Tag Archives: music

“A very great master of music”

Works by Henry Purcell at Westminster Music Library“A very great master of music”

This was the headline grabbing news in The Post Boy for 26 November 1695 on the death of composer Henry Purcell.

Recognised as one of the greatest English composers, Purcell was universally mourned.  But we wanted to celebrate his musical achievements rather than lament his death, not only as a prolific composer but also as a lifelong resident of Westminster.

So in time honoured fashion, the Westminster Music Library team – together with a little help from some excellent musicians from The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, a bunch of our local residents and school children, Westminster City Archives, some generous support by Westminster City Council and Westminster Cultural Partnerships Team – arranged a day of workshops with a grand finale concert for family and friends. This was set to be a fun and exciting challenge for all.

But before the musicians tune up and the music gets going, who was this Purcell chap and what made him so very special?

Henry Purcell was born in Westminster in 1659 into a very musical family. His Father – Henry Senior – was a leading musician during the commonwealth and became a gentleman of the Chapel Royal.  Henry Junior attended Westminster School and was a chorister at the Chapel Royal, he wrote his first song at the age of 8 and by the time he was 20 he became organist at Westminster Abbey and continued to work there his entire life [read more].

He turned his hand to church music, instrumental music, music for the theatre, popular songs, and most notably he composed the first ever English opera, Dido and Aeneas, a story of love and destiny. And it was this very opera that we turned our attention to for our workshops. Let the show begin!

A brief summary of the plot…

Aeneas, a Trojan Prince, is shipwrecked in Carthage, where he is the guest of Dido, the Queen of Carthage. Aeneas falls in love with Dido and asks her to marry him, to which she agrees.

Meanwhile, evil witches are plotting Dido’s destruction, and devise a plan to trick Aeneas into leaving his beloved wife. The Sorceress conjures a storm to send the royal couple home from a hunting trip. On their way, an elf disguised as Mercury, the winged god, speaks to Aeneas and tells him he must leave Dido to follow his destiny and create a new Troy in Italy.

Believing it to be the will of the gods, Aeneas and his sailors prepare to leave. Dido is heartbroken at his departure, and the witches celebrate.

So boy meets girl, boy is distracted, leaves girl, girl dies of a broken heart. There’s a good deal of action involving storms, sailors, witches and hunting, and a whole Kleenex box worth of blubbing at the end. Lots of potential to get creative juices flowing for both musicians and participants.

From sailors’ hornpipes to cackling witches, crashing drums to eerie strings, everyone had their part to play. Our grand finale performances by both adults and children were incredibly polished considering what a short amount of time they’d all had to work on them. By the time we reached the sad finale there was hardly a dry eye in the house, lucky we’d thought to provide tea and biscuits…

Henry Purcell workshop with RPO musicians at Westminster Music Library, February 2017

[Ruth]

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Let There Be Love

Thirty people turned up on a chilly February afternoon at Paddington Library for a St Valentine Day theme recital of Clarinet and Poetry.

I was very lucky to engage two wonderful professionals: Poet, Valerie Fry and Clarinettist, Chris Hooker who performed a number of love poems and music with a Romantic theme. Among the poems were ‘The Owl and the Pussy cat by Edward Lear and ‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvel.

The musical repertoire included a number of fairly modern pieces by Paul McCartney  (Yesterday), Honeysuckle Rose (Fats Waller) and I’ve Got You Under My Skin (Cole Porter).

The  audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive and many people stayed behind to talk to the performers over some refreshments

[Laurence]

 

Henry Purcell – local boy makes good

Henry Purcell sculpture by Glynn Williams 1995, Christchurch Gardens SW1In a library situated between Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, there is a fine collection of music books and printed music – the one and only Westminster Music Library.

We’ve developed a bit of a reputation for obtaining money for all manner of music related activities, sometimes from the unlikeliest of sources…

So it was that following our MOD funded Joint Force Singers choral project last June, I started thinking about what Westminster Music Library could do next for the good citizens of the Borough. Maybe it was time to start looking a little closer to home for some inspiration.

Henry Purcell - portrait by John Closterman, 1660-1711

There have been hundreds of famous people who were born in Westminster, from Queen Anne to the First Earl of Zetland, but what about those who dedicated their lives to music? Composers like Thomas Busby, brothers George and Walter McFarren, all interesting but not exactly household names. I needed a show stopper, someone who had a real connection to Westminster throughout his life. How about the chap considered to be England’s greatest composer of the Baroque era, famously dubbed the “Orpheus Britannicus” for his ability to combine powerful English counterpoint with expressive, flexible, and dramatic word settings? None other than Henry Purcell.

Born in Old Pye Street, a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey and Westminster’s present day City Archives, Purcell’s interest in music began when he was a young child. Even the street names in his neighbourhood are enough to get the imagination running riot: Abbey Orchard Street, Devil’s Acre, Thieving Lane.

Rumour has it that he started composing at the age of 9, his earliest work being the ode for King Charles’ birthday in 1670. The young Purcell attended Westminster School, was appointed copyist at Westminster Abbey in 1676, and landed the impressive post of Organist of Westminster Abbey by the time he was 20, in 1679. As organist of Westminster Abbey, he played at William and Mary’s coronation on 11 April 1689. An impressive pedigree for a local boy, and definitely someone we should be celebrating.

