Category Archives: Victoria Library

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]

Hold the front page

Edwin Evans, painted by Princess Mary Eristoff in 1916One of Westminster Music Library’s lesser-known – but, in my opinion, most fascinating – collections is the vast archive of newspaper cuttings which occupies an entire wall of the library’s basement store.

The collection is the handiwork of music critic Edwin Evans, and, alongside his many thousands of music scores and books, it formed the basis of Westminster Music Library (or, as it was then known, Central Music Library) shortly after his death in 1945.

While we refer to the collection as our “newspaper cuttings”, the archive in fact contains much more, and it is no small task to attempt to describe the contents of these hundreds of boxes. There are weighty concert programmes, and beautifully-designed promotional posters advertising many a long-forgotten soloist’s recital at one of London’s finest venues: Wigmore Hall, perhaps, or Cadogan Hall.

There are also, of course, the newspaper cuttings, gathered primarily between the years of 1920 and 1940, and these certainly do make up the bulk of the collection. We have cuttings from the ‘household names’ of the British press, such as the Times, Guardian and Daily Mail, alongside international publications like the New York Times. Regional papers, too, are represented, with the Sheffield Telegraph and Glasgow Herald making not infrequent appearances. It was common practice then for even these local papers to send journalists down to London for all the major events in the music world, for the benefit of their readership who presumably needed to know if it was worth their time and money making the trip to see Covent Garden’s newest production. Finally, we have thousands of cuttings from newspapers which have sadly not survived into the 21st century. The Pall Mall Gazette (an ancestor of today’s Evening Standard), Morning Post and Daily Chronicle will be unfamiliar to many, but are preserved in great quantity in our newspaper cuttings collection.

Sample from Westminster Music Library's newspaper cuttings collection

The articles saved from these newspapers vary in subject, but can be broadly divided into: Concert reviews, Concert announcements, Book reviews, Academic writings, and Obituaries. There are many exceptions to this rule, however, and the only real way to get a sense of what’s contained is to spend an hour or two rummaging. The time is well spent, though: one marvels at the care taken by one man to collect and then individually ‘process’ these thousands of items. Each cutting would be mounted on a piece of blotting paper, with the provenance (the name of the paper and the date of publication) lightly pencilled above, and only then would it be filed away under its relevant category.

Westminster Music Library's newspaper cuttings collection

Mr Evans’ filing system was a simple one (he was an avid collector, but never a librarian!), but is generally fit for purpose. The vast majority of folders simply have a name written on them, and the folder will contain all the relevant cuttings for that person. For most enquiries, this is perfectly adequate: someone wishing to research Puccini’s Madame Butterfly could simply turn to the ‘Puccini’ folder and begin browsing. The difficulty lies in more specific enquiries. A researcher wanting to read press opinions on the Royal Opera House’s 1922 production of Madame Butterfly would draw a blank hunting through the ‘Puccini’ folder; likewise, ‘Royal Opera House’ would yield no results. Only with the knowledge that a Miss Maggie Teyte sang the title role in this production would the researcher find what they were looking for. Turn to the ‘Maggie Teyte’ folder, and there are no fewer than seven independent reviews of the opening night of this particular production.

Difficulties in locating relevant material in part contribute to our desire to digitise the entire collection. Our vision is for a fully searchable online archive, whereby users could locate relevant cuttings by simply searching for key words; so, in the example above, not only would ‘Maggie Teyte’ bring up the required information, but so would ‘Puccini’, ‘Madame Butterfly’, ‘Royal Opera House’, ‘Covent Garden’… and the list goes on! The advantages of this system are endless, and it is our hope that a digitised collection will allow much easier access to our incredibly valuable archive of information. The collection is staggering in size and detail, and to make it more easily searchable and accessible to users would be an achievement of endless potential for researchers and musicians.

Westminster Music Library's newspaper cuttings collection

The ambitiousness of this project must not be underestimated. We cannot tell exactly how many items are contained in this collection, but a simple calculation would suggest:

95 boxes of approximately 460 items each = roughly 43,700 items

The sheer size of this collection is staggering, especially given that this represents only twenty years of press. Evans ceased collecting around 1940, and my theory is that the outbreak of World War II and its subsequent paper rationing had much to do with his decision to stop. Not only did the volume of papers being published fall dramatically, but hoarding of paper would not have been viewed favourably in light of the war effort. The prospect of how large this collection would be had it been continued after the War is tantalising, but it was not to be – Evans died in 1945, just two months short of VE Day.

We are in very early stages of the digitising process, and my task for the next few months is that of data gathering. To be sure that our collection has sufficiently relevant and interesting cuttings, I have been compiling a list of every “subject” – that is, every folder title which Edwin Evans used to store cuttings referring to the same person. These folders contain a minimum of one cutting each (my all-time favourite horn player, Aubrey Brain, has just one cutting in his folder), although most contain around ten, and some, like the folder for ‘the Bach Choir’, contain upwards of a hundred individual items. With these subjects I have also been recording basic pieces of information: whether the subject is a Performer, Composer, or ‘Other’ (these can be anything from festivals to librettists); the subject’s gender; if a Performer, the subject’s instrument; and, significantly, if the subject has their own entry in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

There is a long way to go in this data gathering process, but readers may perhaps be interested in some statistics gathered so far:

  • A significant majority (66%) of subjects are Performers. Of these Performers,
  • 34% are singers
  • 31% are pianists
  • 19% are string players
  • 8% are conductors
  • 6% are ensembles
  • Just 5% are wind players of any sort!
  • Composers represent 29% of subjects, while “Others” come in at just 5%.
  • 62% of all entries are Male, 31% Female (the remaining 7% accounts for non-individuals such as ensembles and festivals)
  • 40% of all subjects are featured in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

Westminster Music Library's newspaper cuttings collectionTo a researcher in music, this last point is an exciting prospect. It indicates that 60% of the subjects included in our collection are in all likelihood under-represented in terms of source material for research. Greater accessibility of our cuttings through digitising would therefore be a massive, and certainly unique, contribution to the further study of these individuals.

Our project is in its very early stages, but we are excited to be investigating this fascinating resource. All our press cuttings are available for reference to our library customers, so don’t wait until they’re available digitally – please visit Westminster Music Library and we’ll be happy to give you access to this amazing collection.

[Jon]

“All fares please!”

WW1 singalong at Westminster Music Library, to celebrate 100 years of women in public transportLast Thursday, Westminster Music Library marked one hundred years of women in transport with a commemorative First World War-themed sing-along.
In partnership with London Transport Museum and their Battle Bus project we sang our way through a variety of songs from the Great War era, setting the scene for a fascinating insight into women’s roles during The First World War.

London Transport Museum’s A Driving Force: 100 Years of Women in Transport is an engaging exhibition exploring the one hundred year history of women in public transport, and Westminster Music Library has been proud to host it for the past two weeks. Standing at the library’s entrance, it was a draw for many of our customers, who, like us, found these seldom-told tales of drivers, instructors, and the fondly-named ‘clippies’ to be an intriguing topic. Steering its way from 1915 (the date of the first female omnibus conductor) right up to the present day, the exhibition includes interviews, stories and anecdotes from female bus workers past and present.

Our WW1 sing-along to mark the anniversary was interspersed with accounts of women ‘on the buses’:

“On the buses the skirt question occasionally arose, with objections to conductresses going on the top deck; however, this seems to have been combined with the pre-war convention that ‘ladies rode inside’ and therefore things were a bit rowdier upstairs. The buses were crowded at all times – the small number of private motorists, combined with a shortage of petrol, meant that bus and tube travel was democratized. The prevalence of shift-work, the curtailed shop opening hours and the number of soldiers passing through London on leave disrupted the more rigid patterns of travel before the war: ladies who had the leisure to shop mid-mornings found themselves squashed alongside factory girls and troops. Several conductresses found themselves getting a hard time from such ladies, and agreed among themselves that they were getting a dose of resentment from women who had lost their maids!”

 A Driving Force: 100 Years of Women in Transport exhibition at Westminster Music Library, October 2015It was a privilege to hear such fascinating reports from a time so far removed from our own.

Our event was organised by Ruth Walters, Music Services Co-ordinator, who not only brought these stories to life through her engaging reading, but also expertly led all the singing.

Westminster Music Library drew an enthusiastic crowd with their vocal chords at the ready, and it was a pleasure to welcome back pianist Hélène Favre-Bulle, whose playing perfectly complemented the singing. Friends of Westminster Music Library will recognise Hélène as the accompanist for our Joint Force Singers choral project. Also ‘aboard’ on backing vocals were Miriam, Andrew and Jon, all members of the Music Library team, and we were delighted to welcome London Transport Museum’s Battle Bus Learning Officer Kathryn Palmer-Skillings. Her extensive knowledge was much appreciated as she answered our audience’s questions and gave further information on the topic during our tea break.

Ruth With Kathryn Palmer-Skillings - Battle Bus Learning Officer, at A Driving Force: 100 Years of Women in Transport exhibition. Westminster Music Library, October 2015

We’ve really enjoyed hosting this fascinating exhibition and running the event at the Music Library, and we are especially grateful to London Transport Museum for the loan and their time spent ensuring that both were successful. Our audience loved it, too, with comments particularly highlighting the uniqueness of the theme. Coincidentally our event was held on National Poetry Day, and Ruth couldn’t miss an opportunity to mark it with a few lines of very appropriate verse:

War girls, by Jessie Pope

There’s the girl who clips your ticket for the train,
And the girl who speeds the lift from floor to floor,
There’s the girl who does a milk-round in the rain,
And a girl who calls for orders at your door.
Strong, sensible, and fit,
They’re out to show their grit,
And tackle jobs with energy and knack,
No longer caged and penned up,
They’re going to keep their end up,
Till the khaki soldier boys come marching back.

There’s the motor girl who drives a heavy van,
There’s the butcher girl who brings your joint of meat,
There’s the girl who cries ‘all fares please!’ like a man,
And the girl who whistles taxis down the street,
Beneath each uniform,
Beats a heart that’s soft and warm,
Though of canny mother-wit they show no lack;
But a solemn statement this is,
They’ve no time for love and kisses
‘Till the khaki soldier boys come marching back.

Ruth reads at A Driving Force: 100 Years of Women in Transport exhibition. Westminster Music Library, October 2015

Although Westminster Music Library’s hosting of the mobile exhibition has now ‘reached the end of the line’, if you missed it and would like to catch it, its next temporary home is Westbourne Park Bus Garage.

Westminster Music Library enjoys sharing all things interesting and we love adding a musical twist, we’re delighted that our partnership with London Transport Museum made this possible.

[Jon]

Joining Forces for Silver Sunday (on Saturday)

Westminster Music Library was filled to the brim this Saturday for a hugely popular choir workshop which, with record attendance, topped even last year’s number of participants. Over fifty keen songsters rose early on Saturday morning to make music among the bookshelves, until it truly was standing room only!

Silver Sunday at Westminster Music Library, October 2015

The event was one of the many hundreds of events put on across the UK to celebrate Silver Sunday, a nationwide annual day to “celebrate older residents and help them get out and about and meet new people”. This year marks the fourth consecutive Silver Sunday and we were thrilled to be a part of it. Observant readers will notice that there was something unique about our event: namely, we hosted one of the only Silver Sunday events to be held on a Saturday! Our library’s opening hours necessitated this change, but, of course, it meant that all our attendees were able to join in with Sunday’s events, too.

We were honoured to have in attendance the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Councillor The Lady Christabel Flight, who, with the Sir Simon Milton Foundation, has pioneered Silver Sunday from its beginning in 2012 and is still very much showing her support for as many events as possible!

Silver Sunday at Westminster Music Library, October 2015

Keen followers of Westminster Music Library’s activities will be well aware of our year-long Joint Force Singers project in collaboration with Westminster Armed Forces. We were pleased to incorporate this choir project into our Silver Sunday event, as many of our choir members and non-members alike joined forces for the morning workshop. For our guests who weren’t members of the choir, it was a real privilege to join this established group of singers, and the choir’s presence gave the whole morning a real boost. We even had some non-members asking to join the choir afterwards! It’s not too late to join Joint Force Singers – if you live locally and would be interested in committing to our project, please contact Westminster Music Library.

The familiar faces of Project Officer, Felicity, and Accompanist, Helene, were seen, and the whole morning was led by the wonderfully talented Ruairi, the Joint Force Singers’ Musical Director. Ruth and Jon from the Music Library were our hosts for the event, ensuring everything ran smoothl, and re-formatting the library in record time afterwards to ensure we could open our doors to the public at 1 o’clock sharp!

