The Queen of Fireworks

Posted on by Beyond Bespoke

Pyromusical producer Serena Foyle creates bespoke shows that unite music and fireworks and leave the audience breathless

Most classical music graduates on leaving university head down the well-trodden career path of teaching or become performers, composers or conductors. When Serena Foyle left Edinburgh, and subsequently the London School of Sound, she decided not only to forgo these options but to create a career of her own. Combining her two passions – music and fireworks – she invented the role of pyromusical producer, and today works on award-winning firework displays around the world, from large public shows in the Philippines to intimate private firework parties on English country estates (more of which later).

Jubilee Fireworks - PIPC 2013 Display (23)
Firework design by Andrew Wiggins, Jubilee Fireworks

“Music and fireworks have gone together for hundreds of years but the music had never been given the same importance as the fireworks, and I wanted to change that,” says Serena, whose great grandfather founded the independent Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road.

“When one thinks of firework music they usually tend to think of Holst, Handel and Tchaikovsky’s 1812. I use a lot of Russian music and ballet music such as Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky but I also find contemporary music very exciting. I am just as likely to use dance music, drum and bass and Dubstep as well as classical. I love to create contrast within the soundtrack, as it brings the whole experience to life.”

With the average firework display for a wedding or party lasting 10 to 15 minutes, Serena’s expertise lies not only in interpreting a client’s wishes but maintaining the momentum throughout the show. “Very often I am given little to go on, which in many ways is the way I like it, as I can then use my inspiration and knowledge of what the celebration is about – whether it’s a wedding or a 50th birthday party – to choose certain music. Each event is bespoke to the client and it’s a case of getting a sense of the person, and what genre of music inspires them. It’s all about a journey and my role is to lead people on that journey and to keep their attention right through to end.”

It should be like coming out of a cinema having seen some incredible film

As with any great music symphony, the key to creating arresting firework music lies in having a mix of slow movements and crescendos, and as Serena is keen to point out, no one finale is ever the same. “You don’t necessarily have to have the big explosive ending,” she explains, recalling a recent fireworks display produced to impressive effect. “The sky filled towards the end to the music from the film Inception, and then it peeled away in a beautifully soft way that left everyone speechless. It was like coming out of a cinema having seen some incredible film.

Fireworks designed by Andrew Wiggins, Jubilee Fireworks

“Often fireworks displays don’t end in this way because the organisers don’t have the knowledge of music – they are afraid to use something that isn’t the big climactic finale. The best shows have contrasts, and the trick is putting soundtracks together that are unpredictable. I work alongside some great pyrotechnic teams, and we have a great connection artistically.”

Knowing what music works best together as well as being able to adapt to logistical challenges also comes with the territory for Serena and her team. “Each time I’m in a new place on a site visit I have to address certain challenges from the land, and work out what suits the location. For example, if I were asked to organise fireworks for a client with a house by the sea, we would put the fireworks on a barge a couple of hundred metres out to sea. For that display we would use lots of pretty aerial shells that go really high and fill the sky, because with no land or trees in sight and just a black horizon, it’s important to create a sense of scale.”

Fireworks designed by Lee Smith, 1st Galaxy Fireworks

It was also a barge (although this time in the Philippines) that helped Serena and her team scoop the International Pyromusical Competition 2013. Closer to home – and a little smaller in scale – Serena has covered all forms of celebrations from anniversaries and weddings to birthday parties, including recently a display on a country estate as a surprise for one lucky girlfriend. “She had no idea,” says Serena, laughing. “The helicopter dropped them in and the fireworks were set up to go off over the lake. It was incredibly romantic.”

Serena also recalls being asked by a Canadian client to organise a surprise for his wife who was studying at Oxford. “I set the whole thing up to remind his wife of their romantic honeymoon in Rome. This is what I really mean when I say I’m a producer – it’s not just the music and the fireworks, it’s the whole experience. I can even organise the butler, if necessary.”

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