Jiving with Ravel

As part of Westminster Music Library’s Behind the Lines* programme, we are delivering no fewer than six creative projects in schools all over Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

BTL Ravel workshop with Pimlico Academy students, April 2014

The third of these projects was with a group of pupils aged 12-15 from Pimlico Academy. Workshop Leader Tasha and five musicians from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) explored the works of the composer Maurice Ravel and the way the devastating effects of World War One influenced his music.

The introductory session, held at Westminster Music Library, kicked off with a look at Ravel’s use of rhythm compared to Couperin – Baroque composer and Ravel’s inspiration for his suite Le tombeau de Couperin. Based on a traditional Baroque dance suite, it was composed between 1914 and 1917 and is in six movements, each movement being dedicated to the memory of a friend of Ravel (or in one case, two brothers) who had died fighting in World War I.

BTL Ravel workshop with Pimlico Academy students, April 2014

It’s a dance suite, but could you dance to it? And which was better? Couperin’s suite or Ravel’s? Only one way to find out: musicians take up your instruments, everybody up and dance!

BTL Ravel workshop with Pimlico Academy students, April 2014Once everyone had got their breath back, the pupils had the opportunity to discover the vast selection of books and music scores on our shelves, pick a score each and challenge our unsuspecting RPO musicians to sight read their chosen score to play on the spot.

And to prove just how versatile (and game) these professional musicians are, they were not even phased when the score of Abba’s Money, Money, Money was chosen, with both participants and staff singing along to an accompaniment of trombone, recorder, two violins and bassoon. Works by Brian Ferneyhough and some Gregorian chant (with only 4 bar lines) didn’t even have them running for the exit.

After World War 1, Ravel’s compositions became increasingly eclectic, drawing on a broad range of influences not only from 18th-century music but ragtime and American music hall. I think he would have approved of our workshop.


*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 still more music workshops to come for all ages and abilities, check out our website: http://www.musicbehindthelines.org/ to find out more.



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