Blog

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. 

 

Tags: 

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?

 

Tags: 

Weedon Weekly: 1st January 2018

A set of carillon bells

SAY IT WITH BACH
As I write this, the whole world is seeing in the New Year like a Mexican wave - well, except here at Weedon Music, where we're snug by the fire listening to the rain pattering against the windows. We hope you're equally cosy. Only one tune springs into my mind at this season - In dir ist Freude, arranged as an organ chorale by the incomparable Johann Sebastian Bach. Say that in a Welsh accent and it sounds pure Dylan Thomas. Let's listen to it being played in the skilful hands (and feet) of 40-year old Swedish Organist Ulf Norberg - and he must be good as he played at the Swedish Royal wedding!

Bach wrote this chorale specifically for new year. Did you notice the repeating pedal tune (D G BCDCD G)? It imitates the repetitious peal of celebratory bells perfectly! It's exhausting to play, mind. When I played it in churches, I used to hope the congregation would leave quickly, inspired by its catchy rhythm. But no, they always stayed to the end, by which time I was close to faltering like an exhausted hill-climb cyclist. It is much easier to play it on my electronic organ, and I like to set it up as a carillon for the occasion (here in a recording from my CD 'By the Fireside).

Now let's hear it sung by the Knabenchor, Hannover. Wow, that's different. And if that doesn't set 2018 off to a toe-tapping start, I don't know what will :-)

 

Tags: 

Weedon Weekly: 7th December 2017

Our view from the gods

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!

OK, I confess:  just when I should have been penning this I was sitting up 'in the gods' in a packed concert hall listening to The John Wilson Orchestra and Chorus. If you've not come across this musical phenomenon, John Wilson is a young Geordie lad who decided the MGM film scores (all destroyed when the big screen musicals had apparently had their day) were too good to lose. So he sat down with the many, many hours of soundtrack recordings and re-wrote the orchestral scores in complete detail, all by ear. Now, I've done my fair share of transcribing by ear and like to think I'm no slouch, but I can't see how one life is long enough (or one pair of ears sharp enough) to perform such a herculean task. 

John Wilson looks barely out of his teens now, but he must have been conducting from a pram when he founded the orchestra in 1994. I first heard JW and his startlingly lovely band in the 2009 Proms, since when he's been featured (and televised) every year in that august festival. Tony and I were so enthused that we bought rather expensive tickets to see him live - expensive, even though they were in crammed seats behind the orchestra. When we got there, we found the legroom was so poor we simply couldn't sit down. After some discussion amongst the ushers, we were escorted through tunnels beneath the concert hall to emerge centrally in the dress circle, to what must have been the best seats in the house (and certainly beyond our means) at no extra charge. The orchestra immediately swelled into glorious life and we both shed tears of sheer bliss.

Each year now we scrape together the wherewithal to sit up in the roof when JW returns on tour. And each year he adds yet more to his leviathan orchestra. This year he had his core dance band (4 each of trumpets and trombones, 5 saxes, bass and rhythm guitars, drummer and not one but two grand pianos). Added to that he has a full symphony orchestra - woodwind, French horns, harp, an amazing toy counter of percussion including a lovely celeste, and a body of the most exquisite strings you'll ever hear. This year's new feature was a real Hollywood chorus, who added stunning vocals behind the solo singers. Where can he possibly go from that? Unless it's to introduce the full Busby Berkley dancing spectacular? At least we'd get a birds' eye view from our seats in the stratosphere!

The concert hall was heaving with fans who cheered each number to the echo.  They were mostly our age - folk who remembered those movies the first time round - but also equally enthusiastic young 'uns. It goes to show that, even when pricey, tickets can sell to quality shows. I still maintain that TV exposure is the key to popularity, and TV exposure of organs has been remarkable by its absence. 

Now, as the snow falls so heavily it's blocking out the light, I'd just say that John Wilson and his Orchestra and Chorus are the best winter warmer there is. If you've not seen them yet, watch out for them on the tele, click here to see them on YouTube or even book to see them in the flesh. They truly are entertainment, with a capital 'Eee' (in a Geordie manner of speaking). 

PS: if you receive this as a newsletter sent direct to you email inbox, don't forget that there are loads of past articles available on the website itself.  Just go to www.weedonmusic.com and click on 'Blog'. And if you're already reading this on the website but would like future blogs sent to you direct, then subscribe at the foot of the home page.

 

 

 

Tags: 

Pages

RSS feed Subscribe to Blog feed