrument, the musician and the character successfully together.

Jay: I then composed themes for each character that we felt reflected their personalities and I was keen to try to explore as many musical genres as possible to help reflect the huge array of musical tastes that our musicians have, from folk music to rock and classical music, as well as old-school Hollywood soundtracks!

Corrina: The majority of these characters worked first time but I revisited the ‘All-Knowing Umpet’ after hearing Jay’s musical interpretation of the character. The music itself played an important role in the creation of the characters but thankfully we had both a similar idea of the personality traits of each character.

Jay: As soon as we had the characters pinned down, we had a much better idea about what kind of story needed to be told and the roles those characters could play within it.

Corrina: I still remember the moment when Jay sent me the music for the Grumpy Gaboon. I knew immediately that we were both thinking along the same lines.

Did any aspect of The Great Grumpy Gaboon go off in directions you didn’t expect?

Corrina: Thankfully it has been a very collaborative project from the start which has kept me on track! The temptation as a children’s author was to write out the whole story in isolation and it was also a challenge for me not to start thinking in ‘book format’. However, working closely with Jay meant that he was able to guide me musically.

Jay: As a composer, the music is always a bit of a surprise to me until its finished! The joy of having a story and narrative to work with helped drive the direction of the music.

Corrina: Jay’s music helped the structure and flow of story, as well as inspire certain elements, which I knew he could reflect beautifully in his music.

Jay: Once I gave space for the characters to interact within the scenarios that Corrina had written, it was interesting to see how their individual quirks and personalities developed and changed once it became musical.

Corrina: There were a few occasions when I had to revisit the story to make changes, often due to realising that it would be better portrayed musically, rather than verbally or visually, but for me the whole project has come together without too many drastic changes!

Jay: One thing that became clear as soon as I started writing the music, was that the conductor and orchestra had to also be a character in their own right; they are not just the musical backdrop and accompaniment to the story but they also have a role to play in how the story unfolds; that was an unexpected and exciting discovery!

Illustration @ 2023 Corrina Campbell

What do you feel the message of the piece is?

Jay: The themes of the story are about friendship, acceptance and forgiveness; the friendship group that Gaboon has, the acceptance they have for Gaboon when it becomes grumpy, and the forgiveness that Screature seeks after stealing Gaboon’s key when really Screature should have been seeking friendship in the first place.

Corrina: Friendship was one of the key themes I focussed on having met the musicians. Hearing their stories of times they spent together as an orchestra I found there to be real cameraderie between them all and genuine friendship, so I wanted this to be at the forefront the story.

Jay: The story is a celebration of the SCO and the collective effort it takes to put on a concert and how we overcome the challenges we face together. I’ve often seen the scenario backstage where someone’s instrument really does break just before they are about to go onstage, and the whole orchestra is searching for the right sized rubber band that is going to hold their instrument together so that they can get through the concert! In a funny way, the collective effort of Gaboon’s friends and the help they give it reflects the support, friendship and encouragement that it often takes for orchestras to perform together.

Corrina: The story of the Gaboon could actually be the story of any of the characters/musicians as it is simply a story that reflects the kindness and friendship they all show towards one another, especially in times of need.

What have you learned yourselves from collaborating on The Great Grumpy Gaboon? Has it changed the way you work individually?

Corrina: Starting any new creative project is daunting. I have often sat with a blank page wondering where I will end up and feeling the nervous excitement of something new. As a self-taught illustrator I have always had to learn ‘on the job’ so working on The Great Grumpy Gaboon was similar territory in some ways, yet utterly terrifying in others.

Jay: Composers are stereotypically solitary figures, but working on a project such as The Great Grumpy Gaboon – or to work within the SCO generally – confirms to me the importance of collaboration and teamwork.

Corrina: While I am extremely grateful to the SCO for wanting to work with me, I always thought this was a risk on their part! My inner impostor often questioned my capabilities; however, I now finish this project with newfound confidence and a desire to keep creating and pushing boundaries. I think now, when approaching my own work and future projects, I’ll choose to ignore the inner critic, embrace the awkwardness that a new creative project brings and remember that it’s all just part of the process!

Jay: I feel privileged to get the chance to work with so many amazingly talented individuals like Corrina, Chris Jarvis, Daniel Todd, our SCO musicians and the fantastic SCO team behind the scenes who all bring such incredible skills and who offer their time and advice generously for the benefit of one creative vision.

Corrina: Working collaboratively with the creative team, we have all watched the seed of an idea grow into something that, at the beginning, we were unsure was even possible.

Jay: That kind of collaboration is very inspiring to be a part of!

The Great Grumpy Gaboon receives its world premiere in February 2024 - click on the link below for details.

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