Flame: a new song for the Olympics

Songwriter Andrew Kisumba has penned a piece for the Olympic Games that will receive its premiere at London’s Royal Albert Hall for the National Youth Orchestra Proms later this year.

Andrew strives to write songs that people can connect with on a personal and local level, and his work to date includes music for congregations, children, choirs, groups and soloists. His material, which often draws from his Ugandan heritage, has been recorded, broadcast, performed or adopted in many countries, from the Americas to Africa and from Europe to India.

He has also worked as a professional session singer and, along with Trevor Michael, co-produced the live album Sound of Cathedral House, which was released in November last year.

M caught up with Andrew to find out more…

Which aspects of the Olympics have inspired your piece of music?
After I wrote the main refrain, which was initially more generally inspirational, I realised that the verse contained the Olympic motto ‘Swifter, higher, stronger’. I noticed that I had also added ‘further’ and ‘wiser’ as the need to ‘keep going’ and ‘never give up’, while ‘not cutting corners’ or ‘cheating’ are a challenge all the way through life. In the main, I am usually inspired to write songs of a more apparent spiritual nature though.

How does it compare to other songs you’ve written?
Usually I write material that is easily accessible for group singing. This is slightly different as it is more of a performance piece. Musically, it attempts to incorporate many of the different elements of multicultural Britain – an ethnic chant, traditional marching drums, guitars, chorus vocals and a soaring orchestral arrangement. The start is purposefully ethereal and it slowly, but deliberately rises to a dramatic finish. I also had the privilege of collaborating with some great people on this – Phil Le Cheminant, Trevor Michael, Nigel Palmer, Vanessa Finlay-Martin, Andy Bannister – whose time and talent was instrumental in bringing it to life.

Andrew Kisumba

You said that you feel you were born to write this song. Can you explain that feeling? When did it come about?
I had been watching one of the inspirational stories of one of an upcoming British sprinter, Shaunna Thompson, and the idea popped into my head just before I retired for the night. With regards to feeling I was born to write it, I guess it just seemed to come together so quickly, easily and naturally – almost as if pieces of a puzzle were given to me and all I had to do was put them together somehow.

How did you start work on Flame? Did you write the music or lyrics first?
It was one late night in April 2010 when I pretty much had the whole essence of the idea. The words and music seemed to happen at the same time, but I always spend ages – hours, days, weeks, months, years even – honing the lyrics, melody, rhythm, feeling and what I call connectivity of the song before it is ready. The journey from initial idea to first radio airplay was six months.

What inspired you to write a piece for many singers?
Like many songwriters, I always hope that people will not only be able to enjoy any song that I have written, but feel that they connect with it to the point where they actually want to become part of the performance. There is a unique and wonderful energy that is released when large groups of people are all singing in one accord.

How did you get involved with the National Youth Orchestra?
Choral animateur James Lewis, who I know really well, has worked with Music for Youth and the Schools Proms for more than 10 years now so he is well acquainted with them. Back in 2004, he conducted a massed choir of 500 students at the Albert Hall performing a number of pieces, including one of my compositions entitled Your Love Lifts Me Up. When he was approached to do another massed choir of 550 students at the Albert hall in the Primary Proms for this year, he asked if he would be able to do the song Flame and will start teaching it this year in many schools and choirs across our local region of Kirklees.

What prep work are you doing in advance of the Royal Albert Hall performance?
There will be rehearsals for the song in several schools and then other rehearsals for the massed choir later in the year. There will also be a concert just before the Albert Hall performance for the parents who won’t be able to make it.

What kind of relationship does music and sport have in this country, do you think?
The film Chariots of Fire is a great example of the perfect marriage between music and sport in this country. However, as a parent of children who love both sport and music, I don’t see much of an attempt to consistently marry these two pastimes in a local level. They generally tend to operate quite separately and only come together every once in a while with events like the Olympics.

Do you think the Olympics will change that, with all the cultural activity that’s planned to commemorate the event?
Certainly in the immediate short term. After it was written, the thinking then was that Flame could become a London Olympic Chorus to encourage people to get involved regardless of their sporting ability. The intention was to capture millions of young faces and voices in the creation of a unique and lasting audiovisual memory of the London Games. Although this is now being done through a myriad of events through the Cultural Olympiad, there so far appears to be no attempt at one stand-out record-breaking simultaneous recording or performance of an Olympic inspired chorus (as opposed to a performance by just one group or artist at one of the ceremonies) to encapsulate the legacy of 2012.

Watch the video for Flame: