Tag Archives: BBC Music Day

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]

“Bless ‘em all! The long and the short and the tall!”

All ages singing together at the BBC Music Day WWII singalong at Westminster Music Library, June 2015So says the popular World War II song; and judging by the enthusiastic response, the long, short, tall, old and young were indeed feeling blessed by Westminster Music Library’s World War II sing-along.
Our event was part of the BBC’s inaugural National Music Day“a nationwide celebration of everything we love about music, with the aim of bringing people together from different generations and communities through their love of music.”

 On Friday 5 June we filled the  Library to the brim, uniting members of local community group Open Age along with troops of children from St Barnabas CE primary school for a morning of singing, celebrating the finest of the Second World War’s musical legacy.

While the struggles of wartime were very hard for soldier and civilian alike, our selection of songs served to communicate the positive qualities brought to light through the conflict: hope, in We’ll meet again; love of country, in There’ll always be an England; and bravery, in The white cliffs of Dover. Comradeship, too, of soldiers all-too-wary of their Sergeants and Corporals, is wonderfully represented in our ironic opening number, Bless ‘em all, whose composer, Fred Godfrey, assuredly informs us, “… furthermore, it wasn’t ‘Bless.’”

BBC Music Day WWII singalong at Westminster Music Library, June 2015

For our guests from Open Age, these songs were gateways into memories of growing up post-war, and for some, even during wartime. “Very nostalgic,” commented one visitor, although another justly observed, “I think it could get emotional for some people here.” Indeed, nostalgia can often rose-tint our recollections; for some the hardships of wartime are still very real memories.

For those of us young enough to have no such memories, the musical legacy of this time is a unique look into the past, and certainly our year six pupils from St Barnabas valued these as such – “A week ago these songs were completely unknown to the class,” commented their teacher.

Ruth leading the singing at the BBC Music Day WWII singalong at Westminster Music Library, June 2015We were grateful to the children for their hard work in rehearsing the songs to sing with us, and thrilled to hear that they’d even given a ‘preview’ performance to the rest of the school in their morning assembly before coming here.

Their earnest singing boosted our ranks, and was especially appreciated during the final number – Roll out the barrel – when it became apparent to many of us in the audience that we couldn’t encourage our vocal chords to hit the high notes!

One person who has no such singing woes, though, is Ruth Walters, who masterfully led us through the entire programme, accompanied by Anthony on piano. As well as being full-time staff, they are accomplished and experienced musicians, along with the three other members of the Music Library team: Miriam, Andrew and Jon. The high standard of performance is often commented on at events such as this one and we are grateful to our staff for using their musical talents so effectively.

Some of the Westminster Music Library team

We were also joined by Sam, a reporter working for Westminster Council, whose interviews and photo-calls really excited the children. A group photo taken at the end of the school children and staff serves as a lovely reminder of an exciting morning.

Children and WML staff at the BBC Music Day WWII singalong event, June 2015

After refreshments and much chatting, our guests left us, and we set to work opening up the Library to the public for another day. We enjoyed having people of all ages and backgrounds for our sing-along, and, in the words of Vera Lynn, here’s hoping “we’ll meet again some sunny day.”

[Jon]