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Weedon Weekly: 15th February 2018

Charles Williams

NORMAL SERVICE CAN BE RESUMED!

At last - we have an internet connection again, albeit painfully slow (0.4 meg download). In the interim, I wish I had been able to broadcast a diverting interlude, such as the famous potter’s wheel which the BBC used whenever transmission was interrupted in the 1950s/60s.

My friend Shirley describes her web-browsing activities as a ‘breadcrumb trail’, which I feel perfectly describes the journeys of discovery which can grow out of one visit to the internet. In this case, the breadcrumbs led me to the music behind that video, “The Young Ballerina" composed by Charles Williams. I had forgotten what a delightful piece this is, and I also realised that I know nothing about the composer - although you may well be familiar with what follows. What I have discovered makes me feel quite ashamed of my ignorance.

Charles Williams is perhaps one of the most prolific and successful recent British composers, but because most of his music was written as ‘library music’ (where programme and film makers just pay a modest fee for using the works as background or theme music without any credit to the composer) his name has never achieved the prominence it deserves. During his lifetime (1893 to 1978), Williams composed some of the most iconic broadcast music. He was born Isaac Cozerbreit in London, but opted for the more accessible name as his career developed, first as a freelance violinist playing in theatres, cinemas and symphony orchestras. Only later did he win a coveted place at the Royal Academy of Music to study composition. He followed that with 6 years as an in-house composer for Gaumont British. Then, after the war, he took the baton as conductor of the newly-founded Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra (the very one we hear playing The Young Ballerina). He followed that later by forming his own orchestra, which he led until his death in Worthing at the age of 85.

So what would CW’s CV look like? I’m dumbfounded to learn that we have him to thank for The Dream of Olwen, The Blue Devil’s March, Devil’s Galop (of Dick Barton fame), The Old Clockmaker (used for the Jennings at School radio series - one of my great favourites), the Television Newsreel theme, High Adventure (still used as the theme tune for Friday Night is Music Night), A Quiet Stroll (used for The Farming Programme), Majestic Fanfare (used by Australian Broadcasting Corporation news), and themes for over 50 films, including The Way to the Stars and The Apartment.

Quite a breadcrumb trail! Now I have to resist the lure of enjoying the internet further today and get down to learning some new concert repertoire. But I have a sneaking suspicion some Charles Williams will find its way into it somewhere!

Lovely to be back with you all!

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Apology 12th February 2018

NORMAL SERVICE...

...will be resumed as soon as our internet connection is made.  We joined a new provider a month ago and, although they texted to say 'Congratulations, your new broadband has gone live' on the 30th January, we're still waiting for the connection to be completed.  The unkindest cut of all?  Another text message saying "Your account for your first month of broadband is now ready.  You can view it online". Ha jolly ha!

In the meantime, thank goodness for this computer in the public library so I can say 'You're not forgotten'.

Weedon Weekly: 23rd January 2018

Never too late

NO SUCH THING AS ‘TOO LATE’

So often people say to me, with heartfelt regret, “I’d love to take up music [again] but I’ve left it too late”. And I always counter that it’s never too late to get pleasure from music in some form or other.  Apart from those whose hearing has altered so that sound is distorted, there’s always broadcast and recorded music to enjoy.  One can learn a phenomenal amount about music history and/or theory by listening to it with some explanation. One of the most popular courses we ran for HF Holidays was ‘The Nuts and Bolts of Music’ in which Tony and I explained each aspect of music - melody, harmony, rhythm, timbre and expression - and then played glorious works which illustrated each facet. The guests always said they got a whole new level of pleasure from each piece, once they understood what was happening ‘under the bonnet’, so to speak.

So much for listening. What about playing an instrument? We often overestimate the effect of physical constraints in music making that come with increasing age. 

  • Our eyesight might be less than perfect - but we can still learn to play by ear (yes, really - it is a learnable skill). 
  • Our hands may have stiffened up - but we have modern keyboard instruments which can be satisfying and melodious when played with one finger on each hand while the ‘automatics’ do the rest. And the very business of playing can restore lost mobility to digits. 
  • We may feel our ability to absorb new skills has gone out of the window along with the colour of our hair (or even our hair itself). But the brain is tantamount to a muscle, which strengthens with exercise. We can always make new synapses, connections between the neurons, like an old-style telephonist connecting calls. This is particularly evident in those who have suffered a stroke. My father rediscovered his arm movement by thinking about a cough, and his leg movement by thinking about a yawn. And research has shown that the discipline of learning a musical instrument gets less frustrating and more rehabilitative each day. 
  • Our hearing may have become ‘bassy’ or ‘toppy’, but Orla have manufactured instruments with adjustable bass and treble frequencies to help tune the sound to our liking.
  • We may seize up in the back, neck, shoulders or legs when we sit too long at the instrument, but a cheap cooking timer makes a great reminder to stand up and stretch after each short stint of 3 or so minutes.
  • Perhaps we feel too down to enjoy life. But we can ‘lose ourselves’ at an instrument so completely that our concerns are shelved for a welcome while. 

This week, the real headline item concerning music has come from a charity called ‘Playlist for Life’. Its founder, broadcaster Sally Magnusson (daughter of Magnus Magnusson) discovered that her mother’s distress from dementia was soothed immeasurably when she played her significant songs from her past. I have seen this in action myself, as I used to play for the Alzheimer’s Society. When I first arrived, my audience would be asleep, uncommunicative or uneasy. But before the end of the first piece of music they were all alert, happy and active. Memories would be exchanged, laughter (and some tears) would abound, and I would share their happiness at the shared experience.  Broadcaster Anthony Hopkins told me that his wife was beyond communication unless he sang his conversations to her. She would answer in song and they would be completely unhindered by her lack of spoken words. Yes, music is probably the first thing we revel in whilst in the womb, and its power to move and lift us lasts a lifetime. 

PS: Since writing this, I have just spoken with our pal Alf who is revelling in playing his refurbished Baldwin Theatre organ which he purchased 33 years ago. He is the embodiment of all I have just said, as today is his 97th birthday. 

 

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Weedon weekly add-on: 13th January 2018

Cross emoticon

Computers? Nothing to smile about!

If you received my blog as a newsletter today, you may wonder why a smiley face followed the announcement of TOE's impending demise. I'm wondering the same thing! I now discover that my computer is an incurable optimist. If I type in a sad face  :-( it replaces it with a smiley one  :-)  I'm all in favour of a sunny nature, but who's boss here? Me or my computer?  Hmmm. Better not answer that...

Weedon Weekly: 12th January 2018

Robin Richmond LP

THE ORGANIST ENTERTAINS - NO LONGER :-(

After nearly 50 years on the airwaves, the BBC have just announced that they will be axing this venerable programme in May, along with the "Radio 2 Arts" programme and  "Listen to the Band". I remember tuning in as a little girl to get my weekly fix of Robin Richmond, and pretty much sticking with it ever since Nigel Ogden took over as presenter. I only missed it when, in later years, I was away from home being one of the organists actually doing the entertaining.  

How excited I felt when I first appeared on the Radio 2 playlist! I popped up there periodically for a few years, until the Beeb in their wisdom decided that we 'orchestral' players weren't really organists at all. So I put together a new CD of 'pure classical organ tracks' (In Classic Style) which did the trick. I was back on air again! I have recently been putting together a theatre organ mix, but I fear that will never be heard on the wireless now.

Over the years, the programme has had some unexpected champions - not least, Chris Evans on his breakfast show. But now we're told that the special interest programmes are no longer of special interest to Auntie Beeb. A BBC spokesperson says "listeners will still be able to catch organ and brass elsewhere on BBC airwaves. Radio Three regularly features organ and brass throughout the day as part of its commitment to classical music. This includes Choral Evensong, a show featuring [classical] organ music and a dedicated slot "Choir and Organ" each Sunday."

Tony and I shared an ironic laugh at this. Does Auntie Beeb never listen to her own output? When have they ever broadcast a Wurlitzer, Compton or Christie on Radio 3? Even less a Yamaha, Roland or Wersi? No doubt, if they did, the regular classical listeners would have an attack of the vapours. So that argument won't wash, sorry chaps! And the salt in the wound is that these niche programmes are being replaced by yet more amorphous Radio 2 content of pop and chat. 

It reminds me of the sad (and apparently engineered) demise of the hugely popular Organ Stop programme. For many years it went out across the whole of BBC South and West, on 8 or 9 local radio stations, with loyal listeners from South Wales to Lands End to Portsmouth and beyond. One week, we went in to find a letter congratulating the team on having the highest listening figures of ANY special interest programme in the UK! Two weeks later it was taken off air from most of the local stations. Another two weeks later a letter arrived saying that, due to the sudden and unexplained (?) drop in listening figures it would be taken off air altogether. Makes you despair, doesn't it?

So, what can we do about TOE? Probably precious little against the leviathan of Beeb management, but let's not give up without at least a little fight.  If you complain to the Beeb, you will probably get the standard spiel I've copied above (but you could follow that up with another email or a letter). And you could contact the Radio Times Letters page (feedback@radiotimes.com) or get in touch with the Feedback programme. 

I had it in writing from the BBC, when they barred electronic organ tracks from the show, that TOE's menu of purely pipe organs appealed to a surprisingly sizeable swathe of listeners (many quite young). It has, at any rate, been one of the last bastions of the word 'organ' in the media. Even if it didn't exactly reflect your particular taste in organ music all the time, wasn't it, and shouldn't it still be, a brief window onto a world of melody that many remember fondly, and quite a few young ones are just discovering?

 

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