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:

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.

Adult 6 May - photos and videos 063

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.

Adult 6 May - photos and videos 083

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.

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:

Image  —  Posted: May 8, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary in Uncategorized

Vaughan Williams at war

Posted: April 10, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary in Uncategorized

It was our local residents’ turn to enjoy Westminster Music Libraries’ latest Behind the Lines music workshop, which featured English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. He obviously has a huge fan base in Westminster as this session was packed, one of our best attended workshops so far. As always, we were joined by musicians from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on flute, cello and vibraphone, as well as the pleasure of having Vaughan Williams expert Ceri Owen join us. RVW Event 31-3-14 (3)

The musical focus started with A Pastoral Symphony, with the RPO musicians introducing snippets of it to everyone. The third of nine symphonies Vaughan Williams’ wrote, it was composed between 1916 and 1921, and premiered in 1922. It reflects Vaughan Williams’ experiences in France as a wagon orderly during WW1, it is not (as commonly believed) a reflection of the English countryside. The group went on to debate the similarities between the two landscapes but concluded that they must have differed during war time. The group looked in depth at the modes and tonalities used in the opening of the symphony, comparing it to Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Stravinksy’s Rite of Spring which use similar patterns.

The final movement of this symphony includes a wordless soprano line so we learned it as the first interactive group musical activity. In performance, this is often sung by the soprano from a distance to create a sense of space and emptiness, adding a ghostly lament effect to the music that depicts the tragedy of the war. The possible origins of this musical idea were discussed; did they lie in Vaughan Williams interest in the Anglican Church, relating to Gregorian chant? Or in his enthusiasm for English folksong? The discussion also included the validity of the term ‘symphony’ in the case of this piece as it doesn’t conform to traditional symphony structure, similar to the other two descriptive symphonies he wrote; A Sea Symphony and A London Symphony – are they really only extended tone poems?

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams

After a tea break we moved on to look at another work – Sancta Civitas (The Holy City). The musicians demonstrated the mysterious opening section of the work then participants chose various tuned percussion instruments, supported by the cello and piano, and had a go at playing the interesting chords Vaughan Williams uses. We soon ran out of instruments, so the rest of us joined in by singing the melody above the chords, usually played by an oboe. Workshop leader Detta and Ceri demonstrated their conducting skills between instrumentalists and singers. First attempts were a bit shaky, but with some breathing and relaxation advice from cellist Roberto, the group started to play more comfortably as an ensemble. RVW Event 31-3-14 (2)

Vaughan Williams expert Ceri then filled us in with a bit of background to Sancta Civitas, explaining that it was first performed in Oxford during the General Strike in 1926, an environment far away from the political and economic problems people were facing which had led to the strike, and that this was not easy for Vaughan Williams. She questioned the ambiguity of the music; the text, taken mainly from the Book of Revelation, expresses the triumph of good over evil and is ultimately positive, but much of the music Vaughan Williams composed, including the close of the piece, possibly suggests otherwise. RVW Event 31-3-14 (1)

We then looked at another section of the work. With such interesting discussion between the musicians and participants, which could have happily carried on for a long time (including on the immortality of the soul!), we found ourselves rapidly running out of time. We dispensed with the instruments and quickly learned to sing the mournful descending phrase ‘Babylon the great is fallen’, before putting both this and the opening section together for the grand finale to a very interesting and enjoyable afternoon.

Ralph Vaughan Williams, who opened Westminster Music Library in 1948, believed passionately that composers should be ‘useful’ and that music should be for everyone. We are sure he would have been delighted with the outcome of the afternoon’s workshop.


Early Years
It’s a sunny spring morning in London and the young crowd gather for the very exciting music workshop at Westminster Music Library. There are lots of sleepy faces, but not for long… Everyone gets their wake-up call with a very lively and energetic warm up; lots of wobbling, shaking, clapping and moving!  Workshop leader Detta then introduces the very talented Royal 3Early years 29th MarchPhilharmonic Orchestra musicians on violin, cello and vibraphone, who then introduce us all to excerpts of Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony. ‘Pastoral’ relates to rural scenery and the countryside so we decided to let the music take us on some journeys through different rural settings; the first musical journey takes us for a walk up a steep, snowy mountain. It’s hard work so we have to stop at the top for a rest before making our way back down the other side.7Early years 29th March The second musical journey then takes us into the park where a squirrel is climbing a tree; it’s autumn so the leaves are lovely and red. Finally we take a trip to the countryside and the beach where there are lots of sheep and cows. We’re lucky it’s such a sunny day outside!

Primary Years
Another sleepy, shy group of children, but they are soon full of beans and ready for active music making after a movement, rhythm and vocal warm up. Looking again at Vaughan William’s Pastoral Symphony, the group learn to sing a fragment of the melody from the first movement. Following that, the group decide on a new rhythmic idea and pat it out along with the music played by the RPO musicians.

