Archive for June, 2014

The return of Vaughan Williams

Posted: June 19, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary 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!

The Grand Finale

Posted: June 19, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary in Uncategorized

Alas, the final adult workshop has come and the current Behind the Lines series has ended for now, finishing with music by George Butterworth and Arthur Bliss, two composers who fought in WW1.

Today’s group of participants ranged from musical beginners to experts, many singers, and even a member of the RPO who worked with Arthur Bliss over 50 years ago! But no matter their background, everyone was willing to join in and participate in the music session.

This afternoon’s professional musicians from the RPO were Russell on violin, Gerald on vibraphone and Fraser on bassoon. Natasha joined us again as workshop leader and focused on four pieces during the session, two by each composer. First up was Butterworth and his song ‘The Lads in their Hundreds’, which is based on a poem by Housman. The group agreed that this piece sounded very pleasant, folk-like and danceable. But surprisingly this was not reflected in the words of the poem as with each stanza they become darker and more distressing, despite the same cycle of pleasant folk music being repeated for each verse. The music itself had a rather lilting feel as it moved between 6/8 and 9/8, and the group experimented with the melody by singing it both straight and dotted. The next piece included a lot more participation than singing though, as Natasha invited everyone to their feet, and encouraged them to feel the variety of cross-rhythms in Butterworth’s ‘On the Idle Hill of Summer’. The group felt a sense of nature and spirituality from this piece, and its dissonance was quite clear, especially when singing it. To identify the cross rhythms, everyone stepped in time to the basic pulse, whilst swaying with the off-beat and also singing the melody which included some very tricky rhythms with duplets and triplets – multi-tasking would be an understatement!

Moving on to Arthur Bliss and his piece ‘Spring’ from ‘The Ballad of the Four Seasons’. The poem from this was taken from ancient China despite the music sounding very English. The bassoon proved to be the perfect instrument for the plodding, walking bass whilst the vibraphone tinkled its part octaves above.

More emphasis was placed on ‘Morning Heroes’, a collection of poems and prose from The Iliad, Walt Whitman, Li Tai Po, Wilfred Owen and Robert Nichols. Each of the five movements in this piece reflects different aspects of the war and the music emphasizes the contrasts between various war-time situations.     We looked more closely at movement 5 entitled ‘Spring Offensive’, originally written for timpani and orator. But today it was performed by vibraphone and several volunteer orators. Seven participants volunteered to read a section of the poem, and the group agreed that this could be more powerful as a variety of different voices are heard, portraying the opinions, stories and personalities of different people affected by the war. Even more powerful was the silence between the music and speech. Using the vibraphone created a different atmosphere to the original timpani which would have created more of a ‘grumbling’ effect rather than a vibrant one. This piece was written almost 10 years after the war had ended but evidently the effects of the war resonated on for this length of time, and the piece could be mistaken as being written in the height of it.

The last task of today’s session was based on ‘Morning Heroes’ as the group split into smaller groups and chose one poem from the work to base their own compositions on. Two of the three groups used the same poem, ‘Vigil’, but created very different sounds with a variety of different instruments as well as their own musical touch. The third group used the poem ‘Dawn on the Somme’ and created very effective music with the vibraphone as the orator spoke the poem.

This jam-packed session was filled with a wealth of information and discussion on Butterworth and Bliss, two composers who may not be as well-known as the others featured in this series of workshops. Behind the Lines is finished for now but we hope to raise more funding to start it up again as soon as possible. Westminster Music Library would like to thank the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for their collaboration so far, and a huge thank you to all who participated in our workshops and have supported the project during the past year.

Last but not least: Butterworth and Bliss

Posted: June 9, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary in Uncategorized

Sadly, Saturday marked the final family workshops in the Behind the Lines series for now but we definitely finished on a high! The two workshops were based on the music of Arthur Bliss and George Butterworth, both composers who served in WW1. Unfortunately, Butterworth was killed whilst on active duty in the war in 1916, and Bliss was injured and emotionally scarred for life.5BTL early years 7-6-14

Today’s professional musicians from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra were Phil on trombone, Simon on trumpet (who introduced himself by playing the popular Iggle Piggle theme, particularly entertaining for the youngest participants!) and Michael on violin, all led by workshop leader Natasha who plays cello. After everyone took part in a vigorous shaking, tapping and clapping warm up in preparation for fun music-making , the RPO musicians introduced today’s music, performing a fragment of ‘Spring’ from ‘The Ballad of the Four Seasons’ by Arthur Bliss. Taking each musician’s part of the music on its own, the children decided which animals they most sounded like. They decided that the violin part sounded like a little mouse, the trumpet sounded like a slithering snake, and the trombone sounded like a prowling lion, creating a zoo in Westminster Music Library! But these three animals weren’t the best of friends and needed more of their own kind to be happy and to hang out with. So the children decided if they wanted to be a mouse, a snake or a lion, and created their own music to accompany Bliss’ on a variety of exciting instruments that the RPO had brought with them; from tambourines to wood blocks, and whistles to a vibraphone! With such a variety of instruments, the children could make all kinds of sounds. The big performance told the story of a lion on the prowl, hunting for food, but he ran away when he saw a little mouse scurrying along the ground. The little mouse was then sniffing around for a while but then saw a slithering snake and ran away too!

Westminster Library then went from being a zoo to being a scene of war as the RPO musicians played some music by George Butterworth whilst the children marched around the library in time with the music like men the military! During their journey around the library everyone picked out one book or score from the shelves. Putting the musicians on the spot, a select few were lucky enough to have theirs played. This workshop was one out of two today, and finished with Butterworth’s ‘On the Idle Hill of Summer’.


The second workshop, for children in primary school, featured the same composers and music. After introductions by the RPO, 6BTL primary years 7-6-14all the children and adults participating in the workshop introduced themselves as well as tell everyone their favourite music and if they played any instruments or not. The discovery was soon made that among the adults there were many failed violinists but among the children there was an abundance of talent; from violinists, to cellists (much to Natasha’s delight!), to recorder players, to harmonica players! But for those who didn’t play anything in particular or didn’t have their instrument with them today, there was a grand choice of percussive instruments to play in the session. The RPO musicians introduced Bliss’ Four Seasons piece again, but instead of associating the sounds with animals, this group closed their eyes and listened carefully, and shared what colour they thought the music sounded like. Everyone agreed on spring colours such as yellow, pink and green. Then it was the musicians’ turns to use their imaginations as they had to create music based on a word given by some volunteers; words including ‘snowman’, ‘tomato’ and ‘scarecrow’!

After this, the group split into the four seasons of the year and chose musical instruments which would best portray that season. Spring with Michael had a selection of stringed instruments and chimes, summer with Simon included guitars and glockenspiels, autumn was represented by drums and the vibraphone, and winter with Phil had drums and rattles. The groups put their thinking caps on and created exciting music with their instruments and themes, and in their grand final performance, we were taken through the 365 days of the year in 5 minutes! 8BTL primary years 7-6-14Finishing with the summer season which we are currently in, the group came up with a very catchy summer melody and encouraged everyone to join in. I think it is safe to say everyone went home with the tune in their heads!

Today’s workshop was a great representation of the talents, imaginations and creativities of the children. This was the last in the current series of family workshops at Westminster Music Library but we hope to create more opportunities like this one in the near future so keep an eye out!



Soaring through the sky

Posted: June 9, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary in Uncategorized

Last week we delivered an exciting and theatrical project looking at Ravel and his war inspired works.

We worked with 28 pupils from Year 4 of Marlborough Primary School who took part in creative workshops led by Workshop Leader Natasha Zielazinski and supported by three members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, including a violin, cello and percussion player.

The pupils were so inspired by the music of Ravel that they created a beautiful poem:

StarsSoaring through the sky
Moon on your wings
The world down below
Sleeps as we sing

Your reflection on the silvery lake
Shimmers like the finest sunset
The fragrance of springtime
Fills the sweet air

Serene music was composed to accompany their words, which the participants then contrasted with a loud and angry-sounding storm piece. They performed their new composition to Key Stage 2 pupils, parents and staff at the end of the project, who were all blown away by Year 4’s debut.

Follow this link to hear a snippet of the participants’ piece: