Posts Tagged ‘Gustav Holst’

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!

On Saturday we went on an amazing journey to outer space!  The first Behind The Lines workshop of 2014 was the most jam-packed in the series so far as Westminster Music Library transformed into a spaceship which travelled to Mars and Jupiter! 

 As you could probably guess, the musical theme for these workshops was The Planets; a famous suite of orchestral music in seven movements composed by Gustav Holst during the First World War.  Despite his German-sounding name, this composer was in fact English and composed other famous music such as I Vow To Thee My Country and In The Bleak Midwinter.

 With The Planets in mind, the early years workshop was very exciting as the group created a robot who would go travelling into space.  With his square head, triangular body, tentacles and squiggly legs, he was guided into space after a huge countdown and blast-off, all animated with loud, exciting music.  His piercing red eyes were represented by a trumpet and there was a violin and bassoon to play the role of other body parts.  As the robot travelled into space and started his landing, we could hear the famous theme from the first movement Mars.  A loud trumpet siren commanded everyone to go out on a space walk, floating over the surface of mars and then after an exhausting journey it was time for everyone to fall asleep. The workshop was lively and action packed so everyone deserved a snooze by the end of the space expedition!

 The second workshop of the day was also based on Holst’s Planets, after an energetic warm up.  This group of older children had a more informative lesson, learning about Holst, his life, and his music.  They were then introduced to the project theme and learned the rhythm of the catchy Mars motif by tapping and clapping it out.  There was lots of musical talent in this group; from violinists and cellists, to guitarists and trumpeters.  So with these instruments the group split off into 3 – strings, brass, and percussion.  The focus then turned to another movement of the suite; Jupiter.  This movement has quite a few recognisable themes but the group focused on just one.  After splitting into teams again to play the melody, a counter-melody, and a rhythm section working on different parts, the final performance was a fantastic showcase of all the music everyone had come up with. Holst - Primary Years Performance


Well done to everyone who was involved in these workshops – they were a great success and lots of fun!  We are thoroughly looking forward to the next workshops in the series for children at the end of March which will take a look at the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams; another hugely successful English composer from the first half of the 20th century.

Last week, Westminster Music Library held the second adult music workshop in our Behind the Lines series.  The focus of this three hour session was the composer Maurice Ravel and his musical output during and after WW1. Ravel - Adult Workshop 1

Ravel, and as a consequence his music, were deeply affected by three things during The Great War; his rejection from the army due to his diminutive stature, the death of his Mother, and his own failing health.  One of his 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 World War I.

During the workshop, this music was the centre-piece of the composition and performance by the participants and musicians.  Divided into two; the first group was  percussion-based with a variety of African drums, while the second was melodic with xylophone, marimba, and stringed instruments.  Taking as their inspiration Ravel’s Forlane – a transcription of an Italian folkdance from Le Tombeau de Couperin – the group joined together for a very exciting finale.  There was a lot to remember between entries, notes, and rhythms, but everyone played brilliantly and created a wonderful piece of music. Ravel - Adult Workshop 2

As well as Le Tombeau de Couperin, other Ravel works such as La Valse, Daphnis et Chloé, and Frontispice formed part of the group discussion on Ravel and his music.  The group had a chance to listen to a recording and study the score of Frontispice; written for two pianos five hands and at only a minute and a half long, everyone agreed that it is a great insight into Ravel’s thoughts and emotions during that time. Although short, it is clear that this great composer was struggling to come to terms with rejection, loss, and failure, and feelings of bleakness, anger, and confusion brought about by the horrors of the War. All our participants agreed that this workshop had been a great success, with lots of enthusiasm, inspiration and stimulating conversation. 

This session marks the end of our focus on Ravel for Behind the Lines, next year we turn our attention to the music of two giants of English music – Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams.