Rachel Whibley - the Glossop-based musician spreading the spirit of Christmas around the country

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 December 2016 | UPDATED: 12:17 05 December 2016

'The Snowman' at Chester Cathedral last year  Photography © Tom Bangbala 2016

'The Snowman' at Chester Cathedral last year Photography © Tom Bangbala 2016

Tom Bangbala

Derbyshire Life meets Rachel Whibley of Carrot Productions, a company which screens ‘The Snowman’ tale to audiences whilst the music is played live by musicians from the country’s leading orchestras

The Snowman © Snowman Enterprises Ltd 2016The Snowman © Snowman Enterprises Ltd 2016

RACHEL Whibley has seen The Snowman more than 60 times but has never got tired of this animated Christmas classic. Instead, the Derbyshire musician has used the magical tale to help her create a musical experience that has become an established favourite in its own right.

Derbyshire-based company Carrot Productions was established four years ago and has screened Raymond Briggs’ universally-popular tale to audiences with the music played live by hand-picked musicians from the country’s leading orchestras.

It’s a labour of love for Rachel and her composer-musician husband Dan, who formed the company in their home town of Glossop and have seen their efforts grow year-on-year.

Rachel and Dan met in Ripon Cathedral playing The Dream of Gerontius 22 years ago. They married a year later and have enjoyed a life revolving around music together ever since. Rachel is originally from Wakefield and Dan from Manchester, but now they love living in Derbyshire.

'The Snowman' at Chester Cathedral last year  Photography © Tom Bangbala 2016'The Snowman' at Chester Cathedral last year Photography © Tom Bangbala 2016

‘We have the Glossop Festival and the development of the library into an arts complex so it’s an exciting time to be in Glossop,’ says Rachel, who is a bassoon player.

‘As for The Snowman, I never intended the project to get this big but such is the popularity of the show that performances seem to sell out more quickly each time they are announced.’

In fact, it’s an idea that has, dare we say it, snowballed. She says: ‘I used to live in Dublin and I watched a performance of The Snowman with a live orchestra in the city and saw the affect it had on the audience. When I moved to Glossop, I always wanted to do something like that in Derbyshire – it just took me 15 years.

‘Four years ago I got some friends of mine from The Hallé, BBC Philharmonic, Northern Chamber Orchestra and Manchester Camerata together and we put it on in a church in Glossop and the outpouring of emotion was incredible. There was no thought of setting up a company then, it was just that as a professional musician it was something I wanted to do for my community.’

A professional orchestra is the mainstay of the concert performance  Photography © Tom Bangbala 2016A professional orchestra is the mainstay of the concert performance Photography © Tom Bangbala 2016

The Derbyshire Music Education Hub loved the idea and wanted to support more performances in the county. ‘That really got us going and from there it has just grown,’ says Rachel. ‘We did 33 performances last year in all different venues. There was no grand plan, it was just a natural evolution. Our most successful venue is Chester Cathedral. They loved the idea right from the start and we went there and did three performances in a day and it’s now established as an annual event and there’s a real fight for tickets.’

So successful have the shows been for Carrot Productions that it’s easy to forget what a big gamble it was for Rachel and Dan, as the rights to screen The Snowman don’t come cheap and then there is the venue hire and the cost of the musicians on top.

Rachel says: ‘There is a huge fee for The Snowman and we absolutely insist on paying the musicians properly as we have been professional musicians for so long so we understand how important that is. It can cost between £12,000 and £20,000 to put on a couple of performances at a venue so it’s a big undertaking. I try not to think about it too much.

‘The Derbyshire performances are all supported by the music hub – so financially for us they are not a risk which is fabulous and makes a big difference.

An enraptured member of the audience  Photography © Tom Bangbala 2016An enraptured member of the audience Photography © Tom Bangbala 2016

‘Since that very first year, they have worked alongside us in order to offer the wonderful opportunity of hearing some of the best musicians in the UK perform in a venue local to them, for a greatly subsidised cost. So we have a lot to be thankful for. This year we are producing 12 performances for them – nine solely for schools and three for families – in Derby, Matlock and Chesterfield.’

Carrot Productions also auditions local children for the role of soloist alongside the orchestra, singing the evocative ‘Walking in the Air’.

Rachel says: ‘This experience has had a profound effect on the chosen youngsters, with many citing it as the best thing they have ever done, and a huge number then wanting to become professional musicians as a result.

‘Normally, a production would pick a chorister who will do it everywhere but we wanted to audition in every area. We immerse them in the whole experience with the orchestra and they love it.’

The Snowman shows have developed over the last four years with two variations on offer at venues this year.

‘The show we did last year opens with a Christmas Overture with lots of well-known tunes in it,’ says Rachel. ‘Then we have a festive guide to the orchestra followed by excerpts from The Nutcracker for which we have an animated film – the first year we did it without the imagery which was OK for older children but the animations work beautifully for younger ones. We also have a short piece called the Snowman Waltz – with a snowman coming in and conducting the orchestra – which is usually me. The kids love it but it gets really hot in the costume!

‘Then after the interval it’s The Snowman film, which is only 26 minutes long.’

A new show will makes its debut this year combining The Snowman with a brand new production of Cinderella for orchestra, narrator and child soloist.

Rachel says: ‘It’s a 27-minute piece especially written for us by Dan, with pictures from the artist Jacky Fleming and we have filmed Glossop actor Howard Chadwick doing the narration. We think it’s a stunning piece, and it will get its world premiere in Derby, followed two days later by Chester Cathedral.’

Rachel and Dan are hoping to get the rights to another story which they will then set to music to create an additional new show for next year.

‘We will then have three separate programmes to tour – as the venues all seem to want us to go back.’

The Snowman will, however, remain at the heart of what Carrot Productions does.

Rachel says: ‘I have always loved it. I was a child when it first came out and saw it every year. There’s something incredible about it – it really touches a nerve. We get emails from people of all ages, especially those in their 40s who saw it first when they were small and now want to share it with their children.

‘I have now performed it 65 times and I never tire of it. You would also think the orchestra would say “Oh no, not again” but they never get bored of it as the music is so beautifully written.

‘We also don’t want our musicians to sit their po-faced; we want them to enjoy it as well. For a lot of people who come to see us, we find it’s the first time they have been to a classical concert so it’s important we make it as much fun as possible.

‘We don’t mind noise at all – it’s a different kind of concert.

‘We are also doing a concert for children and adults with special needs and dementia sufferers as there aren’t many concerts they can comfortably go to. Then we’re giving a special performance at Manchester Children’s Hospital on 11th December’

There is also an ever-expanding number of venues wanting to take the show.

Rachel says: ‘This year we are doing Coventry Cathedral, and next year York Minster and Liverpool Cathedral. Then there’s Lichfield and maybe Worcester Cathedral and we hope to perform our first arena concert in Leeds next year. Looking further to the future, I want to expand to do some quite large scale choral events as well – so there are lots of developments.’ w

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