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.”