Tag Archives: concert

The Force is with us

This has been a fantastic year for Westminster Music Library’s choir, Joint Force Singers. Since 2015 they have performed at prestigious venues and events from Lords MCC to Pimlico Proms, Westminster’s Community Awards to the magnificent Guards Chapel at Wellington Barracks. And it was at the Guards Chapel that our grand finale concert took place, a fitting climax to close a year of high achievement.

'Songs from my Homeland' - Joint Force Singers at the Guards Chapel, June 2016

The aim of our year-long project was to raise awareness of Westminster’s Armed Forces by encouraging collaboration with our local community. I can honestly say our choir has achieved this; it’s brought together local people with those who serve and have served their country, people who under normal circumstances probably would not have met. It’s an honour and a privilege to help and support our armed forces and their families, and bringing them together with our Westminster community to sing, make new friends, and most importantly to have a great time, is our way of giving just a little bit back.

This was to be no ordinary concert; having performed the week before at Pimlico Proms and the previous day at Westminster City Hall for the Armed Forces Week flag raising ceremony, everyone was “ready to rumble”. Emotions were running high, lasting friendships have been forged and there was definitely a feeling of army team sprirt – “let’s make this one special, people!”

Audience member with programme. 'Songs from my Homeland' - Joint Force Singers at the Guards Chapel, June 2016

Our choir was joined by the Victory Wind Quintet, musicians who have been working together for many years within the Guards Bands. Our Musical Director Ruairi had been busily arranging music for both choir and quintet to perform, but now rehearsals were over and it was time for the show to begin…

It will come as no surprise that with Ruairi’ s passion for folk music, the programme featured lots of his own arrangements of traditional songs: “Shenandoah”, (an American folk song), “Scarborough Fair” (featuring a terrific solo by one of our army choir members), and a rip-roaring version of “When the saints go marching in” accompanied by the quintet. But the highlight of the evening was the closing number, which naturally – Ruairi being Ruairi – had to involve some audience participation. For his arrangement of the classic Bill Withers song: “Lean on me”, we were encouraged to clap and stomp our way through the choruses while the singers gave full voice.

Ruairi conducts. 'Songs from my Homeland' - Joint Force Singers at the Guards Chapel, June 2016 Ruth addresses the audience. 'Songs from my Homeland' - Joint Force Singers at the Guards Chapel, June 2016

The choir took their bows and my closing words were accompanied by cheers, rapturous applause and even the odd tear.

It’s been a brilliant year for Joint Force Singers, we are grateful to Westminster’s Armed Forces Community Covenant for supporting us and for the invaluable help we’ve received from the staff at Wellington Barracks.

JFS logoBut above all we are grateful to our amazing choir, who achieved so much in such a short space of time; Joint Force Singers united Westminster’s Armed Forces and our local community in ways that went beyond the music.

[Ruth]

 

We’ve got a choir!

Strife, spirit and soul were the themes of Saturday lunchtime’s spectacular performance by Westminster Music Library’s own Joint Force Singers. Think choir concerts are boring? Joint Force Singers made us think again, with their showcase of music in a wide range of styles, periods and even languages!

Joint Force Singers concert at the Guards' Chapel, 19 March 2016

The impressive Guards’ Chapel at Wellington Barracks played host to this exciting event, and a large crowd of music devotees and casual fans alike were entertained and impressed for almost an hour as the choir presented the fruit of ten weeks’ hard labour. Under the directorship of Ruairi Glasheen, this group of singers from all walks of life had been meeting every week since Christmas in anticipation of Saturday’s performance, and we were delighted to see that their hard work had produced such brilliant music. Ruairi, ever charismatic, amused the audience between songs with anecdotes and jokes, and shared the fascinating historical background to some of the pieces, adding even more to our appreciation of the concert.

In true Joint Force Singers’ fashion, the choir had a surprise up their sleeve, and bewildered the audience by singing the opening song out of sight, taking advantage of the Guards’ Chapel’s excellent acoustics to capture our attention. All became clear, however, as, one by one, the choir appeared on stage, the music naturally rising in dynamic and excitement as more choir members materialised as if from nowhere. A dramatic crescendo led to a thrilling finish: as impactful an opening song as one could wish for. As Ruairi later explained, the haunting tune was in fact a Brazilian folk song.

Joint Force Singers concert, 19 March 2016

Since the choir’s formation a mere six months ago, they have sung in several concerts, and in front of many distinguished guests. As a community choir, the Joint Force Singers are committed to supporting local events and causes, as their presence at initiatives like Silver Sunday testifies, and they have hosted numerous successful workshops, sing-alongs and community events. This concert, however, was a chance for the choir to showcase some individual members’ talents, and a real highlight of the afternoon was hearing some beautiful soprano and alto solos by accomplished amateur singers. The choice of repertoire was clearly chosen with these singers in mind, and it was a pleasure to hear their talent so sensitively showcased.

Ruth Walters and Joint Force Singers - concert, 19 March 2016

As usual, Project Manager Ruth Walters from Westminster Music Library was in attendance to introduce the choir and say a few words about the Joint Force Singers project. Special thanks were given to Tim Heale, London Garrison Welfare Officer, whose partnership in this project has been so valued, and to Ruairi and Hélène for direction and accompaniment respectively! Such a team of committed individuals has been involved in the running of this project behind the scenes, and it was a wonderful opportunity to thank them for their hard work.

The choir presented us a whirlwind tour of musical styles – from Enya to Amazing Grace, and everything in between. My personal favourite was the closing number, a rendition of Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend, for which the audience was invited to participate in the closing riff. A stunning way to end the concert, and the choir were rewarded with an enthusiastic standing ovation by the appreciative audience.

The audience - Joint Force Singers concert, 19 March 2016

The opportunity to mingle with the choir and enjoy a well-earned cup of tea was taken by many present, as our afternoon with the Joint Force Singers drew to a close. Six months in to the project, it is wonderful to reflect on how far the choir have come, and this Saturday’s concert was a real testimony to that. Westminster Music Library are proud to be the pioneers of this musical adventure, and we eagerly await the next six months!

[Jon]

St John’s Wood round up

Hanukkah fun at St John's Wood Library, December 2015There’s just been so much going on in St John’s Wood Library recently! And there’s much more to come.

Here’s a round up of a few highlights from recent weeks:

For Interfaith Week 2015, we hosted Sh. Kazi Luthfur Rahman, Imam at the London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre, who gave a talk about the Quran. While discussing links to the previous revelations – Torah, Psalms and Gospels – the Imam also discussed some of the important teachings, as well as the history and origins of the Quran. There was an involved discussion, with the general consensus being that the library should organise more events regarding different religions and cultures.

'Time to Listen' poetry installation at St John's Wood Library, December 2015

Then, as part of a ‘tour’ of libraries, we welcomed Toni Stuart and her poetry installation Here to Listen. Toni describes herself as “a poet, performer, spoken word educator, festival curator from Cape Town, South Africa, currently in London, UK”. She stayed with St John’s Wood Library for two full days in early December, before moving on to do the same at Victoria Library and Westminster Reference Library later in the month. In silence, she listened to those who sat with her and told her their stories and what was on their mind. She then wrote poems about it. She describes her approach on her blog: Here to Listen, and you can read the poems written at St John’s Wood Library.

December was also the month for Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations, including arts and craft and face painting hosted by Imagethirst, who have been coming to St John’s Wood Library for several years, offering to do portrait photos of children for free. They sometimes host the whole party, sometimes they bring frames to decorate. This time they did some fabulous face paiting. Children (and parents, carers, this librarian and our volunteer Vivienne Levan) also made hanukkiot (hanukkia is the eight candled menora).

Christmas at St John's Wood Library 2015The Christmas parties were also a joy, with happy children receiving books as gifts, enjoying healthy snacks and having lots of fun, thanks to staff and volunteers alike.

The Monthly Meet Up continued with a visit from the Timeline Brass Ensemble performing some classic sounds of the season. This young and enthusiastic band made some heads turn on the street (yes, they were powerful!) so people came in from outside to enjoy the music. Others peeked through the windows and waved. It was a burst of lovely music that shook us up in a good way.

A lovely bit of continuity through the generations has led to our regular Storytime on Tuesday afternoons. For about 30 minutes – or as we prefer to measure it, several stories – Gavin Asher reads and acts for children.

Storytime with Gavin at St John's Wood LibraryIt is a treat and he is gaining a following. An avid reader, Gavin has been a very regular library member for a long time. His son Gino is now a teenager, but he basically grew up in the library. Gavin loved reading to Gino so much that he missed doing it and decided to share his joy of reading with other children and adults.
Join us next Tuesday!

And there’s much more to come – visit our Events page for details. We hope to see you at Tim Judah’s talk about Ukraine this evening!

[Ivana]

A Joint Force Christmas

Last Tuesday’s Christmas showcase at Westminster Music Library was anything but a “Silent Night”, as our very own Joint Force Singers Choir gave their debut public performance in festive style.

JFS logoKeen followers of Westminster Music Library’s community events may already know about our flagship choir, whose activities so far have included interactive workshops in the Library, part of a special festive concert at Lord’s Cricket Ground, and joining some of the Garrison’s army musicians at The Wellington Barracks Christmas market.

Tuesday evening’s event, however, was particularly significant; this was the first concert put on exclusively by the choir and open to the public. As well as having a huge turnout from our local community, guests of honour included Tri-borough Director of Libraries Mike Clarke, London Garrison Welfare Officer Sergeant Tim Heale, Royal College of Music Chief Librarian Peter Linnitt, and Westminster Councillor Rachael Robathan, the City Council’s Armed Forces Champion.

Although the concert was organised by the Westminster Music Library Team, this was something of an opportunity for us to step down from our usual roles as performers and allow Joint Force Singers to take centre stage.

Joint Force Singers Christmas Concert at Westminster Music Library, December 2015

The Joint Force Singers Choir, formed just three months ago, presented the jam-packed library with a tasteful mixed programme of choral works and participatory carols. However this was no typical Christmas programme, alongside irresistible classics like Away in a Manger were some less familiar tunes. Would a typical carol concert contain rousing protest number The Diggers’ Song, or folk song Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier? No! – however, our Choir took these in their stride and the audience loved it. “Beautifully sung, an excellent and original programme, even the little children in the back row were in awe”, commented one attendee. We are proud that our choir stands out from others as being prepared to tackle unfamiliar pieces and challenge audience perceptions of what a Christmas concert should sound like.

Ruairi Glasheen on the bodhran - Joint Force Singers Christmas Concert at Westminster Music Library, December 2015Leading the choir with characteristic flair was Ruairi Glasheen. From day one Ruairi has been highly valued as the Joint Force Choir’s Musical Director, and Tuesday’s Christmas concert gave audience members a chance to see his natural charisma in action.

As well as coaching the choir week by week, choosing repertoire and conducting, Ruairi revealed he had another hidden talent: playing the bodhrán (* see below). Instead of conducting the first piece, he kept time with a constant drum beat, which not only brought The Diggers’ Song to life but also delighted the children in our audience.

We can by no means neglect to mention our faithful accompanist, Hélène. With the piano decked out in tinsel and fairy lights, her brilliant playing provided a steady anchor for our singers.

With such talented individuals leading our Choir, it is no surprise that they were on top form. My own personal favourite carol, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing was sung in perfect four-part harmony, and the brave sopranos who performed the descant part in the last verse deserve special mention. A yuletide classic – We wish you a merry Christmas was transformed into Merry Christmas Cha-Cha-Cha: a lively arrangement of this much loved Christmas song – the altered rhythms of which threw off any audience members attempting to join in, but were an impressive example of the choir’s accuracy of timing. For such a young choir, and with so many having no previous formal singing experience, the concert was hugely impressive, and a sure inspiration to our audience. Many commented afterwards that they couldn’t believe the Choir had only been rehearsing for just three months.  There are still a few places available in the Joint Forces Choir for anyone wishing to join – just email jointforcesingers@gmail.com. No singing experience required!

Joint Force Singers Christmas Concert at Westminster Music Library, December 2015

We are nearly half way through our year-long Joint Force Singers project, but fear not, we have many more exciting performances planned at prestigious venues across Westminster. For more information on the Choir and its background, take a look at this previous blog post. We are thrilled by the success of our Choir’s debut public performance, and are sure of great things to come. If they can put on a brilliant Christmas concert “in the bleak mid-winter”, they can do it any time of year.

[Jon]


*The bodhrán is a traditional Celtic frame drum; the cross braces and laminated rosewood strengthen the shell of this goatskin-covered instrument. The Irish word bodhrán, indicating a drum, is first mentioned in a translated English document in the 17th cent…wait a minute – visit the Music Library if you want to know more! [ed.]

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]

Into the next millennium

Books & the City - 1000th post

We can scarce believe it, but this is the 1000th post on Books & the City! The original aim was to shed light on ‘the life of the Libraries & Archives service, what’s happening, occasionally a little insight into what goes on behind the scenes. And a certain amount of random library-ness too’, in (we thought) one or two posts a week… This would have meant post number 1000 would have taken between ten and twenty years to arrive. The aim remains the same, but of course there has been a LOT more to write about than we foresaw, and it’s taken just 5 years and 3 months to get to this point.

Door(s) to the Marylebone Information Service reserve stackSo to celebrate, we thought we’d look back at some of the most popular, interesting or strange posts since 1 July 2010.

There have been posts about books, and posts about history. Posts about national projects and individual experiences. We’ve helped you use online resources and save money, we’ve introduced new services, reviewed hundreds of events from author visits to concerts and shown you some of the hidden places in our libraries.

What do the statistics tell us about what you want to see? You like a chance to get involved (Little Big Stories (A Mail Art Call)), you lap up pictures of works in progress (The rebirth of Maida Vale Library), and you love the idea of getting married in a library (Wedding ceremonies at Mayfair library).

Testing the technology and finding homes for the books, not very long before reopening... eek!The Marylebone Room - One of the two beautiful marriage & civil partnership rooms at Mayfair LibraryA piece in the 'Little Big Stories' mail art exhibition at Pimlico Library.

But most of all you want to read about the history of the wonderful City of Westminster, whether it’s in the form of a post from the Archives Centre (most popular subjects: Charles Dickens, swimming baths, Nathaniel Bryceson), a re-enactment to mark an event (Marylebone Library in the Park) or an exploration of a minute detail of library architecture (An ‘uplifting’ relic of Charing Cross past).

Hungerford Stairs, near the site of a blacking factory where Dickens worked as a boy. Image property of Westminster City Archives.Marylebone Library in the Park 2015 - Francis, Anabel, SabinaRelic of the London Hydraulic Power Company, to be found in Charing Cross Library

Posts about children’s activities are always popular too, and while they barely scratch the surface of the huge number of events that go on every week (especially during the Summer Reading Challenges), these stories do fulfil the stated aim of shedding light on ‘what’s happening in libraries’. Pictures of Lego rockets, vast papier maché penguins and duffle-coat clad dignitaries are among many that have caught the imagination.

Lego rocket and enthusiasts at Maida Vale LibraryPapier Mache Penguin in progress - St John's Wood Library, February 2013Paddington Bear visits Paddington Library, November 2014. Photos courtesy of Gavin Conlon Photography Ltd.

And what of this editor’s favourites? Well, being able to boast not one but TWO posts entitled, quite legitimately, ‘Polar Bear in the Library‘ has always pleased me, and I confess to a puerile giggle at having the chance to publish a post with the heading ‘Explosive bowels‘. But my favourite post of all was the one that seemed to say all that needed to be said about the modern public library service, the pride and ownership you the customers feel and how very wrong people can be about libraries (but also how gracious they can be in admitting their mistakes): ‘Frankly, my dear, we *do* give a …‘.

Frank Skinner at Church Street Library

We look forward to the next thousand posts and hope you’ll join us for the journey. Now, shall we watch some fireworks?

[Ali]

Any other duties as required…

French hornI’m sure we’re all familiar with that line at the end of a job description, but if you’re part of the team in Westminster Music Library, you play a musical instrument and have often wondered what it would be like to perform in front of a live audience it can take on a whole new meaning.

Once I discovered that Jon – our Saturday Assistant – was an excellent French horn player, and not only that, had a group of friends who were similarly blessed, it was only a matter of time before he found himself “volunteering” to perform for the good folks of Westminster with his quartet. For anyone unfamiliar with the French horn, it’s a brass instrument with a mellow tone, consisting of a long, spiral tube ending in a flaring bell, three valves, and a funnel-shaped mouthpiece, and if you unwound it, that spiral tube would be more than 20 feet long.

Our four musicians clearly share a passion for this complicated and versatile instrument. It’s considered to be one of the most difficult instruments to play, and for good reason. It can play practically every note without pressing a single key, lends itself to many different styles of music and can fill so many parts. In an orchestra this beautiful instrument can be heard playing along with anything from a clarinet to a tuba.

The Jon Frank Horn Quartet  at Westminster Music Library, March 2015

Although the catalogue of original works for horn quartet is not extensive, there are a fair number of arrangements of well known works, and it was from a selection of this repertoire that Jon and his quartet performed for our audience in Westminster Music Library. And isn’t it great that each and every piece of music he chose for their recital came from our very own Music Library shelves?

The Jon Frank Horn Quartet  at Westminster Music Library, March 2015

The concert covered arrangements of Mozart’s overture to his opera The magic flute, selections from Bizet’s Carmen, and some lively jazz in the shape of two songs by Gershwin – s’Wonderful and I got Rhythm. As the concert drew to a close, it was clear that our quartet were not going to be allowed to leave with any haste. Our appreciative audience not only demanded an encore, but also held them captive while they fired questions at them about the French horn, its history, their favourite works for this illustrious instrument, and just how difficult it was to play.

All four musicians demonstrated so clearly the art of successful ensemble playing, this was a thoroughly enjoyable concert given by a group of versatile and committed musicians. Have a listen to their encore in this clip:

If you don’t know what this piece is, you’ll just have to visit The Music Library on Saturday and ask Jon….

[Ruth]