Monthly Archives: February 2023

Planet Three Eleven Thousand: workshops around Holst’s The Planets

Since November, 2022, we have been running workshops introducing students from Exeter House School and Salisbury Cathedral School to the wonderful new organ transcription by Salisbury Cathedral’s Assistant Director of Music, John Challenger, of  Gustav Holst’s masterpiece The Planets.  After nine workshops held from November 2022 to February 2023, the student’s have responded to Holst’s work, by creating their very own brand new musical planet Planet Three Eleven Thousand.  Working with Martin Figura (poet), Howard Moody and La Folia musicians have introduced the students to three of Holst’s planets: Mars, Jupiter and Neptune, and in turn the students have responded with their own words and music. The grand finale, where all their hard work comes together, held in Salisbury Cathedral, will be when the students share their new planet with John Challenger, and he, in turn, will blow their socks off playing his organ transcription of Holst’s Mars, Jupiter and Neptune. 

Photo credit: Finnbarr Webster

Photo credit: Finnbarr Webster

Photo: Finnbarr Webster










Here’s what Howard Moody has to say about this very special project:

“Meeting John Challenger in the street after lockdown was a happy coincidence. I asked him the La Folia question that I ask all creative artists who want to take their work to new places – “what do you want to do?”. John immediately knew the answer – to make a transcription of Holst’s The Planets on the newly restored Cathedral organ. He also wanted to be involved in another Evening Songs project with la Folia, involving Exeter House School and the Cathedral School. Every project takes about two years to put together, so here we at last, making The Planets project, warming up to the larger scale Evening Songs project, hopefully in 2024. Thank you John for inspiring two La Folia projects that restore the link with Exeter House School, the Cathedral and The Cathedral School.

Holst’s music gave us wonderful riffs that became starting points for improvisations in the workshops. We focussed on  Mars, Jupiter and Neptune – anger, joy and mystery. The first session was purely musical, taking the students to three different musical zones from which they started to create melodies, songs and lyrics.  At a time when scientists are discovering new planets on a relatively regular basis, the imaginative starting point became about somewhere undiscovered. For the Exeter House students, the three titles became places of colour – green, yellow and red.  Mars was anger from inside out. Their Jupiter was a place where I wake up spinning, dancing on Jupiter.  In the style of Holst’s vocalise at the end of Neptune, beautiful lyrics and melodies emerged over an “E major six over C sharp” chord: Rainbow dreams, Autumn smiles, hand in hand. Peace and calm.

The Cathedral school students’ songs came from a place of imagination inside our heads. We can fly. I asked for a title of such a planet that can be constantly rediscovered. The result was Planet Three Eleven Thousand. Of course! At last I felt able to fulfil a long held dream to find an excuse to make non-patriotic lyrics for the Holst’s well-known tune from Jupiter.  The students had already voiced all the required ideas during the song writing:

Planet Three Eleven Thousand,

A space inside my head,

Where numbers always spin around,

Green, Yellow and Red.

A place where Autumn smiles,

A place where we can fly,

A planet of happiness

A place of no goodbyes.

Planet Three Eleven Thousand,

A place of no goodbyes.

At this point, we were joined by the poet Martin Figura.  Martin asked the groups for everyday impressions of what a planet could be for them. Their responses will have informed Martin’s own writing that he presents at John’s evening recital, giving the project another dimension.

Thank you to everyone who has taken part in the project – students, artists, managers and funders, with Holst’s music and John Challenger’s supreme artistry at its core. The collaboration between the Cathedral and La Folia is precious. Next stop Evening Songs!”

Howard Moody, February 2023