Category Archives: Victoria Library

The BFM: Big Friendly… Music

'Music for Giants' at Westminster Music Library, August 2016It’s the Summer Reading Challenge again, and Westminster Music Library always joins in! But what could we do to inspire our Summer Reading Challenge participants that would embrace this year’s theme – The Big Friendly Read?

We love reading, we love music, and we like to celebrate all things musical in a big and friendly way, so how about some giant-sized compositional creativity?

But first, like famous composers the world over, we needed some inspiration ourselves. There can be none better than watching some clips from that great British musical institution – The BBC Promenade concerts – better known as The Proms. Taking place every summer in The Royal Albert Hall, what proved especially appealing to our would-be Mozarts was all the fun and frivolity that happens on The Last Night:

Suitably inspired by The Sailor’s Hornpipe and Rule Britannia, our budding composers set their creative juices to work. Lots of giant-sized notes to choose from, giant-sized staves to stick them on to, and a little help from our Big Friendly Music Library Team and the Big Friendly Children’s Librarian. We definitely had some musical prodigies in the making, before long some interesting and unusual melodies had started to appear; all manner of original harmonies which would doubtless impress some of our greatest composers.

'Music for Giants' at Westminster Music Library, August 2016

'Music for Giants' at Westminster Music Library, August 2016

But no composer can be satisfied until they’ve heard their “magnum opus” performed, these Big Friendly tunes need to be played!

'Music for Giants' at Westminster Music Library, August 2016 'Music for Giants' at Westminster Music Library, August 2016

Luckily Westminster Music Library boasts a splendid piano, and even luckier, our Music Library Team has a pianist – who (fortunately) can sight read. Giant scores at the ready for our grand finale concert, this years’ Summer Reading Challenge as presented by the next generation of Big Friendly composers!


Big Friendly Read - the Summer Reading Challenge 2016


[Ruth]

Humming in Harmony

“The power of music to integrate and cure… is quite fundamental. It is the profoundest nonchemical medication.”
– Oliver Sacks

Humming in Harmony for Mental Health Awareness Week 2016

Westminster Music Library’s five month programme of mindfulness workshops – Humming in Harmony – clearly demonstrates how true this statement is. These simple workshops, designed to improve mental health and beat isolation, connecting and bringing people together through music, have received lots of very positive feedback.

Humming in Harmony / Mind the Body workshop at Westminster Music Library for Mental Health Awareness Week, May 2016

Created by Sergio Lopez Figueroa, a qualified piano teacher and composer, Humming in Harmony uses the human voice and the power of vocal harmonies in new ways to relax the mind, whilst providing an opportunity to get away from our hectic digital lives.

Humming in Harmony / Mind the Body workshop at Westminster Music Library for Mental Health Awareness Week, May 2016

So what happens when we hum? I asked Sergio to explain:

“Music is energy, so by focusing on pitch or frequency and through conscious breathing, we feel the vibration, and over time improve concentration and focus by listening to ourselves and others simultaneously…. gradually we develop the ability to use this energy to interact with others, and to experience the benefit of tension and release in musical harmonies, and in our bodies and minds. From structured to open sessions, we can experience free expression, lead or follow as we please. We are each responsible for co-creating the best experience for the whole group, which makes Humming in Harmony different from other similar practices”.

It sounds simple enough, no qualifications or experience necessary, just turn up and start humming, and this is the really good part –  singing and humming not only brings people together, it’s also a great way to relax, unwind, de-stress, improve listening skills and pitch recognition, and helps develop correct breathing techniques.

Humming in Harmony / Mind the Body workshop at Westminster Music Library for Mental Health Awareness Week, May 2016

So with Mental Health Awareness Week fast approaching, last Saturday, Sergio – with a little help from Westminster Music Library – organised Mind the Body, a day of public health awareness activities focusing on music. Sergio demonstrated how the power of music can facilitate positive changes in emotional wellbeing, how it encourages communication, self-awareness and an awareness of others.  The day included interactive presentations by health practitioners, case studies, a film screening and Q&A session, and a creative Humming in Harmony improvisation led by Sergio on piano.