As the morning took the form of a workshop, our choir members experienced a change from their regular rehearsal routine, while, in Silver Sunday spirit, our non-members found the event to be totally accessible even to those with no previous singing experience at all. Ruairi took us through a wide array of physical and vocal warm-ups, games, and then was able to teach us a significant amount of music, all in the short space of two hours! By the end of the session, he’d had us singing in canon (the musical term for a round) and two-part harmony: a great achievement for a group of singers who’d only been singing together for one morning. Music ranged from traditional English, to Scottish, to Swahili lullabies, and everything in between. All over the world there is such a rich musical tradition and we were fortunate to be led on a short tour of it all by our knowledgeable Musical Director.

Silver Sunday at Westminster Music Library, October 2015

All our guests were treated to well-earned refreshments, and were surely singing as they went home contented! Ruairi had really inspired folks with his enthusiasm and passion for making music. “I really enjoyed myself,” commented one of our attendees. Another said, “I try to attend all the events at the Music Library but this one was my favourite so far!”

Hosting events is a passion of ours here at the Music Library and our next one also has a sing-a-long theme – this Thurday 8 October, please feel free to join us for a World War I-themed singing event in collaboration with the London Transport Museum’s ‘Battle Bus’ project.

[Jon]

Record Breaking Numbers

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It’s been a busy, fun-packed summer for us, with over 2,300 children joining this year’s Summer Reading Challenge “Record Breakers” – so far!

850 young people  have already completed the challenge by reading 6 books over three library visits. Victoria Library has been especially busy with nearly a quarter more children joining than last year and more of these children have completed the challenge than they did over the whole of the summer last year.

There’s still time to sign up to the challenge and plenty of time to read the six books – and get your medal for finishing the challenge – what a great way to finish the summer!

See above for some of our Summer Reading Challenge highlights.

Take the Grade One Challenge!

Making Music logoAre you a string player who longs to dabble in woodwind?
A pianist who wants to try playing in an ensemble?
Or a complete musical novice with time on your hands and neighbours to irritate?

Here’s your chance. Working in partnership with the BBC’s Get Creative initiative, National charity Making Music is encouraging people to try learning a new instrument or take up singing. Whether or not you have studied music before, whatever your age or background, here’s an opportunity for you to try something new.

SaxophoneTrumpet

Making Music, who work to support amateur and voluntary musicians and ensembles, will offer one-to-one support for all those who take part. Their aim is to help as many people as possible to take a Grade 1 exam by the end of 2015; they’ll even cover exam fees for students who agree to fundraise on their behalf via sponsorship from friends and family.

The aim of The Grade 1 Challenge is to make music accessible to everyone, no matter what their age or musical background, to give people a way into starting, restarting, or just getting involved with an instrument which maybe they’ve wanted to learn for a while, but haven’t had the opportunity – or perhaps haven’t felt like they could learn.

To learn a new musical instrument you need 4 key things:

  1. an instrument
  2. a teacher
  3. motivation
  4. something to play

Westminster Music Library can definitely help with all of these! We can help you find an instrument or a teacher, we have a brand new display of Grade 1 resources, including books on music theory and harmony, preparing for music exams, plus information about Making Music and The Challenge. We also have “Grade-1-a-thon” Challenge packs to give away, generously donated by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM). And last but by no means least, a whole load of Grade 1 printed music available to borrow for free.

Grade 1 Challenge display at Westminster Music Library, 2015

So, how long does it take to work up to Grade 1 standard? The answer is: however long you want to give it. You don’t have to do a certain number of lessons before you can take the exam, and a little bit of regular practice can make a lot of difference.

At the end of the year, whether or not you take the exam, you’ll have the opportunity to take part in Making Music’s Grade 1 orchestra and play a specially commissioned piece of music.

MandolinPianoGuitar

Learning a new instrument is a challenge in itself, but if you want to take it further, why not sign up to The Grade 1 Challenge? Anyone interested in participating can sign up via the Making Music website.

Discover more about The Grade 1 Challenge at Westminster Music Library, pick up a leaflet and check out our Grade 1 Challenge resources

[Ruth]