Bringing classical music history to life with a unique charitable foundation web design project
To set the mood of an evening, you need the right music. I’ve a friend who enjoys playing Noel Coward on a Saturday night as he mixes cocktails. When he puts that tinkly piano accompanied by snappy wit on, everything just feels buzzy, chic – as though Princess Margaret is about to arrive amid a summer dusk. The choice for some is jazz – others opera, I always admire a quirky choice I’m unfamiliar with. It’s intriguing how we discover particular music that’s from a bygone era, from amazing singers, long passed away. ‘Music never dies’ – these extraordinary voices, once recorded, are never lost. We’ve just completed a piece of work which I like to think contributes to the recognition of just such an artist – a charitable foundation web design project for classic English opera singer Jennifer Vyvyan.
Jennifer Vyvyan's archive, with her immediately recognisable signature across every musical score.
Who was Jennifer Vyvyan?
Some personal background is necessary: around four years ago we bid for and won a website project for Hampstead-based property developer Jonathan Crown. That project was a fairly classic case of taking on a very old business site, keeping the worthy content (in that case the text) then adding in new, large-format photography to a strong, fresh design. Over the years, I’ve kept in contact with Jonathan, doing occasional updates to the site, however last year he surprised me by getting in touch to say he was keen to do a website as a tribute to his mother…
The mother in question was Jennifer Vyvyan, a hugely popular, much-lauded opera singer in the 1950s and 60s. Her voice was extraordinary, clear and powerful and listening to her music today it sounds extraordinary. Sadly she died much too young, in early 1974, leaving behind a huge legacy of papers, stage performance and a significant back catalogue of professional recordings. Jonathan had founded a fundraising effort to bring recognition to her work and felt the time was right to commission a charitable foundation web design project for his mother that built a record of her life and time. He wanted it to feel contemporary, full of music, video and an accessible new appraisal of her work.
Our identity design for the Jennifer Vyvyan Charitable Foundation
Creating an identity for a personality
When creating a signature website for a well-renowned personality, there’s always a temptation to actually use their autograph. We succumbed. Over every musical score in the archive, her distinctive signature appears top right. Again and again, this strong, determined writing acts as a marker to the material she worked with. It seemed clear to me that this would be a fantastic start to this project. So, tracing painstakingly, we created a digital version we could use as the header for the site, then also as a brand for the Jennifer Vyvyan Foundation.
The result gives strength and authenticity to the project, echoing the music she worked on and adding her personality. This approach is then echoed in the use of personal materials, handwritten notes and letters to colleagues and family members, which appear throughout the site.
The homepage of the new Jennifer Vvyvan Charitable Foundation website
Bringing an archive to life
As we began considering this project, we started from an extraordinarily fortunate position. Music critic Michael White had spent some years working through Jennifer’s archive. He had even produced a radio documentary which discussed the mammoth task of piecing together this history into a form which could be placed on the web. Michael had written the copy for the site and chosen a huge selection of photography for us to work with. In essence the collection had been considered, collated, ordered and readied for our work. It meant the brief for this charitable foundation web design project was quickly in sharp focus.
From the start, we were keen to apply the most up to date approach to the site, using multi-speed movement and transitions as a user scrolled through the (often lengthy) pages. We struck on the idea applying these techniques to the content so the pages never felt overwhelming. The site has over forty pages, but these often cover entire eras, relationships, or sides of Jennifer’s character and work. To ensure these pages felt accessible, we devised horizontal scrolling image galleries, narrow columns of tex and most of all, a conversational manner, using handwritten notes between the protagonists of Vyvyan’s life.
Visual content is all well and good, but given Jennifer Vyvyan was fundamentally an artist, the site would have been nothing without the music she brought to life. Using carefully edited clips, the content was backed up with excerpts of epic performances, which we applied to the site using Soundcloud. The versatility of this technique has meant that music is built into every corner of this tribute website. The music never overtly intrudes on the visuals, giving visitors the ability to stop, listen and keep on reading – on every platform, even smartphone. I like to think Jennifer would have loved the way her music and life interplay.
A series of pages showcasing the extraordinary archive of Jennifer Vyvyan's life and work
A tribute in two senses
It would be remiss of me not to mention the fact that completing this project is incredibly bittersweet. We had been working closely with Jonathan Crown, Jennifer Vyvyan’s only child, for months on this project and it had been nothing but a pleasure. His knowledge of the material and clarity of purpose meant that we were free to be hugely ambitious with the design and build of the project. This in itself is extremely unusual, meaning the finished site is both exhaustive as well as being complex technically.
Tragically Jonathan did not live to see the site online, passing away suddenly, days after we completed the project. Our final email exchanges are days before he died, excited about the completion of the project and planning its launch.
I loved working with Jonathan and am struck by twin emotions: great sadness at his passing and pride in what we accomplished together to honour his mother.
Showcase a cause or artist with a charitable foundation web design project
From vintage newspaper clippings to digitised film footage, untold stories can be brought to life online within a tribute website. As this project shows, a site of this kind can range from the simple to the sensational, depending on its suitability and ambition.
For more background on the project, please review the full site below and a link to our portfolio page runs beneath that. If you have a similar project you’d like to discuss with us, please contact us direct.