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Cycle of Songs – ‘Song Fest’ on the Steps of The Fitzwilliam Museum

last modified Sep 11, 2014 03:28 PM
Celebrating the visit of the Tour de France in Cambridge with primary school children through the Cycle of Songs

The 7th July 2014 was a momentous day for Cambridge, as Stage 3 of the Tour de France departed from our historic city. CaMEO of course, couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to get involved with this celebration and got in touch with the ‘Cycle of Songs’ about being involved and partnering with them for their project.


The Cycle of Songs is a special project of nine new pieces, led by Creative Director, Helen Weinstein, which has involved the commissioning of nine new pieces from a wide range of composers and poets, inspired by historical research and based on words from original stories of fascinating & quirky stories at iconic locations along the Tour de France route in Cambridge.  Funded by Arts Council England, award-winning Historyworks and Pilot Theatre have worked together with local people of all ages sharing their voice and celebrating the city in song. Together they have delivered a series of rehearsals and live performances, an excellent website of resources, and a free map/app for Cambridge people to explore the songs in situ, to leave a lasting digital legacy. (see links below)


Joe was keen for CaMEO to be able to help facilitate opportunities for Primary school children to be involved with the Cycle of Songs project providing support with transport and refreshments which enabled school children to get to the ‘Song Fest’ event on 7th July and to prepare for their big moment; singing for the crowds and the all important cyclists as they whizzed past the steps of the Fitzwilliam Museum!


The day started with Joe and Tizzy meeting some of the children’s choirs at Newnham College, to congregate and don their ‘Cycle of Songs badges’, before walking to the Fitzwilliam Museum. There was a real buzz from both children and adults alike as they arrived at Newnham College, on foot, bike and coach!


When the children arrived at the Peterhouse College ‘secret entrance’ they were greeted by Helen Weinstein, Creative Director and Producer for Cycle of Songs – and helpers for the primary choirs were issued with the special Cycle of Songs commemorative badges by members of the Cycle of Songs Team and introduced to the Fitzwilliam Museum staff.  Our hundreds of singers were safely guided through Peterhouse college and gardens to the Fitzwilliam by the wonderful CaMEO volunteers. They then made their way to their ‘green rooms’ to have a banana, flapjack and water break, before heading up to Gallery 3 to rehearse.


Gallery 3 was filled with a real buzz of excitement as the children from Milton Road, the Spinney Singers, Milton and Shout Aloud! took their places to rehearse. Then, choir leaders, Anna-Louise Lawrence (from Milton Road Primary) and Arlette Overman (from the Spinney School Primary) organised the singers and practiced the newly commissioned pieces for Cycle of Songs: the Hobson Round called ‘Hobson’s Horses’; and the song - ‘Hobson’s Choice’, with lyrics by the Horrible Histories songwriter, Dave Cohen, and music by the composer, Karen Wimhurst.  The children also practised two pieces ‘Allez le Velo’ and ‘Vela Vela’, aptly chosen for the day the Tour cyclists would be cycling past us, which were sung with great enthusiasm and gusto. They then finished off their rehearsal with a run through of ‘Why We Ride’, before heading outside to join the ‘Cycle of Songs Scratch Choir’ and take in the atmosphere with the crowds.


Once the children were on the Fitzwilliam Museum steps, it was time to get all the singers ready for their ‘Song Fest’ performance! Joe (CaMEO’s Music Outreach Officer), who was donning a brilliant blue cycling outfit, got everyone on the steps to do a ‘French Wave’, throwing their hands in the air to shouts of ‘Ooh la laah’ which really got the singers warmed up for their big moment! Then it was time to perform the songs that the children and ‘Scratch Choir’ had all been dedicatedly rehearsing during the previous weeks in order to be ready for this special performance. The singers entertained the crowd with a variety of songs that had been commissioned especially for the project, including songs about Hobson, who designed the gutter right outside the Fitzwilliam Museum! Horrible Histories writer, Dave Cohen came out to meet the children and hear the songs  ‘Hobson’s Choice’ and ‘Hobson’s Horses’ be performed, for which he had written lyrics. The Hobson’s rounds were a particular success, with the ‘Scratch Choir’ enjoying joining in and singing along too!


Joining together as a choir of over 300, all singers then performed the Cycle of Songs anthem, ‘Why We Ride’. This created a strong and resonant sound, much to the enjoyment of the assembled crowd that included parents and singers from the other Cycle of Songs choirs lining the roadside alongside other hoards of other spectators. The sun continued to shine as we waited with great anticipation for the arrival of the cyclists, but sunscreen, sunhats and the distribution of lots of water (provided by CaMEO), all helped ensure that everyone was happy and healthy in the heat!


Following this, Rowena Whitehead, the Choir Director for Cycle of Songs, led everyone in singing ‘Allez Le Velo’, including teaching it to the crowds outside, creating a magnificent chorus of voices!  Once the song had been perfected as a round, we were all ready to perform for the cyclists as they cycled towards the start line of Stage 3 of the Tour de France! After the cars and motor bikes whizzed past, we knew that our moment to shine was imminent! There were cheers of excitement from children, adults and the crowds in anticipation of the big moment! Rowena got everyone singing ‘Allez Le Velo’ once more, ringing their bike bells and singing with all their might to celebrate this historic moment in style! As the cyclists went past the Cycle of Songs choir serenaded them on the steps, with harmonious melodies and real joy on their faces, as the crowds clapped and cheered them on their way! What a spectacle it was!


Once the cyclists had departed we continued the celebrations lead by Anna-Louise and Milton Road Primary, singing Queen’s ‘Bicycle Race’ and ‘Daisy, Daisy’, with both the choir and crowds joining in enthusiastically having already really got into the spirit of things. After singing, it sadly wasn’t long before it was time to leave to go back inside the Fitzwilliam Museum and to Newnham to have lunch after a wonderfully exciting morning.


After the children arrived back at Newnham, Milton Primary School hopped straight on the coach back to school, whilst the Spinney Singers and Shout Aloud! enjoyed having a picnic under the shade of the trees in the stunning setting of Newnham gardens- a perfect end to a truly memorable day.

Written by Tizzy Faller



If you want to find out more about the Cycle of Songs project please go to:


To read the blog written by CaMEO volunteers and the Faculty of Music Library, go to:


To read up about the history research that inspired the compositions for the Cycle of Songs, please go to:



To find the film which showcases the Cambridge route and snippets of all nine of the compositions being performed by the choirs for Cycle of Songs, go to:


To find audio and lyrics for the 9 Cycle of Songs, please go to:


To read up more about the Choirs involved and to scope one to join go to:


To download the FREE app of all the nine songs, lyrics, history info for your phone, please find all the information to do so here:


To find all the flickr pictures of the Cycle of Songs project, ending with some great photos of the singers at the Fitzwilliam Museum, go to:


To learn more about future opportunities to sing, especially the Zimbe project organized by CaMEO this Autumn, please find out more & rehearsal times here:


Got a question for us?