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]

Humming in Harmony

“The power of music to integrate and cure… is quite fundamental. It is the profoundest nonchemical medication.”
– Oliver Sacks

Humming in Harmony for Mental Health Awareness Week 2016

Westminster Music Library’s five month programme of mindfulness workshops – Humming in Harmony – clearly demonstrates how true this statement is. These simple workshops, designed to improve mental health and beat isolation, connecting and bringing people together through music, have received lots of very positive feedback.

Humming in Harmony / Mind the Body workshop at Westminster Music Library for Mental Health Awareness Week, May 2016

Created by Sergio Lopez Figueroa, a qualified piano teacher and composer, Humming in Harmony uses the human voice and the power of vocal harmonies in new ways to relax the mind, whilst providing an opportunity to get away from our hectic digital lives.

Humming in Harmony / Mind the Body workshop at Westminster Music Library for Mental Health Awareness Week, May 2016

So what happens when we hum? I asked Sergio to explain:

“Music is energy, so by focusing on pitch or frequency and through conscious breathing, we feel the vibration, and over time improve concentration and focus by listening to ourselves and others simultaneously…. gradually we develop the ability to use this energy to interact with others, and to experience the benefit of tension and release in musical harmonies, and in our bodies and minds. From structured to open sessions, we can experience free expression, lead or follow as we please. We are each responsible for co-creating the best experience for the whole group, which makes Humming in Harmony different from other similar practices”.

It sounds simple enough, no qualifications or experience necessary, just turn up and start humming, and this is the really good part –  singing and humming not only brings people together, it’s also a great way to relax, unwind, de-stress, improve listening skills and pitch recognition, and helps develop correct breathing techniques.

Humming in Harmony / Mind the Body workshop at Westminster Music Library for Mental Health Awareness Week, May 2016

So with Mental Health Awareness Week fast approaching, last Saturday, Sergio – with a little help from Westminster Music Library – organised Mind the Body, a day of public health awareness activities focusing on music. Sergio demonstrated how the power of music can facilitate positive changes in emotional wellbeing, how it encourages communication, self-awareness and an awareness of others.  The day included interactive presentations by health practitioners, case studies, a film screening and Q&A session, and a creative Humming in Harmony improvisation led by Sergio on piano.

As you can see from the comments below from some of those who came along, I think it’s fair to say people got quite a lot out of the day:

‘Something I would normally never do – it’s a complete change to my usual hectic life.’

‘Excellent workshop, made me concentrate. Therefore, think positively in the present and left cares behind.’

‘Uplifting! Great help after feeling low.’

Humming in Harmony / Mind the Body workshop at Westminster Music Library for Mental Health Awareness Week, May 2016

And from Sergio himself:

‘Thanks for Westminster Music Library’s support in offering the time and space to start a new initiative like Humming in Harmony, and the efforts you’ve made to generate awareness. The event on Saturday was very successful. We discussed issues about health, showed some interesting videos, and had two humming sessions. Having the piano was a real bonus, the improvisation with keyboard and humming was very well received. Participants were asking when the next sessions are as they are keen to continue.’

I’d better check the diary…

[Ruth]

Calling all comic fans!

Free Comic Book Day 2016Save the date –
Saturday 7 May is
Free Comic Book Day

Across North America and around the world, comic shops will be giving away free comics. And Westminster Libraries are taking part, courtesy of the lovely folks at Forbidden Planet who are providing the comics.

You can collect yours from your local library (see list of participating libraries below). One title per customer, while stocks last – which won’t be long!

There is a Doctor Who title, a Superhero Girls title and selected libraries will also have Suicide Squad (suitable for teens and over only).

Doctor Who for Free Comic Book day 2016 DC Superhero Girls for Free Comic Book day 2016 Suicide Squad for Free Comic Book day 2016

“Free Comic Book Day is the perfect occasion for newcomers to comics as well as those who have been reading them for years to celebrate comics and discover new titles that debut on the first Saturday in May”
– Free Comic Book Day spokesperson Dan Manser

Why not check out the graphic novel collection while you are there and see what else your library has to offer?

[Rachel]


Participating libraries in Westminster:

Bustling Spring Health and Volunteering Fair at Victoria Library

On Wednesday 20 May, Victoria Library was host to a bustling Spring Health and Volunteering Fair. This year’s event was delivered as part of SW Connects project to support better integration of the armed forces families and their local community.

Dr Bike making a bike road safe at the Victoria Health & Volunteering fair, May 2015   Checking blood pressure at the Victoria Health & Volunteering fair, May 2015

WAES showing us how to prepare healthy snacks at the Victoria Health & Volunteering fair, May 2015More than 100 people came by throughout the afternoon to indulge in free massages, take part in a taster session to make healthy summer rolls, learn about mindfulness and get their health checked.  There were also plenty of opportunities to investigate some of the many volunteering options available.

General bustle at the Victoria Health & Volunteering fair, May 2015

[Nick]

Free Comic Book Day in Westminster Libraries!

Free Comic Book Day 2015Celebrate and discover the amazing world of comics on Free Comic Book Day!
Taking place annually on the first Saturday in May, Free Comic Book Day is a single day when participating comic book specialist shops around the world give away comic books – and this year, for this first time, we are very pleased to have some free comics from Forbidden Planet to give away.

Participating libraries will have a poster advertising they are taking part. It’s first come, first served, so if you are an avid comic fan, visit one of the participating libraries – Charing Cross, Church Street, Maida Vale, Marylebone, Mayfair, Paddington, Pimlico, Queen’s Park, St John’s Wood or Victoria – on Saturday 2 May to pick up your special free copy.

Free Comic Book Day 2015 - DC Comics: DivergenceWhat are we giving away?
DC Comics: Divergence

A first look at upcoming storylines, featuring three 8-page previews for the June releases of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, as well as Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok’s launch of the “Darkseid War” within Justice League featuring the biggest villains in the DCU – Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor, and Gene Luen Yang’s DC Comics debut with celebrated artist John Romita, Jr on Superman.
Rating: Teen

Why not join the library and check out the graphic novel collection at the same time? All of Westminster’s lending libraries have a comics section which is constantly being renewed and added to, so visit your local library and see what’s in stock.  Marylebone Library, being the home of the Graphic Novel Club [read more], joins Pimlico and Victoria libraries in having the largest selection of titles.

If there’s something in particular you’re looking for, check the catalogue in advance to find out where it’s in stock. We have lots of Marvel comics, the DC 52 reboot titles, Robert Kirkman’s ‘Invincible’ and reprints of classics such as Ex Machina and manga titles Naruto and Dragonball…  to name but a few!

[Rachel and Nick]

Happy National Libraries Day!

National Libraries DayToday, 7 February is National Libraries Day – are you coming to the library today? We’d love to see you.

If you haven’t been to the library for a while, pick your nearest one and come and find out what we have to offer. This Saturday in Westminster Libraries you can find:

These are just the special events this Saturday – we have literally hundreds of other events going on every day of the week across our network of libraries. Keep an eye on the Forthcoming events page for one-off events and at the regular events section of your own library’s events page for regular activities.

Or just come in and have a look at our wide range of books for both adults and children, use the library computers, ask a question, borrow a DVD or CD, find out about local history at the Archives Centre, use our amazing special collections or use the study space we offer.

Regular library users – or even lapsed ones – will enjoy the Twitter-based quiz we’ve got going on this morning. We’re posting pictures of details, features or aspects of many Westminster libraries and asking you to work out which one it is – take a look at #HowWellDoYouKnowYourLibrary? on Twitter to have a go. We’ll also be posting the pictures on here and Facebook later on.

If you can’t get to the library today, have a look at our brilliant online resources – you can download e-books, e-magazines and e-audiobooks for free, and use the Guardian newspaper archives, Naxos Music Library and KOMPASS business directory (and much MUCH more) from home too.

And if you can’t get to the library at all because you are disabled or caring for someone at home, don’t forget that we have a Home Library Service for you.

There are loads of reasons to love libraries this National Libraries Day. Come and find out why!

“The King” and I…

… a celebration of the 80th anniversary of the birth of Elvis Presley.

The ‘King’ of millions of hearts all over the world and rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis Aaron Presley (born: Tupelo, Mississippi, 8 January 1935) defined an era.

Presley in a Sun Records promotional photograph, 1954He was the man of the showbiz industry in his time, with the unearthly ability to deliver hit song after hit song to the obvious delight of his fans. The man who from his humble beginnings from the farmlands of Memphis, Tennessee ended up making the whole world dance to his tunes, whose killer looks made many go weak at the knees, a man who made rock ‘n’ roll what it is today and will always be remembered as a true superstar.

He rose from poverty to fame in the mid 1950s, attracting large audiences – particularly teenage girls – at concerts everywhere he went. Elvis was young and attractive, had a great voice, and his sound and style were totally unique. His musical style was a combination of black rhythm & blues, country, blues, pop music of the time, and gospel. Nicknamed “Elvis the pelvis” for his swivelling dance moves, some parents and church goers considered him vulgar, and a dangerous influence to teenagers.

Acting had been his dream for many years, and in 1956 he realised his ambition with the film “Love me tender”. Between 1956 and 1961 he was recording, giving live concerts, and making films (with the exception of his time in the army) and achieved international fame.

Other films from this early period include “Jailhouse rock” and “King Creole”, and soon after returning from the army in 1961 he abandoned singing to live audiences and turned exclusively to film making.

Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock
In the 1960s Elvis was acting in one film after another (films like “Blue Hawaii” and “Viva Las Vegas”), but he became dissatisfied with his acting career and stopped making films in 1969, returning instead to live concerts.

From 1970 until his death in 1977, Elvis toured in concerts across the USA, an estimated total of over 1,000 performances. He made history with these elaborate shows, his costumes (most often jumpsuits) breaking box office records.

Elvis died unexpectedly in 1977 from a heart attack, prescription drug abuse indicated as a cause. He has sold over 1 billion albums worldwide, has over 100 gold / platinum awards for his singles and albums within the USA, he is by far one of the most popular artists of all time, and his records and films continue to sell well today.

This is just a glimpse of The ‘King’, there is far more to know about this legend and there are many books about him to choose from at Westminster Music Library; from reference guides, discographies, to biographies. You can listen to Elvis on numerous CDs in stock in libraries too.

And the King lives on – the number of Elvis Presley impersonators has reached an all-time record high – there are now at least 85,000 Elvises around the world, compared to only 170 in 1977 when he died. At this rate of growth, experts predict that by 2019 Elvis impersonators will make up a third of the world population! Why not release your “inner Elvis” and borrow one of our Elvis Presley scores?

[Ruth]

Stepping into Vaughan Williams’ shoes

Behind the Lines: The music and composers of the First World WarJust when you thought Westminster Music Library’s Behind the Lines programme* was drawing to a close, along comes another workshop, featuring the First World War music of Ralph Vaughan Williams.

This was a specially commissioned adult music workshop for members of Open Age, an organisation with whom Westminster Music Library has forged a fond and fruitful relationship in recent years.

Thanks to generous funding from the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust, we were able to re-enlist musicians from The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to facilitate a workshop, focusing on the life and music of Vaughan Williams during The Great War, a composer who holds a special place in our hearts as he opened the library to the public in 1948.

This was also to be a morning of ceremony as we were joined by two distinguished guests – Lt. Cdr Tony Pringle and Honorary Alderman Frances Blois – the former to present to the City of Westminster a copy of the magnificent reference guide – Stepping Forward” – a tribute to the Volunteer Military Reservists and Supporting Auxiliaries of Greater London 1908 – 2014, compiled by The Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Association for Greater London. The book was first published in 2008 as a simple guide to Titles and Battle Honours of the Territorial Army in Greater London since 1908. This new and revised edition now includes all Reserve unit links with the London Boroughs (including Westminster) and contains historical listings of Reserve Forces Centres and the locations of memorials to the fallen.

Open Age workshop on Vaughan Williams, November 2014

But back to the music… the focus was first on A Pastoral Symphony. Contemplative in nature, it’s a meditation on a lost generation as well as a celebration of the return of peace; the work embodies a hope that the nation might be healed and made whole again.  This symphony is the third of nine symphonies he wrote, and was composed between 1916 and 1921.  It reflects Vaughan Williams’ experiences in France as a wagon orderly during WW1, not the common misconception that it reflected the English countryside.  The final movement of this symphony includes a wordless soprano line, which the group learnt as the first interactive group activity.  In performance, this is often sung by the soprano from a distance to create a sense of space and emptiness, adding a ghostly lament to the music that depicts the tragedy of the war.  The first half of the session also included an in-depth discussion about the composer and his music.

Following a break we moved on to look at Dona Nobis Pacem – a cantata written at a time when the country was slowly awakening to the possibility of a second European conflict.

Premiered in 1936 and with its dramatic settings of Latin liturgical text and Walt Whitman’s poetry, its emphasis is on reconciliation. Dona Nobis Pacem was performed at countless festivals and concerts in the years leading up to the Second World War.

Open Age workshop on Vaughan Williams, November 2014

Given its connections with both World Wars it reminds us that war inevitably brings misery and loss. Vaughan Williams, like everyone else, was a member of his community, and while he was ready to warn his countrymen of the horrors that might lie ahead, he had no hesitation in playing his part in both of the Great Wars once they had started.

Following an interesting discussion between the musicians and participants, the whole group performed their version of two sections of the cantata:  Agnus Dei – a fervent cry for peace, and Dirge for Two Veterans – a mother, portrayed by the moon, watches over the funeral march for her son and husband, who were killed together, symbolic of all families’ losses in lives cut short from one generation to the next.

Presentation of the book 'Stepping Forward' - Open Age workshop on Vaughan Williams, November 2014

Time was rapidly running out on our workshop and there was still an important presentation to be made. On behalf of the Reserve Forces and Cadets’ Association for Greater London, Lt Cdr Tony Pringle presented Honorary Alderman Frances Blois with “Stepping Forward”, in memory of all those men and women from the City of Westminster who gave their lives in the Great War 1914-1918. A fitting finale to our workshop, and one which I suspect RVW would have approved.

[Ruth]


* Between September 2013 and August 2014, to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, Westminster Music Library teamed up with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for a programme of workshops focusing on composers who lived through and were influenced by the conflict.

Funded by Arts Council England, Behind the Lines featured interactive and creative workshops for adults, families and primary and secondary school children and concluded with an inter-generational Summer School and final performance at St John’s Smith Square. Using the resources and collections of Westminster Music Library and the expertise of its staff, the workshops were facilitated by a team of musicians from the RPO.