Category Archives: Victoria Library

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


A-Maze-ing! Summer Reading Challenge, Week 2

A giant unicorn head at Queens’ Park library, made by Jono and Lucy. Just because.This week in the Mythical Maze, we’ve been involved in everything from sports sessions to cartoon workshops to magic events! And of course we’ve been busy giving out rewards to the children taking part in the Mythical Maze Summer Reading Challenge. Have you joined up yet? No? Why not?!

We have had 1300 children join the Challenge so far across Westminster libraries, with more than 70 completing the Challenge already by reading 6 books.

Lots of children and families have also been coming to our events – here is a selection of pictures of what’s been going on this week…

Nora from Stretch and Grow at Charing Cross Library, for the Summer Reading Challenge 2014 Laura the community sports coach led games at Queen’s Park Library for the Summer Reading Challenge 2014 Boo Hiccup at Victoria Library for the Summer Reading Challenge 2014   James Parsons - comic workshop at Paddington Children’s Library for the Summer Reading Challenge 2014   Comic workshop at Paddington Children’s Library for the Summer Reading Challenge 2014

Clockwise from top left:
Laura the community sports coach who led games at Queen’s Park Library;
Nora from Stretch and Grow at Charing Cross Library;
Boo Hiccup at Victoria library;
James Parsons’ comic workshop at Paddington Children’s Library;
Mythical Maze produced at the Comic Workshop.

So what are you waiting for – get down to your local library and join in!


We’re all going on a Summer Reading Challenge!

Westminster Music Library hates to miss out on the annual Summer Reading Challenge, so a sunny morning with the under 5s was a good opportunity for us to join in the fun.

Summer Reading Challenge event at Westminster Music Library, July 2014

This year’s Mythical Maze theme challenges children to make their way around a labyrinth full of fantastical creatures from the world of legend and mythology. Our young participants and their intrigued “minders” made their way to the labyrinth that is Westminster Music Library, into a world full of fantastical creatures also known as “the Music Library staff”. Hopefully this will put paid to the rumours that we are the things of myth and legend (although it’s fair to say that our House Pianist has recently become a bit of legend himself, check out his recent musical escapades in Woolwich with the BBC…)

But even legends have to earn their keep, and entertaining a lively bunch of excited children counts as “all in a days’ work” to the staff in Westminster Music Library. Anyone wishing to join our ranks please take note.

Dragon - copyright Sarah McIntyre for The Reading Agency

Back to our challenge. Once everyone was settled, it was time to give out some song sheets and get the party started. We had songs about going on summer holidays (written by Cliff Richard), songs about being beside the seaside (written by John A Glover-Kind), poems about frogs and sailors (product of the overactive imaginations of Music Library staff), all accompanied by our very own junior orchestra on a selection of percussion instruments, and sourced from the seemingly inexhaustible Children’s Library Cupboard.

The challenge was to get our participants to come up with as many strange or mythical creatures as they thought might be living in the sea: scary giant squid with their long tentacles, or those weird looking things that lurk about in the murky depths with torches on their heads. Once everyone had invented their mythical marine creature, we had a suitably apt poem about learning to swim:

Mermaid - copyright Sarah McIntyre for The Reading Agency


Last summer I could not swim at all
I couldn’t even float,
I had to use a rubber ring
Or hang on to a boat;

I had to sit beside the sea
When everybody swam;
But now this summer’s come at last
I’ve learnt and now I can!


A head count of the swimmers and non-swimmers amongst us was about fifty-fifty; let’s hope our mythical sea creatures haven’t put the non-swimmers off…

Happy Summer Reading Challenge!

Mythical Maze - the Summer Reading Challenge 2014