The workshop leader decided it would be a good idea to create music based on different landscapes in memory of Vaughan Williams, who was very much influenced by different places in the world. The first group stayed in London and portrayed the image of Big Ben in the morning mist with the birds twittering. Group two took us to the hot Sahara desert, and as they looked across the sand dunes they saw some shepherds with their camels. Group three took us further south to Antarctica where they played music to represent the enormous glaciers and melting ice.3Primary years 29th March
We were fortunate to have a Vaughan Williams expert join us expert during this session; Ceri has just completed her PhD on Vaughan Williams at Oxford University and was able to answer some questions on his life. He lived from 1872-1958, and spent a number of years living very near to Westminster Music Library; in Cheyne Walk on the Chelsea Embankment, London. Ceri was able to answer one of the children’s questions “why did he fight in the war?”, explaining that he felt it was his duty to be a soldier in World War I, but he was too old to fight on the front line. Instead, he was part of the ambulance services, helping other injured soldiers, and he also looked after horses in the war (which may have influenced his Riders to the Sea opera). He came up with the ideas for the Pastoral Symphony during WW1 whilst in France, and started writing them down when he returned to England. Ceri told us that he was inspired by the landscapes and scenery in France, such as the sunsets. He also took influences from the military bugle music. So this pastoral symphony actually painted the picture of a dark, ruined, war-zone France instead of pastoral England. Ceri also explained that Vaughan Williams was very eager to draw attention to the folksongs of England; eliminating the idea that there were none. In fact, some of the motifs in the Pastoral Symphony were based on English folksongs.4Primary years 29th March
Other questions about the life of Ralph Vaughan Williams included:
What did he do in his spare time?
He liked walking, community music and conducting choirs
What did he play?
He was organist at a church in Stockwell but he wasn’t very good, he also played the violin
Was he only popular in England?
He also became famous overseas, particularly in America and Finland (after Sibelius!)
Was he a family man?
His first wife died in 1951, his second died in 2007 and was 30 years younger than him
As we discovered through today’s workshops, Vaughan Williams loved to travel and experience different places; much of his music reflected his interest in landscapes and scenery. We also discovered that he loved his home country – England, as well as France, the New York skyline, Antarctica, and many other places around the world.

As part of Westminster Music Library’s Behind the Lines programme, we are delivering no less than six creative projects in schools all over Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. The second of these projects took place last week, with the final performance on Friday 28th February. Working with a group of pupils aged 7-8 from Westminster’s St Matthew’s C.E. Primary School, workshop leader Tim Steiner and three musicians from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) explored the works of English composer Gustav Holst, focusing on the famous Planet Suite, which produced lots of inspiration and ideas for themes from outer space. Planets

The group visited Westminster Music Library for an introductory session, where the pupils were able to discover the vast selection of books and music scores on the shelves. Creativity really took hold once we moved into the school itself, with stimulating workshops using a combination of instruments such as “djembes”, to play the sinister rhythm from Mars, and other percussion instruments to support the RPO musicians while they played the Jupiter theme. aliens[2]

The final performance was a fantastic showcase of all the music everyone had come up with, including this song devised by our young participants:

It’s gloomy and it’s gloopy
And it’s shiny and it’s scary
The aliens are powerful
They’re glowing and they’re hairy

The creepy crawlies are so sad
They’re black green brown and blue
But sometimes they are happy
Cos they’re just like me and you

The first Behind the Lines adult workshop of the New Year took place last week at Westminster Music Library with musicians from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.  There was a high demand for places at this event so we had our fullest group yet of music enthusiasts.  Continuing on the theme of Holst, this workshop looked at The Hymn of Jesus and The Planets.

As workshop leader Tim welcomed everybody to Westminster Music Library, he invited everyone to say a little about themselves. We all soon learned of the variety of people who attend these music events; musicians, composers, former military band members, students, researchers, and plenty of people who said they ‘had nothing to contribute to music’, ‘never played an instrument before’, but ‘loved listening to it all day, every day’.  But they had to change these statements after today’s workshop! Holst Adult Workshop Rehearsals

For the first time in this series of events, everyone was encouraged to sing.  So after waking our voices with some warm-ups and exercises, we all learned to sing the opening theme from The Hymn of Jesus. The step-wise movement of the phrase made it easy enough for everyone to sing. The melody was also played by the RPO musicians and their instruments – cello, trumpet and flute – and it was discussed how the same melody on different instruments can sound so different and have such different effects on the listener.

This workshop also gave some people a chance to pick up a new instrument for the very first time! With spare French horns and flutes, as well as other melodic instruments such as vibraphone and tubular bells, everyone split off into groups to learn a section of The Hymn of Jesus. It was hard to master the wind instruments for those non-wind players, but everyone made a great attempt! 

This led us into the tea break, in which there was plenty of discussion about Holst.  Westminster Music Library contributed to this discussion by providing scanned images of original documents and letters written by the famous composer to music critic Edwin Evans. Evans’ collection of thousands of scores, letters, documents, and books was given to Westminster Libraries after his death in 1946. The original vocal score of The Hymn of Jesus was on display for all to see.

 After some tea and biscuits, everyone resumed position for a short discussion on Holst and his contribution to the war, the most prominent being his role as Music Organiser with the YMCA, working with demobilised troops in Salonika and Constantinople. Here, he taught and encouraged people to play music, many for the first time. 

 Another great output during the war was his suite for large orchestra, The Planets. The well-known opening 5/4 rhythm of the first movement Mars, the Bringer of War was introduced to the group, who then went on to experiment with it; different rhythms, taking out/adding notes, different accents etc. But in the end, the group decided that the original 5/4 rhythm has the most power, creating a ‘menacing’ atmosphere, and suits the war era in which it was produced. The group also experimented with the interesting opening melody of Mars, swapping around notes and discussing the effects. The grand finale of the workshop was a performance of the Mars themes by all the participants – so everyone did contribute to the music, even the non-musicians!

This workshop represented a great tribute to Holst as he dedicated his life to teaching amateur musicians and encouraging everyone to get involved. We are pretty sure he would have loved to have been there!