Light and shadow at the Chinese Library

On Monday Charing Cross Library celebrated the opening of ‘A Narrative of Light and Shadow’ – a photographic exhibition running until 14 May 2014.

'A Narrative of Light and Shadow' exhibition at Charing Cross Library, April-May 2014

The exhibition consists of  30 photographic works of both landscape and portraiture selected to represent the artistry of Taiwan’s female photographers.
Displayed high on the first floor railings of Charing Cross Library, the works of Chang Hsiu-huang, Wang Hsiao-chin, Chien Fu-yu, and Chang Yung-Chieh offers visitors  narratives of Taiwanese culture that is both stunning and thought-provoking.

Cellist and pianist Shu-Wei Tseng at Charing Cross Library, April 2014Those attending the opening event enjoyed a live performance by cellist and pianist Shu-Wei Tseng.

Speeches were given by Representative Hsu Feng-Chuan of the Taipei Representative office in the UK and Chris Lloyd, the Community Development Manager for Westminster Libraries. 

Representative Hsu Feng-Chuan of the Taipei Representative office in the UK and Chichy Li, Chinese Library Team LeaderChris thanked both Chichy Li (Chinese Library Team Leader) and the Taipei Representative Office in the UK for organising this beautiful exhibition and expressed his hope that this celebration of Taiwanese art and culture will encourage more members of the Taiwanese community to visit Charing Cross Library.

'A Narrative of Light and Shadow' exhibition at Charing Cross Library, April-May 2014


Gardening + children = flowers, fun & fiery chillis

Doing the Garden by Sarah GarlandSpring has arrived, and with it Easter holidays and longer daylight hours. This will spur many people into gardening; whether they have a big space or simply a few window boxes or patio containers. Whatever your situation, we have plenty of books to help you if you’re planning to get your hands dirty this Bank Holiday weekend.

Gardening as a hobby is not confined to adults, so this post lists a number of titles relevant for the younger gardener. I have to admit my efforts to persuade my sons never amounted to much permanent interest with one fiery exception… Whilst the results were welcomed, we were overwhelmed one year with the results from our youngest son’s chilli plantation. We could have done with a guide such as this one: Best-ever chilli cookbook: hot and spicy dishes from around the world, by Elizabeth Young.

Eddie's garden and how to make things grow, by Sarah Garland Before marching your young child outside it might be worth introducing them to the idea of gardening through a story. Two of my favourite children’s picture books are by author and illustrator Sarah Garland:

Plant reproduction by Cath SenkerFor children interested in why and how plants grow, the following two books explain this with practical planting information around specific plants which will produce a spectacular result. (Judith Nicholls’ “small small seed” is a sunflower seed).

If you are not sure which plants are most suitable for children to grow and are spectacular enough to maintain their gardening interest, don’t panic. The Royal Horticultural Society has published a guide with you in mind: 

Grow Your Own - for kidsRHS grow your own for kids, by Chris Collins
The author  shows how to sow and grow up to 12 key vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, peas, sunflowers, potatoes, monster pumpkins, mustard & cress, runner beans, courgettes. It also includes child-friendly fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and grapes, together with other plants such as sunflowers, edible flowers and snapdragons.

A garden is not just a space for gardening and I imagine that few children would be happily occupied all summer solely with gardening tasks. A wide range of alternative outdoor (and indoor) activities are included in the following books: 

Also of interest for any child who has ‘caught’ the nature bug is The RSPB children’s guide to nature watching, by Mark Boyd, which includes a guide to many common species of British birds, animals and plants. Clear illustrations and key identification points, such as behaviour, voice and habitat help the child to identify the plant, animal or creepy crawly within your garden.

We wish you a very enjoyable Easter. Please note: the libraries will be closed for the weekend, reopening as usual on Tuesday 22 April, so make sure you get hold of all the books you need by the end of Thursday 17 April!


Vaughan Williams at war

BTL adult workshop on Vaughan Williams, Westminster Music Library March 2014It was our local residents’ turn to enjoy Westminster Music Library‘s 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.

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.

BTL adult workshop on Vaughan Williams, Westminster Music Library March 2014

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?

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.

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.
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 activity.

[Jane McConnell]

Behind the Lines: The music and composers of the First World War* Behind the Lines is a year-long programme of participatory events run by Westminster Music Library in partnership with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, to encourage local communities from across Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea to engage with the Library and its collections.
The programme uses the centenary of the First World War as inspiration for a series of interactive workshops and creative projects designed for adult, family and school participants.
There are plenty of music workshops to come for all ages and abilities, check out our website: to find out more.

Scrubs up nicely!

Charing Cross Library was closed for almost the whole of last month for a full redecoration, reopening last Monday 31 March.

Charing Cross Library after redecoration, April 2014

Our refurb has given us a fresh new look, with improved lighting and additional shelving, more laptop spaces (with more power points), an increase in seating, a much needed bigger space for the children’s library and display furniture for the front window.

We had a wonderful Under 5s session this week, showing off our new space with new carpets and some new toys – the reaction of the children and their parents & carers was very positive.

The lovely new children's area in Charing Cross Library, April 2014

Do come in and have a look around!


1914 And All That: Who remembers what and why?

History is about facts while remembrance is about selecting and arranging these facts. As commemorations of the centenary of the beginning of World War I proceed, one is struck by how many current issues can be traced to the outcome of the Great War.

The Serbs, by Tim JudahAs part of the Author Event Series at St John’s Wood Library, journalist and author of The Serbs Tim Judah, who covers the Balkans for The Economist, presented on Thursday 20 March a talk entitled ’1914 And All That: Who remembers what and why? Bosnia, Ukraine and Gallipoli’. With illustrations and photographs, both historical and recent, Mr Judah shared stories with us about places that opposing sides have tried to “own” to commemorate their own causes.

An example from Bosnia Herzegovina:
At the street corner in Sarajevo from which Gavrilo Princip (terrorist for some, freedom fighter for others) shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, in 1914, was Moritz Schiller’s delicatessen. Since it was time for lunch, he might have bought a sandwich before changing the history of the world. The shopfront had signs written in the Western alphabet but also in Arabic script and Hebrew letters reflecting the then multicultural population of Sarajevo.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess SophieIn 1917 a monument commemorating the assassinated archduke and his wife was erected across the street from Schiller’s. Then, in 1918, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the creation of Yugoslavia, it was demolished.

In 1930 however a plaque was put up commemorating Princip, but many, including Winston Churchill, denounced it for lauding what they considered a terrorist act. In 1941 the plaque was prised off by the invading Nazis and their local collaborators, just in time for it to be presented to Hitler for his 52nd birthday.

After the war the building which once housed Schiller’s became the Museum of Young Bosnia, the organisation that wanted to rid Bosnia of the Austro-Hungarians. Tito’s communist regime also decided that Princip was a good example, not only of a freedom fighter against an occupying imperial force but also a hero to the workers’ cause, so he was much championed . However, during and since the 1992-95 civil war in Bosnia, when Serbs, Muslims and Croats fought against each other, Princip has not been everyone’s hero. The museum was closed during the siege of Sarajevo but has now reopened as one dedicated to the Habsburg period in Bosnia.

This year the city will be commemorating the 100th anniversary of the assassination and the beginning of World War I, along with the 30th anniversary of the Winter Olympics which were held there in 1984. It is especially happy to host the Sarajevo Grand Prix, an international cycling race in cooperation with the Tour de France, whose 1914 race began on the same day as the Sarajevo events. See ‘Sarajevo 2014′.


A walk in the countryside – Vaughan Williams Family Workshops

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…

BTL Early Years workshop on Vaughan Williams, Westminster Music Library March 2014

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 Philharmonic 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:

Tthe 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.  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.

BTL Primary Years workshop on Vaughan Williams, Westminster Music Library March 2014

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.

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.

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 these 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.

[Jane McConnell]

May the Force be with you

Alec Guinness: the authorised biographyOn 2 April 1914, at 155 Lauderdale Mansions, an unmarried mother called Agnes Cuffe gave birth to a son, Alec, whose father she never named.

When the boy was 14, his mother casually informed him that his real name was Guinness – though all attempts to trace his father and discover whether he was part of the famous brewing family failed. And it was as Alec Guinness that he became one of the most distinguished and beloved of all British actors.

Stage struck as a teenager, Guinness got his first break in the acting world early after boldly phoning up John Gielgud, already one of the leading actors of his day, and asking his advice. After drama school and a few small stage roles, in 1934 he appeared in Gielgud’s Hamlet at the New Theatre (now the Noel Coward) as Osric. His name is listed at the bottom of the cast in the Times of 15 November 1934, below Jack Hawkins (Horatio), Jessica Tandy (Ophelia) and Sam Beazley (Second Player). The redoubtable Mr Beazley is still alive, a talented artist, and was acting on the West End stage as recently as 2005.

Guinness’s other early plays included Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Old Vic,  in 1936, with Michael Redgrave and his wife Rachel Kempson plus Alec Clunes   (father of Martin) and Margaretta Scott, who older readers may remember as Mrs Pumphrey, owner of a memorable Pekinese in All Creatures Great and Small).

Kind Hearts and CoronetsYou can find about about Guinness’ stage career by looking through our newspaper archive (log in using your Westminster library card number). However there is no need to rely on reviews to find out about his distinguished film career which ranged from adaptations of Dickens to science fiction via dark war films and joyous comedies. Why not track some of them down – Kind Hearts and Coronets (in which Guinness famously played eight roles) and Great Expectations are particular favourites at Treasure Hunt Towers.

Of course, his most famous role for a younger generation (and one which he was slightly ungracious about, though it made his fortune) was that of the Jedi knight Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars trilogy. You’ve probably seen those already, so instead of watching them again, why not listen to Sir Alec narrating Prokofiev’s famous musical story Peter and the Wolf instead? You can find the recording as part of the Naxos Music Library (again, log in with your library card).

Blessings in disguise by Alec GuinnessTowards the end of his life Guinness published a charmingly indiscreet memoir (Blessings in Disguise) and two volumes of pleasingly curmudgeonly diaries. For a more in-depth look at his stage, screen and writing career, check out the Guardian archive: go to Advanced search and look at the Arts, Film and Music database where you can read over 300 articles in academic journals about him. Or search Youtube to see him collecting an Oscar, being interviewed by Michael Parkinson and appearing in some of his most famous films.