Tag Archives: singalong

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]

“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]

“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]

The Last Post: A tribute to the First World War generation

The Last Post projectIn this anniversary year of the outbreak of the Great War, communities across the UK have been commemorating the lives of those who lived through and died in the conflict.

For our part at Westminster Music Library, we in the past year have been exploring the music from the wartime period in our project Behind the Lines; and our participation in Superact’s Last Post Project was an apt culmination.

Fittingly stationed between Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance Day was our poignant “The Last Post” evening. It was our great pleasure to be involved in this project, the initiative of arts organisation Superact (with support from the Department for Communities and Local Government, and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund). Ours was just one of over 230 such events taking place up and down the country between 4 and 18 November, all featuring an all-important rendition of that well-established remembrance tradition: the Last Post. More information can be found at www.thelastpostproject.org.uk.

The Last Post began life humbly, as a bugle call to mark the end of the day in military camps in an era before soldiers had watches. Over the course of the nineteenth century it started to take on a memorial role, being played at the funerals of those killed in battle. During the First World War, as the numbers of those dying grew rapidly, this haunting tune was played with increasing regularity, and now has a central role in the remembrance of the war dead.

Interest in our Last Post event was huge and we were soon so fully booked it was standing room only! The audience of local residents was augmented with the forces of South Westminster and Church Street Community Choirs whom we were delighted to welcome to add extra depth and harmony to the singing. The singing was brilliantly led by Ruth with fine accompaniment from Anthony on the piano.

Last Post Event at Westminster Music Library - November 2014

The evening began with a sing-along featuring all the old favourite First World War songs. Audience, staff and the choirs were in good voice as we launched into It’s a long way to Tipperary and Pack up your troubles – classic uplifting songs from early in the war, reflecting the nation’s optimism and hope in a swift resolution. It soon transpired, though, that the war would last longer than any had dared to conceive. The country’s musical output became more reflective, giving voice to a greater determination and perseverance. Our programme represented this trend with inclusion of the beautiful and wonderfully nostalgic If you were the only girl in the world, Keep the home fires burning and Roses of Picardy.

We then belted out Oh! It’s a lovely war from the satirical music hall show which, when written, tapped into the increasing cynicism as the war dragged on. When the Americans entered the war they brought their popular songs over with them and we joined in rousing versions of Over there and There’s a long, long trail.

Last Post Event at Westminster Music Library - November 2014To give our singing voices some rest, our songs were interspersed with readings from Ruth. We heard poems and letters home – some humorous, some sad, but all poignant, reflecting the varying experiences of those who lived both through the trenches and on the home front.

Our final song was, perhaps inevitably, the ever popular Good-bye-ee, but the evening’s climax was still to come. As the applause died down, hidden from sight behind the bookshelves, came the words of Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’, movingly recited by Andrew. You could hear a pin drop. After a moment’s pause we heard the opening notes of the Last Post. The audience spontaneously stood in respect as this ever-moving bugle call, brilliantly played by Jon, broke through the still silence. As the music came to an end, we paused for two minutes’ reflection.

And so our tribute to the First World War generation came to a close. The contrast between the lively sing along and the intensity of the Last Post at the end was stark and heartrending.

Here are some comments from members of the audience:

“A lovely evening with readings and songs and a very moving Last Post”

“Wonderful to have a singing event! Very nostalgic and very moving”

“Wonderful – released all sorts of emotions- excellent readings by Ruth. Whole concert was well thought out and performed”

Finally, we would like to extend our gratitude to South Westminster and Church Street Community Choirs for their support.

Here are Andrew and Jon performing The Last Post:

The Last Post Project: sponsors and supporting organisations

[Andrew and Jon]

A swell party

A Celebration of Cole Porter at Westminster Music Library, October 2014“A packed house of satisfied customers,” – so said Irving Berlin upon attending a performance of Cole Porter’s ‘Can-Can’ in 1953; and, indeed, matching feedback from attendees of Westminster Music Library’s Celebration of Cole Porter proved that Porter’s music continues to stir up the same enthusiasm today.