As you can see from the comments below from some of those who came along, I think it’s fair to say people got quite a lot out of the day:

‘Something I would normally never do – it’s a complete change to my usual hectic life.’

‘Excellent workshop, made me concentrate. Therefore, think positively in the present and left cares behind.’

‘Uplifting! Great help after feeling low.’

Humming in Harmony / Mind the Body workshop at Westminster Music Library for Mental Health Awareness Week, May 2016

And from Sergio himself:

‘Thanks for Westminster Music Library’s support in offering the time and space to start a new initiative like Humming in Harmony, and the efforts you’ve made to generate awareness. The event on Saturday was very successful. We discussed issues about health, showed some interesting videos, and had two humming sessions. Having the piano was a real bonus, the improvisation with keyboard and humming was very well received. Participants were asking when the next sessions are as they are keen to continue.’

I’d better check the diary…

[Ruth]

Calling all comic fans!

Free Comic Book Day 2016Save the date –
Saturday 7 May is
Free Comic Book Day

Across North America and around the world, comic shops will be giving away free comics. And Westminster Libraries are taking part, courtesy of the lovely folks at Forbidden Planet who are providing the comics.

You can collect yours from your local library (see list of participating libraries below). One title per customer, while stocks last – which won’t be long!

There is a Doctor Who title, a Superhero Girls title and selected libraries will also have Suicide Squad (suitable for teens and over only).

Doctor Who for Free Comic Book day 2016 DC Superhero Girls for Free Comic Book day 2016 Suicide Squad for Free Comic Book day 2016

“Free Comic Book Day is the perfect occasion for newcomers to comics as well as those who have been reading them for years to celebrate comics and discover new titles that debut on the first Saturday in May”
– Free Comic Book Day spokesperson Dan Manser

Why not check out the graphic novel collection while you are there and see what else your library has to offer?

[Rachel]


Participating libraries in Westminster:

Love, War and Public Libraries for World Book Night

World Book Night 201623 April, as well as being Shakespeare’s (Smyth’s, Cervantes’, Neames’ and Hartnell’s) anniversary, is of course World Book Night.

Westminster libraries joined in the fun, with free copies of several of the WBN titles being given out at six libraries.

Paddington Library‘s World Book Night event tied in nicely with the Shakespearean theme, as author Barrie Stacey‘s background is the theatre. Barrie gave a humorous account of his life in the theatre world, including the many famous people he met and got to know over more than fifty years. He also talked about his latest book Love in the Afternoon, which is an entertaining and original novel about love, a failed marriage followed by a late flowering of romance.

The audience were really taken by Barrie’s interesting and varied real life and were delighted to buy signed copies of his novel having met the author, as well as receiving free copies of Elizabeth Buchan’s novel I can’t begin to tell you, set in Denmark  during the second World War.

In wartime: stories from Ukraine, by Tim JudahThe situation in Ukraine is one which is really not well known in the west, which is why Tim Judah’s talk on his book In Wartime at Victoria Library was so enlightening. It was great to get the information direct from someone who was actually on the ground as the civil strife developed and his insider knowledge really came through.

The talk was punctuated by images taken from the ground and Tim offered some excellent insights into what life is like for people in Ukraine. The talk led into quite a lively political discussion and it was great to have so many people with such a clear interest in the current strife participating. We felt especially privileged to have Tim with us for World Book Night when we realised his next appointment was in Kiev!

Tim Judah tweet 23 April 2016

There was one last World Book Night gift to come… We were delighted to receive free copies of Bailey’s Prize winning author Ali Smith’s Public Library and other stories, along with a letter passing on her thanks for the “brilliant work of librarians across the UK”. Thanks for your support, Ali! You can find a copy of Public Library in every library – borrow or reserve a copy now.

Public Library and other stories, by Ali Smith

[Laurence and Nick]

Anarchy in the UK – Punk at Forty

Play Guitar with The ClashDo you remember 1976? 

40 years ago, punk stunned the nation with its explosion from nowhere, and in this its anniversary year we’ll be celebrating this iconic movement with events and exhibitions. Come in and help us celebrate and acknowledge the huge legacy that punk has left in the music history books.

History generously allocated 4 July 1976, with a number of memorable events.  100 hostages were rescued from a Ugandan airport where they were being held by pro-Palestinian hijackers; the United States celebrated 200 years of independence; and, in a dimly-lit back room of the Black Swan pub in Sheffield, The Clash gave their live debut to an audience of 50. Despite the grungy venue and the feeble crowd, it was, as far as debut gigs go, a far greater opportunity for exposure than most bands are given – they were supporting none less than the Sex Pistols, who, having nine months’ performance experience under their belts, were well-known for their onstage antics (and, incidentally, practically half way through their stint as a band already).

The Clash performing in Oslo in 1980. Left to right: Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, and Paul Simonon

As a quirk of history would have it, it was on the same night that, 170 miles further south, another group whose name rings loud in the hall of fame were giving another sort of debut. Riding on the success of an eponymous LP recorded three months previously, The Ramones gave their UK debut show at London’s Roundhouse, and were afforded a rather more spectacular crowd of 2,000 fans for their efforts – their largest so far. Known for their short and sweet three-chord wonders (by July 1976, the longest song in their repertoire was a fleeting two-and-a-half minutes), The Ramones had stirred up in the youth of London a taste for the loud, raucous and unconventional – a hunger soon to be intensified by the explosion of a home-grown punk scene. It was The Ramones, who, with their huge crowds, record contract, and overseas tours, gave inspiration to such bands as the Sex Pistols and The Clash – so, the following night, on day two of The Ramones’ UK tour, the two English bands took a break from performing to pay tribute to their American heroes.

Despite Johnny Rotten, the Sex Pistols’ infamous frontman, going on to liken The Ramones to Status Quo – as offensive a remark as one can make to a punk rocker – reports suggest that even he, too, was enamoured enough to wait for The Ramones to finish their show and meet them at the stage door. One can only imagine what this meeting of these three legendary bands, who have each gone on to write the history books of punk rock, would have looked like. The Ramones may have been loud and unconventional, but compared to the Pistols, known for their spiked green hair and homemade “I hate Pink Floyd” t-shirts, they must have appeared relatively tame. Rob Lloyd, vocalist of The Prefects, and witness to the occasion, sums it up succinctly: “I think The Ramones were a bit frightened of them.”

The Ramones, Toronto 1976

4 July 1976 had set the ball rolling for the unstoppable rise of punk rock in the UK. Literally hundreds of bands followed in the footsteps of the Sex Pistols and The Clash. Some are remembered well today: Buzzcocks (formed in 1976), The Damned (1976), Siouxsie and the Banshees (1976), The Skids (1977) and Stiff Little Fingers (1977) are familiar names to popular music fans. Others, with less familiar but no less amusing names, are sadly forgotten: the likes of Lemon Kittens, Hammersmith Gorillas and Desperate Bicycles and a whole host of other provocatively-named bands, live on only in punk history books. It wasn’t only the names of bands which had fundamentally changed, however. A new standard had been set for musical composition, where catchy melodies were no longer criteria for success (ABBA, the number-one chart-toppers in 1976, were no doubt looked upon with contempt). Bands no longer aspired to imitate The Beatles (whose breakup had only occurred six years previously) – punk rockers valued speed over caution, volume over subtlety and profanity over poetry. Producer Marco Pirroni recalls, “After that [the birth of punk], everybody speeded up…”

Despite the huge appeal of punk to the disaffected youth of the 1970s, who could probably think of nothing worse than listening to 1976’s top-selling album (Greatest Hits by ABBA), the closest punk ever got to chart-topping status was in the form of the more radio-friendly Boomtown Rats, whose Rat Trap was a number 1 single in 1978. (Punk purists would no doubt question the validity of describing Bob Geldof’s family-friendly band as “punk”.)

The Sex Pistols. In Paradiso

It appeared that punk would remain strictly underground, confined to the bars of London and Sheffield where no respectable person would ever tread – that is, until 1 December 1976, when punk was inadvertently rocketed into the mainstream view. Faced with a last-minute cancellation by Queen, producers of ITV’s Today show sought a replacement band for host Bill Grundy to interview on the popular 6.00pm show,  and somehow landed upon the Sex Pistols, presumably with the hope of discussing their £40,000 record deal with EMI, finalised some two months previously. Whatever the motivation for this surprising choice of band to replace Queen (one suspects that the Pistols were not first choice), the show went ahead, with disastrous consequences. Grundy, who was no novice at interviewing, made a valiant attempt to stay on topic (“I am told that the group have received forty thousand pounds from a record company. Doesn’t that seem to be slightly opposed to their anti-materialistic view of life?”), but received no thanks for his efforts: “We’ve f***ing spent it,” was the reply.

National scandal ensued. Grundy was sacked from Today and relegated to a Sunday morning book-review show, while the ever-restrained Daily Mirror added fuel to the fire by running the front-page headline, ‘The Filth And The Fury!’ Phone lines to the show’s producers were jammed with angry complaints from viewers who perceived their Wednesday evening supper to have been violated, and the Guardian reported that one man ‘had been so outraged that he had kicked in the screen of his new £380 television set‘ (ironically, a favourite activity of punk bands in hotel rooms). Punk had finally penetrated popular culture, albeit widely condemned. An unrepentant Sex Pistols attempted to use the buzz generated by their appearance to launch a nationwide tour, adopting the philosophy ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ – but this unfortunately appeared to be untrue. In Johnny Rotten’s words, “We tried to play around the country… We were banned from just about everywhere.”

Daily Mirror, 2 December 1976

Whether for good or ill, punk could no longer be hidden from plain sight. The punks had revolutionised music and fashion, and now culture, the final frontier, seemed within their grasp. But while some may have had some support from cultural icons of the day (Vivienne Westwood, who was at the time living with the Sex Pistols’ manager, Malcolm McLaren, was quoted as saying “It is quite normal [to swear in front of children] at the time of the scandal), it would appear that Britain of 1976 was not quite ready for punk. The Sex Pistols’ one and only album was released the next year, but only after EMI had dropped the band, major record shops had refused to sell it, and record charts had refused to list it, preferring to show a blank space in place of its provocative title. Anarchy in the UK simply wasn’t going as planned.

The bands which had the most commercial success were those who were prepared to tone it down somewhat. The Jam, The Stranglers, and the aforementioned Boomtown Rats seemed more successful at bridging the divide between mainstream culture and the punk underground. Their music – more melodic and reflective – was considered a safer option by record sellers and parents alike, and these bands found great success riding on the wave of interest in punk, bearing its name but in reality resembling very little of the ‘real’ punk bands like The Clash and the Ramones. Meanwhile, band after band either broke up (The Damned in 1978, Buzzcocks in 1981, The Skids in 1982) or re-invented themselves – Johnny Rotten famously forming the much tamer group, Public Image Limited, in 1978.

The punk revolution appeared to be over as suddenly as it began, but its influence was only just beginning. Seemingly hundreds of sub-genres appeared, as musicians fused punk with even the most unlikely genres. Some produced well-known acts: New York Dolls exemplified glam punk, and ‘horror punk’ had some success in the Misfits. A massive punk revival took place in 1990s California with bands such as Green Day and The Offspring. Although these bands sang about skateboarding and girlfriends instead of anarchy and revolution, their roots are discernible, and their debt to the 1970s punk scene shown in the typical three-chord riff which inevitably starts every song. Punk in its purest form may have been short-lived, but its explosive impact was sure to create waves in all styles of music. Surely, another punk revival is not out of the question.

Punk Rock Blitzkrieg, by Marky Ramone Punk Rock: an oral history, by John Robb The Official Punk Rock Book of Lists, bby Amy Wallace and Handsome Dick Manitoba

40 years ago, punk stunned the nation with its explosion from nowhere, and in this anniversary year Punk.London seeks to remember the influence of this iconic movement. Events are planned throughout the year across the capital, where punk music and culture can be either relived or experienced for the first time.

Westminster Music Library is pleased to support this series of events, and visitors to the Library can enjoy our impressive display of punk books and scores. Experience punk first-hand with John Robb’s Punk Rock: An Oral History or Marky Ramone’s Punk Rock Blitzkrieg, play along with The Clash with our guitar albums, or be amazed by the trivia contained in The Official Punk Rock Book of Lists. We also have a large number of Punk.London brochures available to keep, where you can find a full list of the punk events planned across London for this year. Do pop in to help us celebrate and acknowledge the huge legacy that punk has left in the music history books.

Punk at Forty exhibition, Westminster Music Library 2016

[Jon]

The healing power of music

Westminster Music Library was proud to play host last Saturday morning to Sergio López Figueroa, a composer, social entrepreneur, and founder of the exciting Big Bang Lab. The event was Humming in Harmony, a fascinating collaborative exploration of music and self through the most surprisingly simple medium: humming!

Humming in Harmony - Big Bang Lab

The morning’s session was just the first of many, which will take place at Westminster Music Library on Saturday mornings (10.00am-12.00 noon) and Wednesday evenings (5.00-6.50pm) from now until May 2016.

The premise of Humming in Harmony is simple: all music is vibration. Humming, in particular, offers a way for us to feel these vibrations within ourselves – especially when combined with the various techniques and exercises Sergio utilises in each workshop. By encouraging silence and focus on the vibrations humming produces within ourselves, the participant becomes much more aware of themselves and their surroundings. Using these principles over the course of these sessions, participants should learn increased concentration, and improved focus not only on oneself but on others.

Our series of Humming in Harmony sessions will include an all day workshop on 14 May to coincide with the start of Mental Health Awareness Week. The connection is not accidental: Sergio has designed Humming in Harmony with mental wellbeing as one of the central focuses. In previous incarnations, these workshops have been delivered in care homes, community centres and workplaces, with a wide range of children and adults who may have experienced isolation, mental, or physical health conditions. Sergio stresses the health benefits of mindful activity, and tailors each workshop around the needs of participants.

If the experience was a little strange at first, our attendees soon felt relaxed thanks to Sergio’s open and approachable manner. His enthusiasm for music is infectious, and everyone was soon enjoying the sensation of listening to themselves hum – a curiously calming activity which I suspect most of us have never tried before! Sergio, accompanied by his faithful glockenspiel, had us freely exploring our vocal ranges before pairing us off to do partner exercises based on the musical interval of the perfect 5th.

Humming in Harmony with Sergio Lopez Figuera (Big Bang Lab) at Westminster Music Library, January 2016 Humming in Harmony with Sergio Lopez Figuera (Big Bang Lab) at Westminster Music Library, January 2016

The whole “vibe” of the session encouraged exploration, improvisation and group participation. Sergio was happy to hear feedback and suggestions from all who took part, which is just as well, since many participants were keen to express their amazement at what a unique experience peaceful group humming can be. Our session ended with a ten-minute “group hum” in the key of A. Had Sergio managed to teach us a ten-minute piece in this short session? No – instead, he had equipped us with ideas and techniques, leaving us to “compose” the piece as we went along. As the piece came to its natural end, the short silence that followed was broken by the exclamations of fascination at what we’d just managed to achieve. In just one hour, the group of strangers had been transformed into an ensemble, creating music together with just the basic framework Sergio had provided.

It truly was a fascinating morning, and I am keen to see what else will be explored along the way as Humming in Harmony unfolds. If you’d like to find out more about Humming in Harmony, email: info@bigbang-lab.com. The next session in Westminster Music Library will be held on Saturday 6 February at 10.00am, follow this link to book: www.meetup.com/London-Music-and-Wellbeing

 [Jon]

Ten Pieces to inspire a generation

“It’s Monday morning, and you’re faced with 30 sceptical 13-year-olds.”

BBC Ten Pieces SecondarySo begins Helen Wallace’s article on Ten Pieces II in this month’s BBC Music magazine, describing a scene assuredly all-too-familiar to many a secondary school music teacher. Music – and, in particular, classical music – is indeed subject to scepticism, disdain and even ridicule by the millennial generation. What is a music teacher to do, when classical music is, in the words of one young man quoted in this article, “just for old people who sit in chairs all the time”?

This is where the BBC’s Ten Pieces Secondary comes in. Following last year’s successful Ten Pieces Primary, which saw primary-aged children from up and down the country participating in musical activities, this year the BBC takes on a much tougher crowd… teenagers!

The premise of Ten Pieces is simple. Using a “repertoire” list of ten pieces of music, secondary-aged pupils will engage in workshops, projects and performances designed to open their eyes to the incredible diversity of the classical music world. This is more than a mere rundown of music history from Byrd to Birtwistle, though: these ten pieces have been specially selected on the grounds of their enduring appeal, ground-breaking innovation or universal accessibility.

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor - JS Bach

Take Bach’s instantly-recognisable Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, and especially its immortalisation in Stokowski’s 1920s orchestration. As it inspired children in Disney’s Fantasia (itself an innovative way of reaching new audiences with classical music), the hope is it will also inspire them today.

On the other hand, consider Gabriel Prokofiev’s Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra. While many music fans watched cynically as it was performed in 2012’s Proms, music teachers unanimously tell us something different: it had young people engrossed. As Alpesh Chauhan, assistant conductor of CBSO, tells us,

“You can sit a child down and tell them to listen to a Beethoven symphony. For some, they’re gripped… But it won’t work for everyone.”

That key word – everyone – embraces what Ten Pieces is all about, and explains why as many as ten pieces are chosen for exploration: there will be something for everyone.

Here at Westminster Music Library we too believe that music is for everyone. What started as a small, private collection of mostly contemporary music scores (a fascinating collection, but, admittedly, not to everyone’s taste) has expanded over the years into a multifaceted assemblage of music from and for all walks of life, which is the Music Library as we know it today. We too partner with local schools, and past events we’ve hosted have shown to us what the BBC has also found to be true: young people do love music, if they open their minds to discover their own musical tastes.

Ten Pieces Secondary display at Westminster Music Library

We are pleased to be hosting a Ten Pieces display in the Library, which provides information particularly about those pieces on this year’s list which may be more difficult to research: Prokofiev’s Concerto (see above) and Anna Clyne’s Night Ferry. Also on display are scores, freely available for any library member to borrow, of many of the pieces from this year’s selection. Here is the list in full of this year’s Ten Pieces:

Even a quick glance at our catalogue reveals just how much Westminster Music Library contains to assist performance of, and discovering more about, these pieces.

Want to compare Stokowski’s orchestration to Bach’s original?
We have several organ editions available.
Ever wondered exactly what they’re singing at the end of Ride of the Valkyries?
Our extensive opera libretti collection reveals it to be, “Hojotoho!”
And how many symphonies did Shostakovich write?
A quick look through our composer catalogue collection tells us that he wrote a whopping 15 symphonies.

And far from classical music being “just for old people who sit in chairs all the time”, our huge collection of composer biographies and music history books reveals some information which would surprise even the most disinterested of teenagers. Would it shock them to know that Sondheim’s libretto for West Side Story was actually censored for including a certain four-letter word? Or that, far from being a soppy love story, Carmen’s lover eventually ends up killing her?

All this and more can be discovered in Westminster Music Library and it is our hope that our resources will be a first port of call for anyone, local or otherwise, who is involved in this year’s Ten Pieces Secondary.

Anyone interested in knowing more about Ten Pieces can visit the BBC’s Ten Pieces website. Or if you’d like to know how we can assist your Ten Pieces project, visit or contact us at the Music Library.

[Jon]