Henry Purcell: Chacony (MSS British Library)

While Purcell is well worth celebrating, I needed to think about how to do it – how could this celebration help residents to connect with their community, make the most of the local opportunities and assets available to them, and encourage them to celebrate Westminster’s unique historic heritage?

With musical expertise from our long-time partners the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the knowledgeable staff at Westminster City Archives (an Aladdin’s Cave of fascinating information, maps and photographs of the area), I put together a proposal which includes a series of intergenerational workshops for local residents and school children, resource packs for both adults and children, and an exhibition focusing on the life, music, history and heritage of Henry Purcell. And the beauty of Henry Purcell as far as Westminster Music Library is concerned? We have lots of books and scores in our collection with his name on them!

So we’re good to go for February 2017, with the generous help of the Westminster Cultural Partnerships Team and Westminster City Councillors – watch this space!

[Ruth]

From Summertime in Venice to Autumn in St John’s Wood

A musical lunch was held at St John’s Wood Library on Silver Sunday for members of the Home Library Service, along with other local residents.

Barrie spins the discs at the HLS Musical Lunch at St John's Wood Library for Silver Sunday 2016

From vinyl to digital: our resident vinyl expert and HLS staff member Barrie played vocalists from the past, from the well known Frank Sinatra to the lesser known Jerry Vale (“Summertime in Venice”). We then experimented with listening to music via the internet on our libraries’ tablets.


Silver Sunday“Fascinating old records and played like a professional DJ”

“Many thanks, it has made a great difference to my life, coming out to an event”

“Thank you for your imaginative organisation”


HLS Musical Lunch at St John's Wood Library for Silver Sunday 2016

[Elaine]

Oh, what a beautiful partnership!

Silver SundayThe hills… no… shelves were alive with the sound of music last Saturday morning as we celebrated Silver Sunday at Westminster Music Library. For years now it has been our tradition to mark this celebration of older people with an annual sing-along, and this year was no different. Crowds of local residents braved the dreadful October rain and joined us in the Music Library to make music together and meet new people.

Our theme for this year was the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein, who brought us South Pacific, Oklahoma and The Sound of Music amongst many others. It was our great pleasure to welcome back Ruairi Glasheen, our celebrated choir leader from the Joint Force Singers project, to lead us in a workshop exploring favourite songs by this great song writing pair. Our whirlwind tour of their greatest hits included Do-Re-Mi, Climb Ev’ry Mountain, My Favourite Things, and, in defiance of the storm hammering on the windows, Oh, What A Beautiful Morning!

Ruairi Glasheen leads the Rodgers & Hammerstein singalong for Silver Sunday 2016 at Westminster Music Library

Using his extensive choir leading experience, Ruairi not only led us through the songs but helped us warm up our bodies and voices with a number of physical and vocal exercises. Our ensemble soon warmed to his charismatic leadership, and by the time we got round to learning our first song all were keen to test their newly-stretched vocal cords. Ruairi even taught the ambitious singers some harmony parts for some of the songs, and the result was fantastic. Within just an hour or so he really had us sounding like a mature choir – certainly not as if we’d all only just met!

Councillor Christabel Flight, who is not only the mastermind behind Silver Sunday but is also a keen supporter of Westminster Music Library, was guest of honour. Under her leadership, Silver Sunday has grown into a day of over 400 free events for older people all across the country. We were pleased to host just one of these events and look forward to doing the same next year!

It is always a privilege to sing with others in a group, and judging by the feedback from some of our attendees, the event was a huge success. Many commented on how nice it was to socialise with other local residents and try something new. Here at Westminster Music Library we can certainly attest to the power of music-making in building friendships, having hosted many similar events over the years.

Sir Simon Milton Foundation logo

We enjoy each one we organise and are glad to see both familiar and new faces joining in.
[Jon]

Joint Force Singers – The Movie!

Joint Force Singers - first rehearsal, September 2015It’s been well documented that singing in a choir is not only a relaxing and enjoyable activity, but also has great health benefits and promotes long lasting friendships.

Joint Force Singers, Westminster Music Library‘s twelve-month choral collaboration with Westminster’s Armed Forces, was made possible by a significant funding grant from The Armed Forces Community Covenant.

My mission when we set out was to raise awareness of the Armed Forces within our local community; I hope you’ll agree that this short film shows just how successful this has been. The integration of members recruited from the army and local community organisations has established bonds, inspired mutual appreciation, and created long lasting friendships.

It’s been an exciting year featuring a  number of high profile concerts; at Lords MCC, The Westminster Community Awards, Pimlico Proms, Armed Forces Week, The Guards Chapel at Wellington Barracks, to name but a few – you can read more about and see pictures from most of our events here on this blog.. Joint Force Singers has cemented our relationship with Westminster’s Armed Forces, brought together a fantastic bunch of people from across the community, and has built and cultivated many lasting friendships.  To quote Marylin Manson:

“Music is the strongest form of magic”

[Ruth]

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]