Westminster Music Library played host to the introduction of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams to year 6 pupils of St. Barnabas CofE school, particularly fitting as the library was opened by the man himself back in 1948.
Workshop leader Detta was accompanied by no fewer than five RPO musicians: two violinists, one flautist, one bassoonist and one cellist – enough to almost fully demonstrate the music.
The children were all introduced to the variety of orchestral instruments before listening to them play as an ensemble as they demonstrated a section of Vaughan Williams’ ‘A London Symphony’, which reflects an older London filled with smog and mist.
However, before being told the theme and title of the work, the pupils of St. Barnabas School put their imaginations in gear and considered what the music may represent – the group decided it sounded quite sad, quiet, and melancholic. Some individuals offered their opinions, and thought the music sounded like someone dying, someone in danger, or someone upset.
Next came the Pastoral Symphony which sounded completely different with its portrayal of country folk life and music to suggest dancing, feasts and celebration. There are questions whether this work is based on an actual folk song or not, but it would not be implausible to suggest so, as Vaughan Williams was a keen collector of folk music.
The workshop group decided to experiment and play around with this music, performing it both faster and slower than originally intended by the composer. The effect of slowness changed the dance-like character of the music to boring and “too calm”, as suggested by one pupil. Playing it much faster was a clear favourite among the pupils as it was much more exciting, lively and happy. The dance-like feel of the music was made using a lot of dotted rhythms. The group put their own touch to the music by adding some more interesting rhythms using percussive body sounds. This group was very imaginative and created quite a tricky but effective rhythm! The group will take this rhythm back to school and work on it further to create their own piece of music in the remaining sessions they have with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Finally, the children made use of the Music Library and put the RPO musicians’ sight reading skills to the test as they all chose a score from the shelves at random. Unfortunately for the musicians, a few individuals picked some tricky pieces, including one of the hardest pieces in the whole library – Berio’s Sequenza for Viola. One of the violinists made a good attempt at it, before the whole ensemble was asked to play a snippet from Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini. Changing genre to finish with, the group played some Bob Dylan – much to the delight of our cellist, Roberto!
*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 outr workshops have come to a close, you can still enroll for the 4 day summer school in August which is suitable all ages and abilities. Visit the website for details: http://musicbehindthelines.org/workshops/summer-school/ to find out more.