“Most enjoyable – loved by the audience,” wrote one guest, while another commented, “These events give us a kick!” – a reference to Porter’s timeless song  I Get a Kick out of You.

Our Celebration of Cole Porter marked the 50th anniversary of the prolific songwriter’s death, and the evening’s programme spanned nearly 30 years of tireless composition, featuring songs from Paris (1928) through to High Society (1956). In classic Westminster Music Library form, audience participation was encouraged and our guests became fellow performers as we piped our way through classic numbers such as Anything Goes and I’ve Got You Under My Skin, led by Anthony on piano and ‘Principal Chorister’, Ruth! We also heard a selection of anecdotes, extracts from letters and biographical details about Porter’s fascinating life, in addition to a number of solo performances from Anthony on piano, demonstrating the wide variety of interpretations that Porter’s songs have been treated to over the years.

A Celebration of Cole Porter at Westminster Music Library, October 2014

 

Our guests’ confident singing and familiarity with all the evening’s numbers, some 50 years on, is sufficient to prove that Porter had a gift for penning enduring songs. His training in violin and piano at a young age surely contributed to a great understanding of music, and reports of his infamous rigorous self-discipline demonstrate that his lasting success was indeed earned through unflagging work. His lyrical output, too, exhibits a certain knack for communicating with the listener. As we heard during our event:

“His lyrics were literate, sophisticated, yet could be charming, suggestive, even naughty.”

Perhaps this natural ability to resonate in relevance to the audience is a key factor in determining the secret of Porter’s success. Indeed, our closing song, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, speaks just as loudly in 21st century London as it did in 1950s America:

“Who wants to be a millionaire? (I don’t!)
And go to every swell affair? (I don’t!)

Who wants an opera box, I’ll bet? (I don’t!)
And sleep through Wagner at the Met? (I don’t!)
I don’t, and I don’t, ‘cause all I want is you!”

[Jonathan]

Keeping the home fires burning

Silver Sunday

Westminster Music Library was alive with the sound of song last Saturday, as a number of the Borough’s older residents braved wind and rain to join Ruth, Anthony and myself in a lively sing-along recollecting the centenary of the First World War. These melodious local residents raised their voices to prove that the “home fires” are indeed still burning as part of the City of Westminster’s Silver Sunday initiative and our very own Behind the Lines project.

“I sang these songs as a boy,” one participant commented, as we piped our way through popular favourites such as It’s a Long Way to Tipperary and Over There. Singing was gallantly led by Ruth, whose dulcet tones were masterfully accompanied by Anthony on piano; this is one library where staff don’t always insist on silence!

Attendees also listened to readings of poetry, letters and anecdotal writings from the Great War. Humourous poems evoked a feeling of light-hearted camaraderie; sentiments so warmly expressed in the timeless Oh! It’s a Lovely War:

“What do we want with eggs and ham
When we’ve got plum and apple jam?”

In contrast, letters sent to loved ones from front-line soldiers reminded us of the genuine hardships felt by men in overseas service, highlighting the real importance of motivational songs; a reminder to “Pack up your troublesand smile” would have struck a chord not just for those in Britain but for those serving away from home.

Several songs not strictly related to the War managed to slip their way into our programme, including the popular If You Were the Only Girl in the World and There’s a Long, Long Trail. “‘There’s a long, long trail’ was immediately popular,” our programme notes explained, “It did not become one of the anthems of the War until the British troops embraced it as they left British ports.” If the mental image of a shipful of soldiers waving goodbye to loved ones as they sail away from England brings a tear to your eye, the song ends on a hopeful note:

“Until my dreams all come true;
Till the day when I’ll be going down
That long, long trail with you.”

Silver Sunday 2014 at Westminster Music LibraryAfter an hour of singing and being entertained, warm refreshments provided a friendly opportunity for us to talk to some of our guests. “Excellent,” one participant commented, “- so well prepared and presented.”

For our part, we were delighted to participate in Silver Sunday (despite it being a Saturday!) and spend our Saturday morning doing something a little different. In the words of our closing song…

“Bonsoir, old thing!
Cheerio! Chin chin!
Nah poo! Toodleoo! Good-bye-ee!”

[Jon]