Behind the Lines Scunthorpe November 2014

Posted: November 18, 2014 by RPOResound in Uncategorized


During the poignant centenary month of November the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) and Westminster Music Library have been extremely lucky to take Behind the Lines up to North Lincolnshire to work alongside young musicians from the Scunthorpe Music Centre to create a brand new piece of music to commemorate the Great War.

Thirty young players from the Music Centre and their music tutors joined musicians from the RPO for two days of intensive workshops led by RPO Workshop Leader Detta Danford. The group took inspiration from Ravel’s work Frontispiece and created new melodies to intertwine with this iconic folk tune.

The young musicians explored new and unusual ways of playing their instruments, with the brass section turning their mouthpieces the wrong way round and blowing into their instruments to create sounds like a steam powered machine and the bassoons slapping their tongues on their reeds to sound like distant gunfire.

Not only did the ensemble get to create their own piece, they then got to play it to a sold out audience side-by-side with the 70 piece RPO at their concert at the Baths Hall on 13th November.

One young participant said ‘I think my favourite part was putting my ideas forward and hearing them being made into a real piece; it’s such a great feeling.’


October Last Post Event (13)Local Westminster residents ably supported by South Westminster and Church Street Community Choirs, joined Music Library staff in singing a variety of popular WW1 songs. This was followed by a moving recitation of Laurence Binyon’s poem “For the fallen” by Senior Library Assistant Andrew Chew, and a performance of “The Last Post” played brilliantly by our Saturday Assistant Jon Frank:

October Last Post Event (8)

This was one of 230 nationwide Last Post events paying a musical tribute to those impacted by The First World War, designed and run by arts organisation Superact with support from the Department for Communities and Local Government.  The Last Post project has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to roll out the project in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in 2014. The Department of Culture Arts and Leisure is also supporting the project in NI.

Behind the Lines went intercontinental recently, bringing young people from London Borough of Brent together with secondary pupils from Ottawa, Canada, for an exciting WWI-themed concert at the Royal College of Music streamed live over the internet.

In October, participants from Brent Youth Concert Band worked with RPO workshop leader Tim Steiner to explore the themes of Behind the Lines and devise their own exciting piece in response entitled Moose not Mice.

poppyAcross the pond, students from Colonel By Secondary School worked in parallel on their own creative composition, using the Behind the Lines Elgar Resource Pack, with composer Abigail Richardson to create a programmatic piece about a WWI soldier’s journey through the war and beyond.

Dame Evelyn Glennie also joined the fun, performing a new piece for two snare drums written by RCM composition student, Bertram Wee, alongside RCM percussionist, Stefan Beckett.

Watch the performance online here.

This project was carried out in support of Ottawa’s National Art Centre Orchestra’s tour of the UK following the footsteps of Canadian soldiers in WWI.

Keeping the Home Fires Burning

Posted: October 7, 2014 by RPOResound in Uncategorized

Westminster Music Library was alive with the sound of song last Saturday, as a number of the Borough’s older residents braved wind and rain to join Ruth, Anthony and myself in a lively sing-along recollecting the centenary of the First World War. These melodious local residents raised their voices to prove that the “home fires” are indeed still burning as part of the City of Westminster’s Silver Sunday initiative and our very own Behind the Lines project.

Silver Sunday 2

“I sang these songs as a boy,” one participant commented, as we piped our way through popular favourites such as It’s a Long Way to Tipperary and Over There. Singing was gallantly led by Ruth, whose dulcet tones were masterfully accompanied by Anthony on piano; this is one library where staff don’t always insist on silence!

Attendees also listened to readings of poetry, letters and anecdotal writings from the Great War. Humourous poems evoked a feeling of light-hearted camaraderie; sentiments so warmly expressed in the timeless Oh! It’s a Lovely War:

“What do we want with eggs and ham

When we’ve got plum and apple jam?”

Silver Sunday 1

In contrast, letters sent to loved ones from front-line soldiers reminded us of the genuine hardships felt by men in overseas service, highlighting the real importance of motivational songs; a reminder to “Pack up your troublesand smile” would have struck a chord not just for those in Britain but for those serving away from home.

Several songs not strictly related to the War managed to slip their way into our programme, including the popular If You Were the Only Girl in the World and There’s a Long, Long Trail.

“‘There’s a long, long trail’ was immediately popular,” our programme notes explained, “It did not become one of the anthems of the War until the British troops embraced it as they left British ports.” If the mental image of a shipful of soldiers waving goodbye to loved ones as they sail away from England brings a tear to your eye, the song ends on a hopeful note:

“Until my dreams all come true;

Till the day when I’ll be going down

That long, long trail with you.”

After an hour of singing and being entertained, warm refreshments provided a friendly opportunity for us to talk to some of our guests. “Excellent,” one participant commented, “so well prepared and presented.” For our part, we were delighted to participate in Silver Sunday (despite it being a Saturday!) and spend our Saturday morning doing something a little different. In the words of our closing song… “Bonsoir, old thing! Cheerio! Chin chin! Nah poo! Toodleoo! Good-bye-ee!”


On the 4th August 2014, the 100th anniversary of the day the First World War was declared, Westminster Music Library and the musicians from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra opened a four day Behind the Lines creative summer school, ending with a grand finale performance at St John Smith’s Square, London.

The summer school featured two of our First World War composers who were also good friends, Maurice Ravel and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Ravel had wanted to be an air-bomber, but was rejected because he was too small; he was finally allowed to become an ambulance driver, and he saw and experienced the horrors of the front-line at first hand. Vaughan Williams was a stretcher-bearer, who also knew the unimaginable tragedies of the trenches. Both of them made their war-time experiences part of their music; Vaughan Williams in his ‘Pastoral Symphony’, and Ravel in his suite ‘Le tombeau de Couperin’. These works were the focus of the summer school, using them as inspiration to create a new work for our final concert.

Pupils from schools across Westminster and adults from local community group Open Age all contributed material for the final work, which was performed in front of an audience of VIPs, family and friends. From the opening chords to the incredibly moving finale – an off-stage performance of The Last Post – what started out as a lot of disconnected ideas, transformed into a very moving and fitting tribute not only to our chosen composers, but also our many First World War heroes.

St Johns Smith (6)

Behind the Lines goes beyond Westminster

Posted: August 29, 2014 by RPOResound in Uncategorized

Our very first Behind the Lines programme held outside of Westminster was a huge success this month in London Borough of Newham.

UTS 2014 no credit (RPO) (10)17 Every Child a Musician (ECaM) participants from the local area took part in four days of creative composition workshops with RPO musicians and Elgar specialist, Simon Baggs, to explore Elgar’s Enigma Variations. The participants then crafted their own five movement piece and,  in true Elgar fashion, dedicated each movement to important people in their lives including the fallen soldiers of World War One.

Read what the participants thought of the project here.

More from our Vaughan Williams expert

Posted: August 21, 2014 by RPOResound in Uncategorized

We’re pleased to share that our Behind the Lines expert on Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ceri Owen, has recently been featured on BBC Radio speaking about the man himself ahead of the performance of his piece, Job: A Masque for Dancing, at the 2014 Proms.

Have a listen at the link below:

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams


The Last Post

Posted: August 20, 2014 by RPOResound in Uncategorized

After months of planning it was finally here – our Behind the Lines summer school, the culmination of a year-long project for Westminster Music Library in partnership with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.  BTL Summer School 8-2014 (11)

 Having spent the past twelve months delivering workshops featuring Edward Elgar, Maurice Ravel, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ivor Gurney, Gustav Holst, George Butterworth and Arthur Bliss, it could have been a tough choice to pick out just two composers to feature in our summer school, but as Vaughan Williams has an important connection with Westminster Music Library (he opened the Music Library to the public in 1948) and he and Ravel had been good friends, it proved to be quite easy, this was going to be a good fit….

