Keeping the Home Fires Burning

Posted: October 7, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary in Uncategorized

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.

Silver Sunday 2

“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?”

Silver Sunday 1

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.”

After 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!”


On the 4th August 2014, the 100th anniversary of the day the First World War was declared, Westminster Music Library and the musicians from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra opened a four day Behind the Lines creative summer school, ending with a grand finale performance at St John Smith’s Square, London.

The summer school featured two of our First World War composers who were also good friends, Maurice Ravel and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Ravel had wanted to be an air-bomber, but was rejected because he was too small; he was finally allowed to become an ambulance driver, and he saw and experienced the horrors of the front-line at first hand. Vaughan Williams was a stretcher-bearer, who also knew the unimaginable tragedies of the trenches. Both of them made their war-time experiences part of their music; Vaughan Williams in his ‘Pastoral Symphony’, and Ravel in his suite ‘Le tombeau de Couperin’. These works were the focus of the summer school, using them as inspiration to create a new work for our final concert.

Pupils from schools across Westminster and adults from local community group Open Age all contributed material for the final work, which was performed in front of an audience of VIPs, family and friends. From the opening chords to the incredibly moving finale – an off-stage performance of The Last Post – what started out as a lot of disconnected ideas, transformed into a very moving and fitting tribute not only to our chosen composers, but also our many First World War heroes.

St Johns Smith (6)

Behind the Lines goes beyond Westminster

Posted: August 29, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary in Uncategorized

Our very first Behind the Lines programme held outside of Westminster was a huge success this month in London Borough of Newham.

UTS 2014 no credit (RPO) (10)17 Every Child a Musician (ECaM) participants from the local area took part in four days of creative composition workshops with RPO musicians and Elgar specialist, Simon Baggs, to explore Elgar’s Enigma Variations. The participants then crafted their own five movement piece and,  in true Elgar fashion, dedicated each movement to important people in their lives including the fallen soldiers of World War One.

Read what the participants thought of the project here.

More from our Vaughan Williams expert

Posted: August 21, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary in Uncategorized

We’re pleased to share that our Behind the Lines expert on Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ceri Owen, has recently been featured on BBC Radio speaking about the man himself ahead of the performance of his piece, Job: A Masque for Dancing, at the 2014 Proms.

Have a listen at the link below:

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams


The Last Post

Posted: August 20, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary in Uncategorized

After months of planning it was finally here – our Behind the Lines summer school, the culmination of a year-long project for Westminster Music Library in partnership with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.  BTL Summer School 8-2014 (11)

 Having spent the past twelve months delivering workshops featuring Edward Elgar, Maurice Ravel, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ivor Gurney, Gustav Holst, George Butterworth and Arthur Bliss, it could have been a tough choice to pick out just two composers to feature in our summer school, but as Vaughan Williams has an important connection with Westminster Music Library (he opened the Music Library to the public in 1948) and he and Ravel had been good friends, it proved to be quite easy, this was going to be a good fit….

So it was that on a sunny morning in August 2014, twenty five young participants from schools across Westminster descended on The Music Library for the opening workshop, ably led by workshop leaders Detta and Tash with musicians from The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. BTL Summer School 8-2014 (27)

Two war-inspired works were chosen; Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin and the fourth movement of Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral symphony. One of Ravel’s greatest successes, Le Tombeau de Couperin was completed near the end of the War. This suite for solo piano, influenced by the French Baroque composer François Couperin, was composed between 1914 and 1917, and is based on a traditional French Baroque suite, being made up of 18th century-style dance movements. Ravel dedicated each movement to the memory of his friends (or in one case, two brothers) who had died fighting in the First World War.  BTL Summer School 8-2014 (31)

In 1914 Vaughan Williams enlisted as a Private in the Royal Army Medical Corps, and joined the 2/4th London Field Ambulance, part of the 179th Brigade within the 60th Division. The Pastoral Symphony is clearly and expressively linked to the War and proved to be a necessary and cathartic work for Vaughan Williams. A wordless melody for soprano, accompanied only by a drum roll, that opens the fourth movement, seems to express all the pain and sorrow of the War. Following a lot of discussion about the horrors of the First World War and the impact it had on our composers, our participants set about creating new melodies, harmonies and poetry based on these two works for their brand new composition, destined for its world premier at St John’s Smith Square. Later in the week the pupils were joined by adults from local community group Open Age, who were to contribute additional material to the final work and would also be performing on stage alongside our younger musicians. All those eager performers and brain power, it was getting pretty packed in The Music Library, it looked as though we were going to need a much bigger room to rehearse…BTL Summer School 8-2014 (8)

One summer school was swiftly re-located to Pimlico Academy and an empty school hall to accommodate what appeared to be almost a full size symphony orchestra with newly formed choir. After four days of rehearsals, re-tunings, new melodies, rhythms, vocal lines, narrative, lost bows and mouth pieces, the consumption of enormous quantities of tea and biscuits, our “magnum opus” was complete. Given that this piece was created by a bunch of people who’d never clapped eyes on each other prior to our summer school, it all sounded pretty impressive at the final rehearsal, and left me in no doubt that their hard work had really paid off. BTL Summer School 8-2014 (6)But now it was time to put them to the test, in front of a live audience at St John’s Smith Square, an audience which would include some pretty impressive VIPs, no pressure then….

From the opening chords to the incredibly moving finale – an off-stage performance of The Last Post (our 13 year old trumpet player had stayed up late the previous night practicing to get it spot on – and he did) there was hardly a dry eye in the house. St Johns Smith (19)What started out as a lot of disconnected ideas at the start of the week had been transformed into a very moving and fitting tribute to our chosen composers, and of course all our many First World War heroes.

And so our year of Behind the Lines – the music and composers of The First World War draws to an impressive close – or does it? Watch this space (and our events pages) for some more Behind the Lines activities this autumn.St Johns Smith (4)



The final countdown

Posted: July 22, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary in Uncategorized

Our last Behind the Lines School workshop brought this part of our amazing project with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to a close, but what a brilliant finale it was. An enthusiastic bunch of pupils from Servite Primary School (Kensington) joined us on a musical adventure through the solar system. With workshop leader Detta Danford and musicians from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, English composer Gustav Holst was our very own “stellar” musical guide. Solar_system[1]

Following a short warm up, the RPO musicians introduced us to Holst’s Planet Suite which he composed between 1914 and 1916. Each of the seven movements is named after a planet of the Solar System and its corresponding astrological character, opening with Mars – The bringer of war. The RPO musicians played some very war-like excerpts from Mars, got everybody clapping along in time with the music, and asked us to describe what it reminded us of. There were lots of ideas that fitted with the “outer space” theme ranging from ‘menacing’ to ‘invading aliens’, very fitting for a planet associated with Martian invasions.


The musicians then blasted off into the solar system all the way to the fourth movement of the Suite: Jupiter – The bringer of jollity. As soon as we’d listened to the opening bars, it was easy to understand why the composer described it as being “joyful”; it’s a much brighter and happier piece than Mars. This was a great excuse to make up some words and sing along with the musicians: “joyful, cheerful day, we’re so happy!”

But it was soon time for the musicians to re-launch the space ship to our final planetary destination: Neptune – The mystic, very dark and mysterious music, it almost sounded like the soundtrack to a horror movie.

Not wanting to linger too long in this eerie and scary place, we stopped our space travel for a while, came back down to earth and explored the Music Library’s shelves. Time for our RPO musicians to be put to the test and show off their fantastic sight reading skills, being presented with scores by Mozart and Richard Strauss proved to be no problem at all. Even better than this, music from The Lion King and The Jungle book didn’t phase them, but the highlight was undoubtedly a rendition of Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror for Vibraphone, Glockenspiel and Violin. These guys really know their stuff!

There was still plenty of time to go back to our exploration of outer space and a return “trip” to Jupiter, this time for a musical re-imagining of this jolly planet. All the new ideas, rhythms and melodies the group created which had been inspired by Gustav Holst’s original Suite came together for a very “out of this world” final performance, before the return voyage to Planet Earth.  Jupiter[Planets]

A very exciting journey of The Planet Suite for our young musical explorers, one which we hope will inspire all of us to learn more about this much loved symphonic work. Here’s a few interesting facts to get you started:

Gustav Holst studied astrology which inspired him to compose The Planet Suite

There are two missing planets: Earth and Pluto (the latter was undiscovered at the time he composed it)

The Planet Suite premiered in 1918 when The First World War was still raging.

For most of his adult life, Gustav Holst taught music at St Paul’s School for Girls in Hammersmith, part of our very own Tri-borough. He paid tribute to the school and the area in his St Paul’s Suite for strings, and Hammersmith, prelude and scherzo for military band.

Gustav Holst

Gustav Holst

The return of Vaughan Williams

Posted: June 19, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary in Uncategorized

Westminster Music Library played host to the introduction of Ralph Vaughan Williams to year 6 pupils of St. Barnabas CofE school.   Workshop leader Detta was accompanied by no fewer than 5 RPO musicians today; 2 violinists, 1 flautist, 1 bassoonist and 1 cellist – enough to almost fully demonstrate today’s music. The children were all introduced to the variety of  orchestral instruments before listening to them play as an ensemble as they demonstrated a section of Vaughan Williams’ ‘A London Symphony’, which reflects an older London filled with smog and mist.  However, before being told the theme and title of the work, the pupils of St. Barnabas School put their imaginations in gear and considered what

London in the fog

London in the fog

the music may represent – the group decided it sounded quite sad, quiet, and melancholic.  Some individuals offered their opinions, and thought the music sounded like someone dying, someone in danger, or someone upset. 

