Tag Archives: music library

“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]

Deck the shelves…

Opal Flutes at Westminster Music Library, December 2016So it’s that time of year again, the tree has gone up, we’ve covered the place in tinsel, the Santa hats have been dusted off and we’re starting to get sick of certain songs already… yes, Christmas time is officially upon us.

And it wouldn’t be Christmas without us sharing the many festive musical events we’ve held in Westminster Music Library since the start of December…

Opal Flutes at Westminster Music Library, December 2016

Opening proceedings with a cracking selection of winter themed arrangements were the fabulous Opal Flutes flute choir, a bunch of keen amateur musicians of all standards and from many walks of life; as well as the standard flute we’re all familiar with, they also boast players of piccolo, alto flute and bass flute. So popular are they that they even have music specially arranged for them, Jingle Bells never sounded so good.

Staff get into the swing of the under fives' Christmas party at Westminster Music Library, December 2016

Having bid them all the very best for the festive season, it was time for the Music Library staff to take over and present the madness and mayhem that is the Under Fives Christmas Party, as ever with the help of the indispensable Georgina from Victoria Children’s Library:

Father Christmas came to the under fives' Christmas party at Westminster Music Library! December 2016“Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the Under Fives Christmas Party in the Music Library, it’s right up there with the Queen’s Speech”

And of course there was a visit from the one and only Father Christmas (we know who you are, and your secret’s safe with us…).

Our musical entertainment managed to conjure up a lot of happy faces although there were a few tears. It’s amazing how competitive parents can be when it comes to the race for getting a Christmas present for being “good all year”…

Carols with Knightsbridge Brass at Westminster Music Library, December 2016

Once Santa had departed to continue his gift distribution and we’d tidied up the tinsel, our thoughts turned to our grand finale Westminster Music Library Christmas event – a carol evening including mince pies and silly stories, and the amazing musical accompaniment of Knightsbridge Brass, a quintet of brass players from The Band of the Scots Guards.

Carols with Knightsbridge Brass at Westminster Music Library, December 2016A little different from Trooping the Colour, they were all game enough to trade in their bearskins for Santa Hats and provide exceptional musical back up for the carolling crowd – which reached a record breaking number this Christmas.

And that’s us done for this year’s Christmas celebrations in the Music Library, although we’re still eating the mince pies…

[Ruth]

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]

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]

Westminster Music Library – a fresher approach

Despite September’s impressive attempts to imitate our August heat wave, summer is finally over. Autumn has rolled in and schools and universities have resumed business as usual.

Autumn from the Four Seasons by Vivaldi, at Westminster Music LibraryHere at Westminster Music Library, however, we do not resent the end of summer. The beginning of the school year brings with it thousands of students, and many of them musicians. Did you know that there are five specialist music conservatoires in London alone? Even conservatively estimating an intake of 100 per college per year, that’s 500 new music students in the Greater London area each year – all of whom could benefit from our wonderful collection at Westminster Music Library.

We are proud to have one of the finest public music collections in the country, and are keen to share it with as many musicians as possible. But how does one reach all of these newly-settled musicians? This is where we are immensely thankful for Freshers’ Fairs. Conservatoires’ Student Unions do a fantastic job arranging these each year for new students to discover what services they could benefit from during their time in London. I was fortunate enough to get to two of these Fairs this year, and meet hundreds of students in the process.

View from the Westminster Music Library stall at the Royal Academy of Music’s Freshers' Fair 2016

I first attended Royal Academy of Music’s Fair, in their very grand concert hall. Over an intense two hours, students flooded in. The amount of foot traffic was amazing and our stall was always surrounded. Fortunately, I was sharing a table with my colleague Barry, who was representing RAM’s local public library, Marylebone Library and Information Service. Between us we were able to keep up with the interest in our stall! A large number of students signed up for memberships after learning about our wide selection of stock and generous loan allowances. Being music students, many were particularly interested in our rehearsal space with piano. Here I also met our friends from Barbican Music Library, with whom I would be sharing a table at our next Fair. By the end of the Fair Barry and I were exhausted but satisfied with the interest shown.

Barry from Marylebone Library at the Royal Academy of Music’s Freshers' Fair 2016

After a few days I was out on the road again, carrying with me our same sheet music samples, fliers, membership forms, and, most importantly, free chocolates to entice hungry students. I was slightly concerned that my poor little folding bicycle would collapse under the strain on the way to Guildhall School of Music and Drama! Guildhall’s Fair was in their downstairs Theatre, a huge underground space. The size of the space allowed many more stallholders to be present, and I particularly enjoyed seeing my friends from Paxman Musical Instruments Ltd., who sold me my own instrument many years ago. Other stallholders ranged from the local police force to the Royal British Legion, and even a stall selling second-hand bicycles to new students. (Fortunately my bike had survived the journey and I didn’t need to replace it!). The Guildhall Fair was spread over five hours, and the stream of students was thinned out compared to RAM’s. Over the afternoon I was able to engage many interested musicians in conversations about their musical needs and how we can help them at the Library. Once again we had a great success, handing out many shiny new membership cards. Jacky, representing Barbican Music Library, was a wonderful table partner. The students could hardly believe it when they discovered that there were two specialist music libraries in London!

 Jacky from Barbican Music Library at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's Freshers' Fair 2016

We are thankful to these two conservatoires for hosting us, and look forward to meeting more students in years to come.

If you’re a student new to London, whether or not we visited your institution we’d love to see you – come in and find out what we have to offer!

[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]