So it was that on a sunny morning in August 2014, twenty five young participants from schools across Westminster descended on The Music Library for the opening workshop, ably led by workshop leaders Detta and Tash with musicians from The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. BTL Summer School 8-2014 (27)

Two war-inspired works were chosen; Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin and the fourth movement of Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral symphony. One of Ravel’s greatest successes, Le Tombeau de Couperin was completed near the end of the War. This suite for solo piano, influenced by the French Baroque composer François Couperin, was composed between 1914 and 1917, and is based on a traditional French Baroque suite, being made up of 18th century-style dance movements. Ravel dedicated each movement to the memory of his friends (or in one case, two brothers) who had died fighting in the First World War.  BTL Summer School 8-2014 (31)

In 1914 Vaughan Williams enlisted as a Private in the Royal Army Medical Corps, and joined the 2/4th London Field Ambulance, part of the 179th Brigade within the 60th Division. The Pastoral Symphony is clearly and expressively linked to the War and proved to be a necessary and cathartic work for Vaughan Williams. A wordless melody for soprano, accompanied only by a drum roll, that opens the fourth movement, seems to express all the pain and sorrow of the War. Following a lot of discussion about the horrors of the First World War and the impact it had on our composers, our participants set about creating new melodies, harmonies and poetry based on these two works for their brand new composition, destined for its world premier at St John’s Smith Square. Later in the week the pupils were joined by adults from local community group Open Age, who were to contribute additional material to the final work and would also be performing on stage alongside our younger musicians. All those eager performers and brain power, it was getting pretty packed in The Music Library, it looked as though we were going to need a much bigger room to rehearse…BTL Summer School 8-2014 (8)

One summer school was swiftly re-located to Pimlico Academy and an empty school hall to accommodate what appeared to be almost a full size symphony orchestra with newly formed choir. After four days of rehearsals, re-tunings, new melodies, rhythms, vocal lines, narrative, lost bows and mouth pieces, the consumption of enormous quantities of tea and biscuits, our “magnum opus” was complete. Given that this piece was created by a bunch of people who’d never clapped eyes on each other prior to our summer school, it all sounded pretty impressive at the final rehearsal, and left me in no doubt that their hard work had really paid off. BTL Summer School 8-2014 (6)But now it was time to put them to the test, in front of a live audience at St John’s Smith Square, an audience which would include some pretty impressive VIPs, no pressure then….

From the opening chords to the incredibly moving finale – an off-stage performance of The Last Post (our 13 year old trumpet player had stayed up late the previous night practicing to get it spot on – and he did) there was hardly a dry eye in the house. St Johns Smith (19)What started out as a lot of disconnected ideas at the start of the week had been transformed into a very moving and fitting tribute to our chosen composers, and of course all our many First World War heroes.

And so our year of Behind the Lines – the music and composers of The First World War draws to an impressive close – or does it? Watch this space (and our events pages) for some more Behind the Lines activities this autumn.St Johns Smith (4)



The final countdown

Posted: July 22, 2014 by RPOResound in Uncategorized

Our last Behind the Lines School workshop brought this part of our amazing project with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to a close, but what a brilliant finale it was. An enthusiastic bunch of pupils from Servite Primary School (Kensington) joined us on a musical adventure through the solar system. With workshop leader Detta Danford and musicians from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, English composer Gustav Holst was our very own “stellar” musical guide. Solar_system[1]

Following a short warm up, the RPO musicians introduced us to Holst’s Planet Suite which he composed between 1914 and 1916. Each of the seven movements is named after a planet of the Solar System and its corresponding astrological character, opening with Mars – The bringer of war. The RPO musicians played some very war-like excerpts from Mars, got everybody clapping along in time with the music, and asked us to describe what it reminded us of. There were lots of ideas that fitted with the “outer space” theme ranging from ‘menacing’ to ‘invading aliens’, very fitting for a planet associated with Martian invasions.


The musicians then blasted off into the solar system all the way to the fourth movement of the Suite: Jupiter – The bringer of jollity. As soon as we’d listened to the opening bars, it was easy to understand why the composer described it as being “joyful”; it’s a much brighter and happier piece than Mars. This was a great excuse to make up some words and sing along with the musicians: “joyful, cheerful day, we’re so happy!”

But it was soon time for the musicians to re-launch the space ship to our final planetary destination: Neptune – The mystic, very dark and mysterious music, it almost sounded like the soundtrack to a horror movie.

Not wanting to linger too long in this eerie and scary place, we stopped our space travel for a while, came back down to earth and explored the Music Library’s shelves. Time for our RPO musicians to be put to the test and show off their fantastic sight reading skills, being presented with scores by Mozart and Richard Strauss proved to be no problem at all. Even better than this, music from The Lion King and The Jungle book didn’t phase them, but the highlight was undoubtedly a rendition of Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror for Vibraphone, Glockenspiel and Violin. These guys really know their stuff!

There was still plenty of time to go back to our exploration of outer space and a return “trip” to Jupiter, this time for a musical re-imagining of this jolly planet. All the new ideas, rhythms and melodies the group created which had been inspired by Gustav Holst’s original Suite came together for a very “out of this world” final performance, before the return voyage to Planet Earth.  Jupiter[Planets]

A very exciting journey of The Planet Suite for our young musical explorers, one which we hope will inspire all of us to learn more about this much loved symphonic work. Here’s a few interesting facts to get you started:

Gustav Holst studied astrology which inspired him to compose The Planet Suite

There are two missing planets: Earth and Pluto (the latter was undiscovered at the time he composed it)

The Planet Suite premiered in 1918 when The First World War was still raging.

For most of his adult life, Gustav Holst taught music at St Paul’s School for Girls in Hammersmith, part of our very own Tri-borough. He paid tribute to the school and the area in his St Paul’s Suite for strings, and Hammersmith, prelude and scherzo for military band.

Gustav Holst

Gustav Holst

The return of Vaughan Williams

Posted: June 19, 2014 by RPOResound in Uncategorized

Westminster Music Library played host to the introduction of Ralph Vaughan Williams to year 6 pupils of St. Barnabas CofE school.   Workshop leader Detta was accompanied by no fewer than 5 RPO musicians today; 2 violinists, 1 flautist, 1 bassoonist and 1 cellist – enough to almost fully demonstrate today’s music. The children were all introduced to the variety of  orchestral instruments before listening to them play as an ensemble as they demonstrated a section of Vaughan Williams’ ‘A London Symphony’, which reflects an older London filled with smog and mist.  However, before being told the theme and title of the work, the pupils of St. Barnabas School put their imaginations in gear and considered what

London in the fog

London in the fog

the music may represent – the group decided it sounded quite sad, quiet, and melancholic.  Some individuals offered their opinions, and thought the music sounded like someone dying, someone in danger, or someone upset. 

Next came the Pastoral Symphony which sounded completely different with its portrayal of country folk life and music to suggest dancing, feasts and celebration.  There are questions whether this work is based on an actual folk song or not, but it would not be implausible to suggest so, as Vaughan Williams was a keen collector of folk music.  The workshop group decided to experiment and play around with this music, performing it both faster and slower than originally intended by the composer.  The effect of slowness changed the dance-like character of the music to boring and “too calm”, as suggested by one pupil.


  Playing it much faster was a clear favourite among the pupils as it was much more exciting, lively and happy.  The dance-like feel of the music was made using a lot of dotted rhythms.  The group put their own touch to the music by adding some more interesting rhythms using percussive body sounds.  This group was very imaginative and created quite a tricky, but effective rhythm!  The group will take this rhythm back to school and work on it further to create their own piece of music in the remaining sessions they have with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra(RPO). 

Finally, the children made use of the Music Library and put the RPO musicians’ sight reading skills to the test as they all chose a score from the shelves at random.  Unfortunately for the musicians, a few individuals picked some tricky pieces, including one of the hardest pieces in the whole library – Berio’s Sequenza for Viola.  One of the violinists made a good attempt at it, before the whole ensemble was asked to play a snippet from Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini.  Changing genre to finish with, the group played some Bob Dylan – much to the delight of our cellist, Roberto!