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Weedon’s Wanderings: 15th June 2019

Noel Coward

KEEP CALM AND COWARDY?

We’ve just taken a midsummer walk wrapped in scarves and raincoats, squelching through mud as the brief spell of sun disappears, before heading home to listen to the news. Those we met on our outing sighed and frowned and generally added to the feeling of damp despondency. And me? I started singing a song which always cheers me up. It’s by the incomparable Noel Coward and it could have been written yesterday. So pour yourself a warming cup, snuggle in your armchair and have a listen here. There you are - it was all just as bad in 1952 :-).

Can’t hear the lyrics? Find them here.

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Weedon’s Wanderings: 11th June 2019

The huge Möller Organ, West Point

WHEN HUGE MEANS TRAGIC

At this time when many have been commemorating D-Day, featuring this instrument seems rather appropriate. It’s the world’s largest pipe organ in a place of worship, with 23,511 pipes and 874 speaking stops. And it’s to be found in the Cadet Chapel, West Point Military Academy, USA.

But why is its immense size so sad? Well, when it was first built by Möller in 1911, it’s proportions were far smaller. Whilst visiting it, my brother was told how it has been expanded and further expanded over the years, as bereaved families donated a rank of pipes in memory of their military loved ones who had been killed in action. That seems as telling as rows of grave-stones or clouds of ceramic poppies.

The console is sited, unusually, at ground level, as you will see in this video of an organist (un-named, but it looks like Meredith Baker’s back view) playing Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copeland. 

By way of contrast, you can watch Scott Dettra in 1999 playing Fantasia in G (BWV 572) by Bach. The first section is remarkable for being a long string of single notes, played so fast that they almost blur into chords. If you fancy something more modern, Scott plays the Fugue by Honegger here. The figure assisting Scott is his father, who at that time was organist at the chapel. 

As we listen to the glorious sound of this titanic instrument, it’s timely to reflect that at least half of those ranks of pipes sound a memorial to lives cut short by war.

 

 

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Weedon’s Wanderings: 22nd May 2019

Eurovision logo

COMING UP SOON...

...it’s copy date at Organ & Keyboard Cavalcade magazine. I’ve just penned my article on song contests. It called to mind the fact that I once entered such a competition and suffered dreadful embarrassment. If you want to know more, either buy the next issue of OKC or wait a while and all will be revealed. The article refers to my unhappy experience, and provides a link to the instrumental version of my song. If you’d like a sneak preview of the tune, click here to see it performed on YouTube, alongside the sheet music.

 

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Weedon’s Wanderings: 13th May 2019

The Laughing Audience by Edward Matthew Ward (1816-1879) from an etching by William Hogarth (1697-1764) made in 1733, watercolour, pen and ink

SILENCE IS GOLDEN

We have just watched Queen Victoria: My Musical Britain, presented by Lucy Worsley. She explained that, when the young princess first attended the opera, it was customary for the audience to talk loudly throughout the performance. Not only that, they wandered around and enjoyed noisy and boozy picnics in the auditorium. Apparently the young Victoria was the first one to watch and listen in silence. Happily, as it was ‘trendy’ to do as she did, we have to thank her for the development of silent audiences. 

Mozart would have been startled by modern attentive audiences. His works were performed in a total hubbub. The first composer to get really stroppy about noise was Wagner. When you consider the duration of his operas (Die Meistersinger lasts five and a quarter hours) he was asking a lot. Even ardent fans would start shuffling about after a couple of hours!

Of course, these days the noise is slowly creeping back into concerts. Mobiles and iPads ping, ring and glow. And new audiences, not familiar with concert etiquette, share thoughts mid-movement and often clap enthusiastically between movements. Then there’s the fact that someone always gets a tickly cough in the quiet bits. 

I’ve had some less than silent audiences in my time. I used to leave big pauses at the emotional climaxes of my pieces, until I found that folk mistook them for the end, and started applauding. On another occasion, two good ladies in the front row decided my concert was the perfect time to have an argument - which gives new meaning to ‘front row’, I suppose. It’s a funny thing that even quiet audience participation is completely audible from the stage. As the two ladies grew more and more angry with each other, I played louder and louder to drown it. Then I had a brainwave - I suddenly dropped my playing to a whisper. Their fortissimo shouting carried on for a second or two, then they piped down for the rest of the evening.

Perhaps my funniest experience was during a sound check before a concert. All performers try out their loudest bits, just so they can judge if they will be too loud. The acoustics vary so much from hall to hall. And what seems loud in an empty venue is considerably quieter once the audience arrive and ‘soak up‘ the sound. Anyway,I was ‘giving it a few seconds of welly’ when a gentleman crossed the stage and prodded me. “Turn that noise down!” he scowled. “If you play that loudly all evening, how on earth are we going to carry on a conversation?”

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Weedon’s Wanderings: 9th May 2019

SOUNDS CHEESY? IT’S TRUE!

If, like me, you listen to the radio throughout the night you may have come across the phenomenon of ‘dreamt reality’, where a news story works its way into your sleeping fantasy world. It amazes me how an item on the radio can hi-jack a dream I’m already having and join seamlessly into the tale in real time. It can have the odd effect of making me feel clairvoyant when I hear the next edition of the news after waking, and say “Wow, I dreamt that!”

Sometimes my dreams are so outlandish that I realise on waking that they can’t be reality. I had just such a dream last night. I dreamt that a team of scientists in Switzerland have been playing music to maturing Emmental cheeses. They found classics, rock and pop caused changes in the cheeses - and the changes were radically different. Then I woke up - and found it was true. Apparently Mozart’s Magic Flute produces a soft mild cheese with a close texture, whilst hip-hop produces a much stronger flavour with bigger holes. If you don’t believe me, click here.

Of course, music is nothing more or less than a series of vibrations in the air. When these vibrations reach our ear drums and rattle them, the shaking is ‘read’ by nerves and impulses are directed to the brain; the brain brilliantly converts them back into sound for our enjoyment (or otherwise). 

Vibration can be used for other purposes. It’s an important tool in dispelling the bubbles from poured concrete. On that basis, it seems reasonable that certain vibrations (higher frequency ones like Mozart) will help dispel bubbles from Emmental. Conversely, heavy bass such as you hear in rock and hip-hop may actually make bubbles form. That would explain the texture differences. But what about the flavour?

Apparently, bacteria are part of the story in cheese maturation. I can only guess that cheese with more holes in (and thus more air) gives bacteria an aerobic environment and they do their maturation job with more vim and vigour. Or maybe the action of those air bubbles on the cheese makes it mature. Who knows? Certainly not me. But it suggests music has powers that we’ve so far only dreamt of...

 

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