Children’s Crystal Palace Marches on London, May 1, to Hallelujahs
At high noon on May 1, a few hundred yards from the Marble Arch, in London’s Hyde Park, John Greatrex and his team will construct a miniature model of the Crystal Palace – out of more than one thousand empty cassette and CD cases decorated by local schoolchildren.
This event coincides with the opening day of the latest World Expo in Shanghai and commemorates the 159th anniversary of the opening of the Great Exhibition in London (The First World Expo). Handel's “Hallelujah Chorus” marked the opening back in 1851, and this weekend, it will be heard again, and joined by Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as performed by Canada’s Allison Crowe (the recording from her album/CD “Tidings”.)
The original Crystal Palace is considered the world’s first theme park, described in its day as "a fairy palace within a wall of glass and iron". The iconic structure housed elaborate fountains, fine art courts, replicas of Egyptian colossi, and, even, models of pterodactyls. It captured the world’s imagination for over 90 years while standing, and, after being entirely destroyed by fire in 1936, shines on - a crazy diamond in literature and art – gaining mention in works varied as those of: Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Notes from the Underground” and “Crime and Punishment”; Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow”; and the Tori Amos song “Winter”.
Greatrex, an historian and a founder of the Crystal Palace Foundation, was a member of the British Athletics Team in the 1970s. His goal now is to build a “Children’s Crystal Palace” exhibition for London’s 2012 Olympics to represent the “marriage of sport and art” in the spirit of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, godfather of the modern Olympics. From 1912 to 1948 medals were awarded at the Olympics for athletics, architecture, sculpture, painting, music and literature.
With an actual Olympic torch from London’s 1948 Games, which relayed the flame lit in Athens, John Greatrex is pacing things toward 2012’s pavilion. He envisions a structure in the shape of the Crystal Palace, six metres wide, 18 metres long, and 4.5 metres high. Light will stream in the many glass windows, each ‘stained’ by young people, from schools, sporting groups and/or solo to create the effect of “walking through a child’s kaleidoscope”.
Earlier this month, the New York Times’ Rob Walker reported on the trend of cassette tapes and cases appearing increasingly in today’s pop culture. The smaller-scale palace being constructed this weekend in London, England, represents an ambitious and whimsical use of the medium.
Says John Greatrex: “At 12noon on 1st May 2010 the Cubs and Scouts of the 1st Crystal Palace Patrol will be building the Children's Crystal Palace on the steps of the Albert Memorial under the watchful eyes of the larger than life golden gilded Happy Prince - Albert The Good.”
Allison Crowe, the free-spirited musician and songwriter from both of Canada’s coasts, wishes the troupe great fun right out of the blocks. Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is an awesome song, loved by singers and audiences, and its global embrace, which has only intensified since Crowe recorded it for her “Tidings” album in 2003, is one of popular music’s most legendary.
Of the song’s covers, UK-based culture blog, “We Write Lists”, commented last month: “There are dozens of entries to this catalogue, and to list them all in any form of detail would fill an afternoon both for you and I. It's easy to skip over so many of the inferior versions, more difficult to ignore those by Rufus Wainwright, kd lang or Kathryn Williams. Only one version remains impossible to ignore, however.
Allison Crowe is perhaps renowned a little too much around these parts. She is considered consistently magnificent - a burden on talent nobody should be given. Nevertheless, her cover of 'Hallelujah' is simply stunning, and remains one of my favourite covers of all time. Taking, as ever, inspiration from (John) Cale's style of the song, Crowe throws in more soul and sadness than any one person should be capable of. In Crowe's hands, the song has as much majesty as Cohen could ever have conveyed, as much sadness as the (Jeff) Buckley version and as beautiful instrumentation - though completely original, and even more sparsely terrific - as (Regina) Spektor or (Rufus) Wainwright or anyone else you may care to mention. Simply, a song so beautiful has never been sung so beautifully.”