Next came the Pastoral Symphony which sounded completely different with its portrayal of country folk life and music to suggest dancing, feasts and celebration.  There are questions whether this work is based on an actual folk song or not, but it would not be implausible to suggest so, as Vaughan Williams was a keen collector of folk music.  The workshop group decided to experiment and play around with this music, performing it both faster and slower than originally intended by the composer.  The effect of slowness changed the dance-like character of the music to boring and “too calm”, as suggested by one pupil.


  Playing it much faster was a clear favourite among the pupils as it was much more exciting, lively and happy.  The dance-like feel of the music was made using a lot of dotted rhythms.  The group put their own touch to the music by adding some more interesting rhythms using percussive body sounds.  This group was very imaginative and created quite a tricky, but effective rhythm!  The group will take this rhythm back to school and work on it further to create their own piece of music in the remaining sessions they have with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra(RPO). 

Finally, the children made use of the Music Library and put the RPO musicians’ sight reading skills to the test as they all chose a score from the shelves at random.  Unfortunately for the musicians, a few individuals picked some tricky pieces, including one of the hardest pieces in the whole library – Berio’s Sequenza for Viola.  One of the violinists made a good attempt at it, before the whole ensemble was asked to play a snippet from Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini.  Changing genre to finish with, the group played some Bob Dylan – much to the delight of our cellist, Roberto!

The Grand Finale

Posted: June 19, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary in Uncategorized

Alas, the final adult workshop has come and the current Behind the Lines series has ended for now, finishing with music by George Butterworth and Arthur Bliss, two composers who fought in WW1.

Today’s group of participants ranged from musical beginners to experts, many singers, and even a member of the RPO who worked with Arthur Bliss over 50 years ago! But no matter their background, everyone was willing to join in and participate in the music session.

This afternoon’s professional musicians from the RPO were Russell on violin, Gerald on vibraphone and Fraser on bassoon. Natasha joined us again as workshop leader and focused on four pieces during the session, two by each composer. First up was Butterworth and his song ‘The Lads in their Hundreds’, which is based on a poem by Housman. The group agreed that this piece sounded very pleasant, folk-like and danceable. But surprisingly this was not reflected in the words of the poem as with each stanza they become darker and more distressing, despite the same cycle of pleasant folk music being repeated for each verse. The music itself had a rather lilting feel as it moved between 6/8 and 9/8, and the group experimented with the melody by singing it both straight and dotted. The next piece included a lot more participation than singing though, as Natasha invited everyone to their feet, and encouraged them to feel the variety of cross-rhythms in Butterworth’s ‘On the Idle Hill of Summer’. The group felt a sense of nature and spirituality from this piece, and its dissonance was quite clear, especially when singing it. To identify the cross rhythms, everyone stepped in time to the basic pulse, whilst swaying with the off-beat and also singing the melody which included some very tricky rhythms with duplets and triplets – multi-tasking would be an understatement!

Moving on to Arthur Bliss and his piece ‘Spring’ from ‘The Ballad of the Four Seasons’. The poem from this was taken from ancient China despite the music sounding very English. The bassoon proved to be the perfect instrument for the plodding, walking bass whilst the vibraphone tinkled its part octaves above.

More emphasis was placed on ‘Morning Heroes’, a collection of poems and prose from The Iliad, Walt Whitman, Li Tai Po, Wilfred Owen and Robert Nichols. Each of the five movements in this piece reflects different aspects of the war and the music emphasizes the contrasts between various war-time situations.     We looked more closely at movement 5 entitled ‘Spring Offensive’, originally written for timpani and orator. But today it was performed by vibraphone and several volunteer orators. Seven participants volunteered to read a section of the poem, and the group agreed that this could be more powerful as a variety of different voices are heard, portraying the opinions, stories and personalities of different people affected by the war. Even more powerful was the silence between the music and speech. Using the vibraphone created a different atmosphere to the original timpani which would have created more of a ‘grumbling’ effect rather than a vibrant one. This piece was written almost 10 years after the war had ended but evidently the effects of the war resonated on for this length of time, and the piece could be mistaken as being written in the height of it.

The last task of today’s session was based on ‘Morning Heroes’ as the group split into smaller groups and chose one poem from the work to base their own compositions on. Two of the three groups used the same poem, ‘Vigil’, but created very different sounds with a variety of different instruments as well as their own musical touch. The third group used the poem ‘Dawn on the Somme’ and created very effective music with the vibraphone as the orator spoke the poem.

This jam-packed session was filled with a wealth of information and discussion on Butterworth and Bliss, two composers who may not be as well-known as the others featured in this series of workshops. Behind the Lines is finished for now but we hope to raise more funding to start it up again as soon as possible. Westminster Music Library would like to thank the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for their collaboration so far, and a huge thank you to all who participated in our workshops and have supported the project during the past year.

