Last but not least: Butterworth and Bliss

BTL Primary workshop on Butterworth and Bliss, Westminster Music Library June 2014Sadly, Saturday marked the final family workshops in the Behind the Lines* series – for now – but we definitely finished on a high. The two workshops were based on the music of Arthur Bliss and George Butterworth, both composers who served in WW1. Tragically, Butterworth was killed whilst on active duty in the War in 1916, and Bliss was injured and emotionally scarred for life.

The day’s professional musicians from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) were Phil on trombone, Simon on trumpet (who introduced himself by playing the popular Iggle Piggle theme, particularly entertaining for the youngest participants!) and Michael on violin, all led by workshop leader Natasha who plays cello.

After everyone had taken part in a vigorous shaking, tapping and clapping warm up in preparation for fun music-making , the RPO musicians introduced the music, starting with a fragment of ‘Spring’ from ‘The Ballad of the Four Seasons’ by Arthur Bliss.

Taking each musician’s part of the music on its own, the children decided which animals they most sounded like. They decided that the violin part sounded like a little mouse, the trumpet sounded like a slithering snake, and the trombone sounded like a prowling lion, creating quite a zoo in Westminster Music Library! But these three animals weren’t the best of friends and needed more of their own kind to be happy and to hang out with. So the children decided if they wanted to be a mouse, a snake or a lion, and created their own music to accompany Bliss’ on a variety of exciting instruments that the RPO had brought with them; from tambourines to wood blocks, and whistles to a vibraphone. With such a variety of instruments, the children could make all kinds of sounds.

BTL Early Years workshop on Butterworth and Bliss, Westminster Music Library June 2014The big performance told the story of a lion on the prowl, hunting for food, but he ran away when he saw a little mouse scurrying along the ground. The little mouse sniffed around for a while but then saw a slithering snake and ran away too!

Westminster Music Library then went from being a zoo to being a scene of war as the RPO musicians played some music by George Butterworth whilst the children marched around the Library in time with the music, like military men. During their journey around the Library everyone picked out one book or score from the shelves. Putting the musicians on the spot, a select few were lucky enough to have theirs played. This workshop was one out of two today, and finished with Butterworth’s ‘On the Idle Hill of Summer’.

 BTL Primary workshop on Butterworth and Bliss, Westminster Music Library June 2014

The second workshop, for children in primary school, featured the same composers and music. After introductions by the RPO, all the children and adults participating in the workshop introduced themselves as well as telling everyone their favourite music and if they played any instruments or not. The discovery was soon made that among the adults there were many failed violinists but among the children there was an abundance of talent; from violinists, to cellists (much to Natasha’s delight!), to recorder players, to harmonica players! But for those who didn’t play anything in particular or didn’t have their instrument with them today, there was a grand choice of percussive instruments to play in the session.

The RPO musicians introduced Bliss’ Four Seasons piece again, but instead of associating the sounds with animals, this group closed their eyes and listened carefully, and shared what colour they thought the music sounded like. Everyone agreed on spring colours such as yellow, pink and green. Then it was the musicians’ turns to use their imaginations as they had to create music based on a word given by some volunteers; words including ‘snowman’, ‘tomato’ and ‘scarecrow’!

After this, the group split into the four seasons of the year and chose musical instruments which would best portray that season. Spring with Michael had a selection of stringed instruments and chimes, summer with Simon included guitars and glockenspiels, autumn was represented by drums and the vibraphone, and winter with Phil had drums and rattles. The groups put their thinking caps on and created exciting music with their instruments and themes, and in their grand finale performance, we were taken through the 365 days of the year in 5 minutes! Finishing with the summer season, the group came up with a very catchy summer melody and encouraged everyone to join in. I think it is safe to say everyone went home with the tune in their heads!

The workshop was a great representation of the talents, imaginations and creativities of the children. This was the last in the current series of our Behind the Lines family workshops at Westminster Music Library, but we hope to create more opportunities like this one in the near future, so watch this space!

[Jane McConnell]


*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.

Although our public workshops have come to an end, there is still our exciting Behind the Lines Summer School to look forward to opening on 4 August. Check out our website: http://www.musicbehindthelines.org/ to find out more and register your interest.

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