Category Archives: Victoria Library

The Last Post: A tribute to the First World War generation

The Last Post projectIn this anniversary year of the outbreak of the Great War, communities across the UK have been commemorating the lives of those who lived through and died in the conflict.

For our part at Westminster Music Library, we in the past year have been exploring the music from the wartime period in our project Behind the Lines; and our participation in Superact’s Last Post Project was an apt culmination.

Fittingly stationed between Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance Day was our poignant “The Last Post” evening. It was our great pleasure to be involved in this project, the initiative of arts organisation Superact (with support from the Department for Communities and Local Government, and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund). Ours was just one of over 230 such events taking place up and down the country between 4 and 18 November, all featuring an all-important rendition of that well-established remembrance tradition: the Last Post. More information can be found at

The Last Post began life humbly, as a bugle call to mark the end of the day in military camps in an era before soldiers had watches. Over the course of the nineteenth century it started to take on a memorial role, being played at the funerals of those killed in battle. During the First World War, as the numbers of those dying grew rapidly, this haunting tune was played with increasing regularity, and now has a central role in the remembrance of the war dead.

Interest in our Last Post event was huge and we were soon so fully booked it was standing room only! The audience of local residents was augmented with the forces of South Westminster and Church Street Community Choirs whom we were delighted to welcome to add extra depth and harmony to the singing. The singing was brilliantly led by Ruth with fine accompaniment from Anthony on the piano.

Last Post Event at Westminster Music Library - November 2014

The evening began with a sing-along featuring all the old favourite First World War songs. Audience, staff and the choirs were in good voice as we launched into It’s a long way to Tipperary and Pack up your troubles – classic uplifting songs from early in the war, reflecting the nation’s optimism and hope in a swift resolution. It soon transpired, though, that the war would last longer than any had dared to conceive. The country’s musical output became more reflective, giving voice to a greater determination and perseverance. Our programme represented this trend with inclusion of the beautiful and wonderfully nostalgic If you were the only girl in the world, Keep the home fires burning and Roses of Picardy.

We then belted out Oh! It’s a lovely war from the satirical music hall show which, when written, tapped into the increasing cynicism as the war dragged on. When the Americans entered the war they brought their popular songs over with them and we joined in rousing versions of Over there and There’s a long, long trail.

Last Post Event at Westminster Music Library - November 2014To give our singing voices some rest, our songs were interspersed with readings from Ruth. We heard poems and letters home – some humorous, some sad, but all poignant, reflecting the varying experiences of those who lived both through the trenches and on the home front.

Our final song was, perhaps inevitably, the ever popular Good-bye-ee, but the evening’s climax was still to come. As the applause died down, hidden from sight behind the bookshelves, came the words of Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’, movingly recited by Andrew. You could hear a pin drop. After a moment’s pause we heard the opening notes of the Last Post. The audience spontaneously stood in respect as this ever-moving bugle call, brilliantly played by Jon, broke through the still silence. As the music came to an end, we paused for two minutes’ reflection.

And so our tribute to the First World War generation came to a close. The contrast between the lively sing along and the intensity of the Last Post at the end was stark and heartrending.

Here are some comments from members of the audience:

“A lovely evening with readings and songs and a very moving Last Post”

“Wonderful to have a singing event! Very nostalgic and very moving”

“Wonderful – released all sorts of emotions- excellent readings by Ruth. Whole concert was well thought out and performed”

Finally, we would like to extend our gratitude to South Westminster and Church Street Community Choirs for their support.

Here are Andrew and Jon performing The Last Post:

The Last Post Project: sponsors and supporting organisations

[Andrew and Jon]

A swell party

A Celebration of Cole Porter at Westminster Music Library, October 2014“A packed house of satisfied customers,” - so said Irving Berlin upon attending a performance of Cole Porter’s ‘Can-Can’ in 1953; and, indeed, matching feedback from attendees of Westminster Music Library’s Celebration of Cole Porter proved that Porter’s music continues to stir up the same enthusiasm today.

“Most enjoyable – loved by the audience,” wrote one guest, while another commented, “These events give us a kick!” – a reference to Porter’s timeless song  I Get a Kick out of You.

Our Celebration of Cole Porter marked the 50th anniversary of the prolific songwriter’s death, and the evening’s programme spanned nearly 30 years of tireless composition, featuring songs from Paris (1928) through to High Society (1956). In classic Westminster Music Library form, audience participation was encouraged and our guests became fellow performers as we piped our way through classic numbers such as Anything Goes and I’ve Got You Under My Skin, led by Anthony on piano and ‘Principal Chorister’, Ruth! We also heard a selection of anecdotes, extracts from letters and biographical details about Porter’s fascinating life, in addition to a number of solo performances from Anthony on piano, demonstrating the wide variety of interpretations that Porter’s songs have been treated to over the years.

A Celebration of Cole Porter at Westminster Music Library, October 2014


Our guests’ confident singing and familiarity with all the evening’s numbers, some 50 years on, is sufficient to prove that Porter had a gift for penning enduring songs. His training in violin and piano at a young age surely contributed to a great understanding of music, and reports of his infamous rigorous self-discipline demonstrate that his lasting success was indeed earned through unflagging work. His lyrical output, too, exhibits a certain knack for communicating with the listener. As we heard during our event:

“His lyrics were literate, sophisticated, yet could be charming, suggestive, even naughty.”

Perhaps this natural ability to resonate in relevance to the audience is a key factor in determining the secret of Porter’s success. Indeed, our closing song, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, speaks just as loudly in 21st century London as it did in 1950s America:

“Who wants to be a millionaire? (I don’t!)
And go to every swell affair? (I don’t!)

Who wants an opera box, I’ll bet? (I don’t!)
And sleep through Wagner at the Met? (I don’t!)
I don’t, and I don’t, ‘cause all I want is you!”


Miraculous Mandolins

“Our mandolin ensemble would like to perform at Westminster Music Library”

“Fantastic! Err… how many of you will there be?”

“Oh just sixteen or so…”

Well I like a challenge and we’d never hosted a mandolin ensemble before – how could I refuse? So it was that sixteen enthusiastic musicians – not just mandolins but also double bass, guitars, mandolas (aka the mandolin’s big brother), and not forgetting talented Musical Director James Young – arrived here last Thursday evening, all tuned up and raring to go.

Sure enough, fitting all our musicians and audience into one small space was a challenge, but everyone was soon settled without too much loss of elbow room.

The London Mandolin Ensemble at Westminster Music Library, October 2014

The London Mandolin Ensemble (indeed the only mandolin ensemble in London) was formed in 2012 (they have revived in name the original London Mandolin Ensemble, which first met in London in the early 1970s) by a group of enthusiastic amateur musicians who discovered a shared passion for making music on this diminutive plucked string instrument. Their goal is to maintain the tradition of an ongoing mandolin ensemble in London, and to encourage an interest in mandolin orchestras (which were hugely popular in the UK up until the 1930s), through performance, workshops and master classes.

The concert began with an arrangement of Valentine Roeser’s Sonata no. 6. Originally written for two mandolins and guitar with an added bass continuo part, Roeser is known to have worked in Paris from about 1762 – 1782. There’s a hint of Vivaldi about his style and form but with a little more kick.

This was followed by an anonymously written Partita Antiqua, new to us but famous amongst mandolin aficionados.

The first half of the concert ended with a Mandolin Concerto by Johann Adolf Hasse. Though Hasse was a prolific 18th-century composer whose works included more than 100 operas, oratorios, and sinfonias, most were destroyed in the Siege of Dresden. This surviving concerto for mandolin is an outstanding representation of his skill, brilliantly performed by The Ensemble and featuring guest soloist Travis Finch.

Suitably refreshed, we returned to two arrangements of keyboard sonatas by baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti. Something of a prolific chap, he wrote more than 600 keyboard sonatas including many not yet listed, newly discovered ones and doubtful ones, they certainly lend themselves brilliantly to the mandolin.

A leap forward in time to the twentieth century with Rêverie de Poète by  the Italian composer Giuseppe Manente, and finally, the pièce de résistance, the first movement of Palladio by Karl Jenkins. This arrangement of one of Jenkins’s most recognized works was inspired by 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio and is in the style of a concerto grosso. It certainly sounded very familiar, Musical Director James commented: “just think about buying diamonds”*

The London Mandolin Ensemble gave a captivating and very warmly received performance which ended far too soon, but the good news is they’ll be back here next February; I’m booking myself a front row seat right now.

The London Mandolin Ensemble at Westminster Music Library, October 2014


*Palladio, in varying arrangements, has served as the music for diamond merchants DeBeers TV advertising campaigns since the 1960s. Have a listen to this performance by the Het Consort:

Keeping the home fires burning

Silver Sunday

Westminster Music Library was alive with the sound of song last Saturday, as a number of the Borough’s older residents braved wind and rain to join Ruth, Anthony and myself in a lively sing-along recollecting the centenary of the First World War. These melodious local residents raised their voices to prove that the “home fires” are indeed still burning as part of the City of Westminster’s Silver Sunday initiative and our very own Behind the Lines project.

“I sang these songs as a boy,” one participant commented, as we piped our way through popular favourites such as It’s a Long Way to Tipperary and Over There. Singing was gallantly led by Ruth, whose dulcet tones were masterfully accompanied by Anthony on piano; this is one library where staff don’t always insist on silence!

Attendees also listened to readings of poetry, letters and anecdotal writings from the Great War. Humourous poems evoked a feeling of light-hearted camaraderie; sentiments so warmly expressed in the timeless Oh! It’s a Lovely War:

“What do we want with eggs and ham
When we’ve got plum and apple jam?”

In contrast, letters sent to loved ones from front-line soldiers reminded us of the genuine hardships felt by men in overseas service, highlighting the real importance of motivational songs; a reminder to “Pack up your troublesand smile” would have struck a chord not just for those in Britain but for those serving away from home.

Several songs not strictly related to the War managed to slip their way into our programme, including the popular If You Were the Only Girl in the World and There’s a Long, Long Trail. “‘There’s a long, long trail’ was immediately popular,” our programme notes explained, “It did not become one of the anthems of the War until the British troops embraced it as they left British ports.” If the mental image of a shipful of soldiers waving goodbye to loved ones as they sail away from England brings a tear to your eye, the song ends on a hopeful note:

“Until my dreams all come true;
Till the day when I’ll be going down
That long, long trail with you.”

Silver Sunday 2014 at Westminster Music LibraryAfter an hour of singing and being entertained, warm refreshments provided a friendly opportunity for us to talk to some of our guests. “Excellent,” one participant commented, “- so well prepared and presented.”

For our part, we were delighted to participate in Silver Sunday (despite it being a Saturday!) and spend our Saturday morning doing something a little different. In the words of our closing song…

“Bonsoir, old thing!
Cheerio! Chin chin!
Nah poo! Toodleoo! Good-bye-ee!”


We love to boogie

All aboard!
Westminster Music Library played host to The Strings Club as they “took to the road”, giving local children across Westminster a free taste of their award-winning music workshops. The fun packed instrumental workshop we were about to enjoy proved to be the perfect way for our young musicians to while away a rainy afternoon in London, and also gave their hard pressed parents a bit of a break from puzzling over just what to do next as the school holidays drew to a close.

The Strings Club at Westminster Music Library, August 2014

So what is it all about? Since 2012, The Strings Club have been running holiday camps and term-time classes to inspire children as young as four to develop their music skills, make new friends, and most importantly to have fun while they’re doing it.  Our session, led by workshop leaders Daniel and Georgina, kicked off with some warm up musical activities and games, then each participant was invited try their hand at playing the guitar or the violin.

The Strings Club at Westminster Music Library, August 2014

After a brief discussion and try-out session, everyone chose which instrument they’d prefer and disappeared off to various library nooks and crannies to rehearse. Some of our young musicians had something of a head start, as we already had some potential Paganinis and Segovias in our midst, so not allowed to get off lightly, they were encouraged to entertain us with some splendid solos.

The Strings Club at Westminster Music Library, August 2014

But this was only the warm-up act, the ensemble performance of a five bar blues from our budding entertainers was excellent considering they’d only had a couple of hours practice, and a masterful rendition of boogie-woogie by tutors Daniel and Georgina really showed what can be achieved with a little application.

Let’s hope The Strings Club passes through here again soon as they seemed to go down rather well…

“Well organised and fast paced enough for small kids.”
“It was a fantastic opportunity for my son, very inspirational, thank you.”
“We really enjoyed ourselves, loved all the instruments.”
“Absolutely brilliant, would like to see more of these organised, we’ll definitely come back.”
“This was a fantastic family event – educational, fun, informative and very, very enjoyable.”


A victorious evening

Another sultry night in Westminster Music Library and this time we were playing host to the Victory Wind Quintet, a group of professional musicians who have been working together for over ten years, primarily within the Guards Bands. The players have busy careers combining solo work, chamber music and freelancing. Lucky for us they had time to pay us a visit, and even luckier that what they had in mind for repertoire chimed beautifully with our First World War music and composers project – Behind the Lines – although this concert was set to embrace music from both World Wars (I can feel another project coming on…).

Victory Wind Quintet at Westminster Music Library, August 2014

Tuning up complete, our audience settled and suitably refreshed with a cooling drink, The “Victory” marched off with renditions of some First World War music, some of which was already familiar to us in Westminster Music Library, including George Butterworth’s The banks of green willow. Described by its composer as an “Idyll”, and written in 1913, he based The Banks of Green Willow on two folk song melodies. Butterworth was a lieutenant in the Durham Light infantry and was killed on 5 August 1916, during the Battle of the Somme.

Our First World War selection ended with a wonderful arrangement of It’s a long way to Tipperary by John Whitfield, but then it was fast forward to World War Two and an arrangement of the famous song A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square. Written in 1939 by Manning Sherwin in the then small French fishing village of Le lavandou shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, it became one of the best selling and most popular songs of the era.

No recital of war-inspired music would be complete without some marching songs and we were treated to a rousing medley, but not wishing to monopolise the show with the army (our musicians variously play with The Coldstream Guards Band, the Band of the Irish Guards, the Band of the Welsh and Scots Guards), we turned our attention to the air with Aces High, a march  written by Ron Goodwin for the 1969 film “The Battle of Britain”, and a grand finale comprising a selection of sea songs. According to Nick (our horn player) the Navy hasn’t written much in the way of songs since the eighteenth century, but that hasn’t stopped them re-working some old favourites with often slightly more risqué lyrics… however our quintet had plenty of mariner-themed tunes up their talented sleeves and with a sailor’s hornpipe taken at a dazzling tempo, all too soon it was time for anchors away as The “Victory” set sail.

Victory Wind Quintet at Westminster Music Library, August 2014

All five musicians gave a faultless and captivating performance, and I hope they’ll hold good to their promise and march our way again soon.


Summer Reading Challenge – Week 3: the volunteers!

The Summer Reading Challenge is carrying on all summer in our libraries, so if you haven’t already taken part, there is still time to enter The Mythical Maze!

Eve - Summer Reading Challenge volunteer at Victoria Library 2014This week we are highlighting the work of our fabulous summer volunteers who help us deliver the Challenge in our libraries.

Working with the Reading Agency on their Reading Activists project, we have been focusing on recruiting young people in particular, alongside volunteers from the rest of the community. Reading Activists gives young people new skills and opportunities. We have some great volunteers giving their time to talk to children about their books and helping with events.

Here are just a few of them!

George and Danilo - Summer Reading Challenge volunteers at Paddington Children’s Library 2014