Archive for May, 2014

Our penultimate Behind the Lines adult music workshop looked at the relationship between poetry, music and war. First of all we explored two songs composed by Ivor Gurney while he was serving in the trenches, and then participants were invited to create their own music with members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), using poetry from the First World War. The workshop was brilliantly led by Tasha and we were lucky enough to have Clara, a poetry expert, on hand to help guide proceedings.

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The first poem we looked at was Severn Meadows a short work written and set to music by Gurney himself. We heard an excellent rendition of the poem from one of the participants before the musicians played an accomplished run through of the music in a hastily prepared arrangement for flute, violin and xylophone! There followed a discussion of both the text and the music, including some singing of the melodies. We looked at how the poem perhaps evoked a nostalgic idealised version of England through imagery. Gurney’s music, which features the interval of a falling third at the end of each line, was also commented upon, as it is so familiar to us from childhood onwards, and so adds to the feeling of nostalgia.

 One keen eyed participant highlighted the opening line ‘Only the wanderer knows England’s graces’ as something that could only have been written a keen traveller, and our resident expert Andrew confirmed that Gurney had spent a large amount of time roaming through the English countryside, even walking from London to Gloucestershire! Clara suggested that the idea of the ‘wanderer’ often featured in pastoral poetry of this period and the writer ‘living in the landscape.’

The second song we looked at was By a Bierside with the text written by English poet John Masefield. The RPO musicians played through the whole song, after which the workshop participants were invited to offer any thoughts and feelings invoked by hearing the music without knowing the poem. We then moved on to the text: did our view of the music change once we knew that the poem concerned changing attitudes towards death? The song was analysed in some depth from the despairing outlook at first – ‘Death is so blind and dumb’ – to a positive glorification of death at the end – ‘It is most grand to die’. The musicians showed how this transformation is cleverly supported by changes in the music. Looking at the text, our participants discussed notions of the afterlife and Christian attitudes of the day, and how death can be seen as a movement to a higher place. We all then made a valiant, and altogether, successful attempt at singing some of Gurney’s tricky lines which make up this intensely powerful song. Adult 6 May - photos and videos 071

 After a welcome break for refreshments, Clara led a discussion on First World War poetry and explained how many of the poets who had gone through the public school education system were imbued with a strong sense of duty, and had been immersed in Greek classical literature which was often reflected in their work. But it was now time for the participants to get stuck into some music making, so they broke into three groups and chose a poem to set to music with the assistance of the musicians. After a remarkably short time of composing and rehearsing, each group performed their completed work.

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The first group had chosen Wilfred Owen’s Dulce Decorum Est. One person narrated the poem over an improvisation on drums, chimes and piccolo, with the instruments falling silent at the end as the whole group read together the final lines in Latin. The next group consisted of xylophone, glockenspiels and various other percussion instruments. The poem was Rain by Edward Thomas, and was again narrated against an extraordinary sound world created by the percussion. The woodblock kept a steady beat throughout invoking the falling rain. Last but not least, the third group performed music they had written to accompany Futility by Wilfred Owen. Two violins and a glockenspiel accompanied three female members who sang, to a repeating melody, each line of the poem.

It was very moving to hear three very different but such heartfelt performances, and all after only about 15 minutes of preparation! It brought to a close a wonderful afternoon of thought provoking discussion, poetry reading and amazing music making.

Afternoon in a Meadow

Posted: May 17, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary in Uncategorized

As our Behind the Lines project is coming to an end, the penultimate family workshop took us on a musical journey out of the city to a sunny field as we learned about Ivor Gurney and his piece ‘Severn Meadow’.

A very enthusiastic group of 2-5 year olds came to Westminster Music Library today, despite the beautiful weather outside. But they weren’t disappointed as they were transported to the sunny countryside with the music early years6of Ivor Gurney. Today’s workshop leader was Sam who was wonderful and energetic, and had everyone ready and excited for playing some music. Today’s RPO musicians were Russell on violin, Helen on flute and Andy on French horn. These three instruments contributed to the calm pastoral scene the group was creating, influenced by Gurney’s Severn Meadow. Ivor himself was inspired by a particular meadow to write this piece of music but we created our own countryside scene with long swaying grass, daisies, poppies and bluebells, and creepy crawlies. early years8Everyone put their creative thinking caps on to try and imagine what all these things would sound like on musical instruments but with a huge variety to choose from the ideas were flowing quickly. Soon the library was transformed into a summer meadow with a blue sky and fluffy clouds, and there were even grasshoppers, caterpillars and butterflies! Everyone left feeling very sleepy and relaxed!

The next group of 5-11 year olds were even sleepier though, and needed an intense and vigorous warm up to wake up a bit for their music session. But soon they were imagining lying in a green grassy meadow too as they listened to the RPO play the relaxing music of Ivor Gurney and his Severn Meadow. As everyone was imagining lying down and making shapes out of primary years 13the clouds, they imagined being surrounded by rabbits, butterflies, grasshoppers and beautiful summer flowers. Ivor Gurney himself was using his imagination in this music too as he wrote it. In fact, he wrote it whilst in the dirty, wet, horrible trenches during WW1 but was thinking about his homeland of Gloucester, England and reflecting on his thoughts and memories of it – he obviously had a great imagination!   The group was then turned into an orchestra (to replace most of the RPO who were off on holiday for the bank holiday weekend!) and created their own pastoral scene full of ideas and imagination. After everyone chose an instrument, the group set the scene with a calm drone and steady rhythm. The scene came to life with a variety of dynamics and sounds, then the group split into instrument families to experiment on music influenced by Severn Meadow with an oompah pattern and a variety of rhythmic and melodic ideas. Some lucky people even had a solo or two! There was a great team primary yearseffort today by the group as they all decided together how the music would sound. Adding some of the original music from Ivor Gurney’s piece, the orchestra played a brilliant finale with their creation of a country meadow in the summer.

Secondary School Project at Pimlico Academy

Posted: May 8, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary in Uncategorized

Although we’ve still got three more primary school projects to go, last week we held the second and final secondary school project as part of our Behind the Lines programme. We were lucky to work with 16 pupils from Pimlico Academy, from Years 7 & 8, who all played strings, woodwind and brass instruments. The project was brilliantly led by Natasha Zieliazinksi, who selected composer Maurice Ravel as the theme from which the participants would take inspiration.

IMG_1636We had a particularly varied supporting team of musicians for this project; we not only had three members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra supporting the project, but we had two students from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama as well, resulting in the brilliant combination of 2 violins, recorder, bassoon and trombone.

Having had an introductory session at the Westminster Music Library where the group could explore the scores and meet the creative team, they focused on how Ravel took inspiration from the Baroque composer – François Couperin – in order to create his piece, Tombeau de Couperin. In turn, the pupils did just the same: they composed a brand new piece in response to Ravel’s work, while exploring the issues of war. Click here to hear a snippet of the participants’ “War of Noises” piece: