Jemima Music

Deadines, Creativity and Purcell’s 24-Hour Opera

Before any musicologists get the wrong idea, I’m pretty sure Purcell was never involved in a 24-hour opera.

The Purcell School
The Purcell School

I’m here talking about the Purcell School of Music in Bushey, near Watford in the UK.

Just before 7.00pm last Friday evening, the 26th April, around 20 pupils gathered in Miss Cox’s office and began a countdown to the hour. On the stroke of 7.00pm, the prolonged creative burst began…

With about 40 people involved in total, their mission, which they had all enthusiastically chosen to accept, was to conceive of and create an opera in the space of 24 hours, and perform it at 7.00pm the following evening.

I am witness to the fact that they completed this outstanding mission, and that everyone who saw it unanimously agreed it was great success.

I’m still piecing together the process that supported the creativity, but the general outline is simple.

7.00pm on Friday:

Compose the score (throughout the night) and complete the set design. Complete this by…

9.00am Saturday:

Find the costumes and props; work out stage directions; plan the lighting; build the set; learn the music; rehearse; design, write and print the program; and plan front-of-house activities. Complete this by…

7.00pm Saturday:

Perform it.



The experience for the kids taking part in this must have been phenomenal. Obviously it was enormous fun and hugely exciting (and inevitably frustrating at times). But to be part of the creation of something which many minds would dismiss as impossible or impractical must leave a life-long impression and engender – or more likely for these kids, strengthen – a “can-do” attitude.

These children are trained to practice their performances to get them as close as possible to perfection. In this case, though, the priorities were turned on their head: do the very best you can within an impossibly tight deadline.

When there’s no time for a creative block, you don’t get a creative block. When you don’t have enough time to learn the score – you do it anyway. When 5 minutes before curtain-up you realise the lighting controller can’t see the stage, you improvise (phone text message communication). And doubtless there were hundreds of other examples.

Finding that sweet-spot between “careful planning leads to success” and “just do it!” seems to be a lifelong search – for me, anyway. But everyone involved in this project now has a visceral understanding of the creative power of “just do it!”

To not quote Goethe (this is wrongly attributed to him):

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”


9 replies on “Deadines, Creativity and Purcell’s 24-Hour Opera”

A refreshing antidote to the debilitating curse of procrastination. The energy on stage must have been a joy.

Yep, having a natural talent for procrastination and wanting to make it really, really good, I appreciate all efforts to retrain my mind. Getting there … slowly …

I was a musicology major in college MANY years ago and then became a songwriter. During rehearsals for a musical using my music and lyrics performed in Los Angeles, our choreographer (who worked with Carol Lawrence and Shirley MacLaine among others) requested a song be added the next day. That demand gave me a burst of creativity and I came up with a song that blew my mind (since I love my own songs 🙂 and made everyone else very happy. So I can relate in this regard. Glad the kids had such a good time!

A great example, Linda. That’s a side of you I never knew about!

What an amazing experiment. Just how old were these kids! Having faced a few tight deadlines in my time I know the rush you get when you achieve your goal. I cannot write music or lyrics though I do play piano (mostly Beethoven) when I can justify some time off work. (I lose hours if I’m not careful.)

A truly fantastic way to teach these kids that anything can be achieved if you really want it to happen, and are prepared to put in the work.

Brilliant effort, Jemima.

Alex – as you say, it’s these one off events that we then carry in our minds and reflect back on into our old age. Now, I wonder what it would take to allow/make life so that it was just a succession of such inspiring events without the humdrum in between?

BTW – Nice to see another blog from you – more please and far more frequent!


Hi Graham

I think we need *some* periods of humdrum to recover from the intensity of such events. But you’re right in that for most of us the “recovery” period is about 1,000 times longer than it needs to be!

Yes – I know… I’ll try and up the frequency of posts!

But you may regret the encouragement when I start posting my breakfast menu – along with pictures of porridge.

Very Interesting!

Regarding more Blog posts and Breakfast if it gets us all to undertake the 5/2 diet and lose weight then that might be considered a success always round!!

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