Last but not least: Butterworth and Bliss

Posted: June 9, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary in Uncategorized

Sadly, Saturday marked the final family workshops in the Behind the Lines series for now but we definitely finished on a high! The two workshops were based on the music of Arthur Bliss and George Butterworth, both composers who served in WW1. Unfortunately, Butterworth was killed whilst on active duty in the war in 1916, and Bliss was injured and emotionally scarred for life.5BTL early years 7-6-14

Today’s professional musicians from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra were Phil on trombone, Simon on trumpet (who introduced himself by playing the popular Iggle Piggle theme, particularly entertaining for the youngest participants!) and Michael on violin, all led by workshop leader Natasha who plays cello. After everyone took part in a vigorous shaking, tapping and clapping warm up in preparation for fun music-making , the RPO musicians introduced today’s music, performing a fragment of ‘Spring’ from ‘The Ballad of the Four Seasons’ by Arthur Bliss. Taking each musician’s part of the music on its own, the children decided which animals they most sounded like. They decided that the violin part sounded like a little mouse, the trumpet sounded like a slithering snake, and the trombone sounded like a prowling lion, creating a zoo in Westminster Music Library! But these three animals weren’t the best of friends and needed more of their own kind to be happy and to hang out with. So the children decided if they wanted to be a mouse, a snake or a lion, and created their own music to accompany Bliss’ on a variety of exciting instruments that the RPO had brought with them; from tambourines to wood blocks, and whistles to a vibraphone! With such a variety of instruments, the children could make all kinds of sounds. The big performance told the story of a lion on the prowl, hunting for food, but he ran away when he saw a little mouse scurrying along the ground. The little mouse was then sniffing around for a while but then saw a slithering snake and ran away too!

Westminster Library then went from being a zoo to being a scene of war as the RPO musicians played some music by George Butterworth whilst the children marched around the library in time with the music like men the military! During their journey around the library everyone picked out one book or score from the shelves. Putting the musicians on the spot, a select few were lucky enough to have theirs played. This workshop was one out of two today, and finished with Butterworth’s ‘On the Idle Hill of Summer’.


The second workshop, for children in primary school, featured the same composers and music. After introductions by the RPO, 6BTL primary years 7-6-14all the children and adults participating in the workshop introduced themselves as well as tell everyone their favourite music and if they played any instruments or not. The discovery was soon made that among the adults there were many failed violinists but among the children there was an abundance of talent; from violinists, to cellists (much to Natasha’s delight!), to recorder players, to harmonica players! But for those who didn’t play anything in particular or didn’t have their instrument with them today, there was a grand choice of percussive instruments to play in the session. The RPO musicians introduced Bliss’ Four Seasons piece again, but instead of associating the sounds with animals, this group closed their eyes and listened carefully, and shared what colour they thought the music sounded like. Everyone agreed on spring colours such as yellow, pink and green. Then it was the musicians’ turns to use their imaginations as they had to create music based on a word given by some volunteers; words including ‘snowman’, ‘tomato’ and ‘scarecrow’!

After this, the group split into the four seasons of the year and chose musical instruments which would best portray that season. Spring with Michael had a selection of stringed instruments and chimes, summer with Simon included guitars and glockenspiels, autumn was represented by drums and the vibraphone, and winter with Phil had drums and rattles. The groups put their thinking caps on and created exciting music with their instruments and themes, and in their grand final performance, we were taken through the 365 days of the year in 5 minutes! 8BTL primary years 7-6-14Finishing with the summer season which we are currently in, the group came up with a very catchy summer melody and encouraged everyone to join in. I think it is safe to say everyone went home with the tune in their heads!

Today’s workshop was a great representation of the talents, imaginations and creativities of the children. This was the last in the current series of family workshops at Westminster Music Library but we hope to create more opportunities like this one in the near future so keep an eye out!



Soaring through the sky

Posted: June 9, 2014 by westminstermusiclibrary in Uncategorized

Last week we delivered an exciting and theatrical project looking at Ravel and his war inspired works.

We worked with 28 pupils from Year 4 of Marlborough Primary School who took part in creative workshops led by Workshop Leader Natasha Zielazinski and supported by three members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, including a violin, cello and percussion player.

The pupils were so inspired by the music of Ravel that they created a beautiful poem:

StarsSoaring through the sky
Moon on your wings
The world down below
Sleeps as we sing

Your reflection on the silvery lake
Shimmers like the finest sunset
The fragrance of springtime
Fills the sweet air

Serene music was composed to accompany their words, which the participants then contrasted with a loud and angry-sounding storm piece. They performed their new composition to Key Stage 2 pupils, parents and staff at the end of the project, who were all blown away by Year 4’s debut.

Follow this link to hear a snippet of the participants’ piece: