Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf?

Performing a celebration of Peter and the Wolf for BBC Music Day 2016 at Westminster Music LibraryCertainly not the musicians, children and adults who visited Westminster Music Library to help us celebrate BBC Music Day 2016!
This was to be a double celebration as 2016 marks the 125th birthday of Sergei Prokofiev. Regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century, we decided it would be a fitting tribute to honour him with a special music workshop.

So it was that some excellent musicians from The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra together with a bunch of our local residents and school children were all invited to perform music based on his much loved composition, Peter and the Wolf. With a grand finale concert for family and friends to finish off the day, this was set to be a fun and exciting challenge for all.

BBC Music Day 2016 logoBut before the musicians tune up and the music gets going, what is BBC Music Day? It’s a nationwide celebration of everything we love about music, aiming to bring people together from all backgrounds, all ages and across musical genres.

We reckon we have a bit of experience with this in Westminster Music Library, and it’s also something we feel rather passionate about. Let the show begin!

In 1936, Prokofiev was commissioned to write a new musical symphony for children. The intent was to cultivate “musical tastes in children from the first years of school”. Intrigued by the invitation, Prokofiev completed Peter and the Wolf in just four days. The debut in May 1936 was, in the composer’s words, inauspicious at best: “… [attendance] was poor and failed to attract much attention”. Since that rocky start, it has been performed the world over, recorded countless times, made into a classic Disney film and even been narrated by the late David Bowie.

It’s a great way to discover orchestral music as each character in the story has a musical theme played by a different instrument. There’s quite a menagerie of characters; a bird played by a flute, a duck played by an oboe, a cat on a clarinet, grandfather on bassoon, wolf on French horn, hunters on timpani drums, and lastly, Peter’s theme played by the strings in the orchestra.

Performing a celebration of Peter and the Wolf for BBC Music Day 2016 at Westminster Music LibraryNot having the space for a full orchestra some improvisation was needed, but with the addition of our talented participants there was plenty of scope to create a fantastic re-working of the piece. Everyone had a part to play from cellists to percussionists, and we were very lucky to have among our local residents someone with thespian experience willing to be narrator.

Once both adults and children had rehearsed both separately and together, we were ready for a final run through and show time. Our final working held one or two surprises, not least a very loud and completely wild belter of a chord to symbolise the wolf’s demise. This – we learnt from Jon our brilliant RPO leader – is known as a crisis chord, luckily it didn’t send our audience into a state of shock, although I’m only gradually getting my hearing back…

[Ruth]

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