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Melody Amongst the Cacophony

June 11 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of composer Helen Tobias-Duesberg. 

Helen Tobias-Duesberg

Tobias-Duesberg produced a large and varied body of work. She was respected by her contemporaries and her work was regularly performed, yet few recordings exist and her name is not familiar.

It would be easy to draw the obvious conclusion that this is because of her gender. The contribution of so many talented and successful women in the Arts has been marginalised. However the promotion of female composers ‘for the sake of it’ seems unhelpful in redressing the balance. It could also be argued that her origins in the former Soviet Union might play a part, though she spent most of her working life in the US. With those considerations in mind, the reason for this blog is that June 2019 marks the centenary of the birth of an interesting composer.

Born in Suure-Jaani, Estonia, then part of the Soviet Union, Helen Tobias was the youngest daughter of the composer Rudolf Tobias. She never knew her father, except through his music, as he had died from pneumonia in October 1918.

Whilst his may not be a familiar name outside of Estonia, Rudolf Tobias was noted as the first Estonian professional composer. After his death his achievements were celebrated by the erection of monuments in Haapsalu and Kullamaa, the renaming of a street in Tallinn, and his name was given to the Children’s Music School in Kärdla. In 1973, the centenary of his birth, a museum was opened in Selja, Käina Parish in the house where he was born.

Helen Tobias studied music composition at the Tallinn Conservatoire (now known as the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre). Her teachers were Artur Kapp and Heino Eller. She graduated in 1943 as an organist, and went on to further study at the Berlin University of Music.

During World War II she met Wilhelm Duesberg, a journalist who was to become her husband. He was imprisoned on numerous occasions for writing stories critical of Adolf Hitler, and died of a heart attack shortly after the war. At the time of his death he was in a Stuttgart courtroom preparing to testify against several Nazi war criminals.

In 1951, Tobias-Duesberg moved to the United States. Sources describe that it was then that she began composing music, although her training had been as a composer as well as an organist. The music she wrote was a far cry from much of the contemporary work at the time. In fact, in a swipe at the direction of classical music in the 1960’s and 70’s, Leonard Bernstein described her as a female composer who,

…dares to be original and musical at the same time, while all the men run around writing intellectual cacophony.”

He had a point. Her Requiem is described by allmusic.com thus:

A hybrid of the neo-Baroque and neo-Classical styles she absorbed in the middle decades of the twentieth century, though some aspects of Romanticism are evident in her instrumentation and presentation. Bach’s cantatas are the most pronounced influences, though Duesberg’s forays into fugue seem at times closer to Beethoven’s forceful counterpoint in his Missa Solemnis. But because this Requiem seems designed for practical use — specifically for the Estonian Bethany Church of New York — Duesberg’s use of traditional techniques is perhaps intended more for the congregation’s spiritual comfort than as a clever pastiche.

The writer also describes her shorter chamber works as “intellectually stimulating,” mentioning the “darkly chromatic Sonata No. 1 for violin and piano and the comical Suite for woodwind quintet, both of which reveal more of Duesberg’s character, since imitation of past models is replaced by her own ingenuity and craft.”


“Blessings” from Requiem:

Little is recorded about her personal life or feelings about political issues, other than the connection with her husband, but notably, during the Civil Rights Movement, she played the organ at Friendship Baptist Church in Harlem, the church where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. served as a guest preacher.

The full list of her works is extensive, and the comment from Bernstein indicates a relatively high profile, yet as previously mentioned few recordings exist. Although her work has been performed on major concert stages in the United States, Canada, and Europe as well as the Aspen, Ravinia and Spoleto festivals, her online discography reveals only two CDs; Through the Seasons, made a year after her death, and the album containing Requiem,Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano, and Suite for Woodwind Quintet, recorded in 2005. Compositions include violin and cello sonatas, string quartets, song cycles, concertos, and a wide range of choral works. She also reworked and edited some of her father’s work.

Helen Tobias-Duesberg died on February 4th in the US. She was laid to rest alongside her father and grandfather in her native Estonia.


Image of the composer used as featured image is taken from: https://www.emic.ee/helen-tobias-duesberg

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Arts Council, England’s ‘Shaping the next 10 years’ report – An overview

From October 2018 to January 2019, Arts Council, England (ACE) held an open consultation across the country designed to listen to perspectives from across the sector and beyond. The aim of the study was to understand the challenges and opportunities, generate new ideas, and problem-solve together. The results of this report will inform the development of ACE strategy for the next ten years.

The consultation sought the views of a wide range of stakeholders. Arts organisations, museums and libraries of all scales as well as funders and policy makers, local authorities and children, young people and their parents and carers, were all involved in voicing their ambitions and concerns.

To engage with as wide a range of participants as possible, ACE ran an online platform. It also held a series of 37 workshops: 20 external sessions with 1,248 participants and 17 sessions for 197 Arts Council staff. Additional sessions focused on the views of children and young people up to the age of 25.

The consultation explored “the case for change”.

Six key areas were identified across the arts and culture sector:

Image taken from Arts Council Document

Image taken from Arts Council Document

The Findings 

The online research findings demonstrated that over 70% of participants agreed that 5 out of the 6 areas listed in the image above are key issues. 95% of respondents agreed with the statements, “There are still widespread socio-economic and geographic variances in levels of engagement with publicly funded culture,” and, “Across the population there are significant differences in how ‘arts and culture’ are defined, understood and valued.”

53% of participants also felt that, “Many cultural organisations are retreating from innovation, risk-taking and sustained talent development.”

The report comments:

Some respondents felt that artists and cultural organisations are committed to both innovation and talent development but, in the face of financial pressure and high levels of accountability, they need support in taking the sorts of risks that are essential to innovation. Conversely, some responses centred on the sector being bolder than many other industries and that historically the most significant and innovative art has happened during times of flux and uncertainty.

ACE ‘Shaping the Next 10 Years’ Report

In undertaking the study, ACE aimed to hear feedback on its proposed priorities.

The top three priorities that emerged, as identified by participants, are:

  • The creative and cultural lives of all children and young people are recognised and nurtured (3rd)
  • A nation that  supports and celebrates culture and creativity of every kind (2nd)
  • People from every background benefit from public investment in culture (1st)
Image taken from Arts Council Document

Image taken from Arts Council Document

What is culture? What is creativity?

As is often the case when there is discussion about art, culture and creativity, the consultation threw up questions about what is meant by these terms. 

The report states:

There was some support for as broad a definition as possible, encompassing activities that are, or will be, relevant and accessible to everyone. It was recognised that continued flexibility will be necessary to meet the requirements of a population with changing and evolving interests.

One workshop participant commented:

The Arts Council should broaden its definition of what arts and culture are – it should be fluid rather than fixed, and we should listen [to]  what people think… rather than telling them.

Priority – People from every background benefit from public investment in culture

In discussion of the priority, “People from every background benefit from public investment in culture,” many participants agreed the importance of cultural organisations working together and with local communities to create and develop cultural experiences that involve a far wider range of people.

A key theme in discussion about this priority was equality of opportunity relating to provision of equal access for all the population to arts and culture. This included the importance of children having equal opportunities to experience art and culture, particularly through schools.

Other points identified here include:

  • Local, community or place-based activity
  • Levels of funding and investment
  • How culture is defined
  • The role of diversity or diverse perspectives in ensuring this outcome is met
  • The impact that arts and culture can have in areas such as health and wellbeing
  • How communications can be maximised to engage with the public and create a greater sense of relevance/ownership
  • The importance of data and research in helping to understand the issues within the sector, and in monitoring progress

Priority – A nation that supports and celebrates culture and creativity of every kind

In discussion of the priority, “A nation that supports and celebrates culture and creativity of every kind,” the workshops raised the concept of ‘everyday culture’ and covered discussion of both professional and amateur culture encompassing all communities, lifestyles, ages and levels of experience and quality. Key challenges were the equality of opportunity and advocacy.

There should be national pride in the existence of great art, funded by public money, reaching those for whom it makes a difference. We all have hundreds of stories of great art inspiring children to speak for the first time, reconnecting elderly people with their communities, bringing happiness to newly arrived migrant families who feel isolated, creating a place for care leavers to develop a talent – publicly funded art shouldn’t always require a social outcome, but its value is not being properly advocated and I think the public are more sympathetic to this than politicians might think…

Quote from online participant

Other challenges identified included:

  • The role that specific investment programmes could have within this outcome
  • How data and evidence can be used to demonstrate the impact of the arts and culture
  • The importance of embedding cultural creative education within schools
  • That the ambition for high-quality work and excellence in the arts and culture should not be lost

Some respondents also noted the importance of creating new partnerships and collaborating with communities and existing local organisations.

Priority – The creative and cultural lives of all children and young people are recognised and nurtured

Perhaps, most importantly for those involved in arts education, the priority, “The creative and cultural lives of all children and young people are recognised and nurtured,” discussed the challenges of school curriculum including the impact of the EBacc and the focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) rather than STEAM.

The report states that the sessions with children and young people showed that respondents feel “strongly that there should be more opportunities and space for children and young people to realise their creative potential through better access to expertise, resources and inspirational activities for all.”

Creative education is the future – what role can ACE play in this? [The] curriculum [is] not fit for purpose to equip creative thinkers for the future.

Quote from online participant

Other areas discussed in relation to this priority include:

  • Listening to children and young people
  • The importance of highlighting to young people the viability of a career in the arts and cultural sector
  • The question of where young adults come under this outcome
  • The need to demonstrate the benefits of the arts and culture (whether to children and young people or parents)
  • The importance of partnerships in supporting a strong cultural offer
  • The development work that could be required to equip educators to teach creatively
  • The role of local authorities and Government within any work in this area

Schools need to be engaged more with local cultural providers, for example: museums should host regular sessions with schools so that cultural institutions are embedded within the children’s minds from a young age.

Quote from online respondent

To read the report in full visit Arts Council, England’s website.

Featured image attributed to Tiffany Bailey (source wikicommons images)


The Music Workshop Company is run by a dedicated team who are passionate about music education and like to keep abreast of issues current in the music industry. If you want to share a project with us as part of our monthly guest blog, get in touch today.

Alternately, if you would like to know more about engaging your students in our accessible, inclusive workshops, email or call us for a chat on 0844 583 8131!

Music Workshop Company, https://www.music-workshop.co.uk


Talent Drains and Unequal Opportunity: The State of Music Education in the UK

On the 19th March 2019, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMSC) published their Live Music Report. Drawn together following interviews and reviews of material from the media and other sources, the report covers four key areas:

  • The Live Music success story
  • Problems in the ticketing market
  • Challenges facing music venues
  • Threats to the talent pipeline

This research comes hot on the heels of Music Education: State of the Nation, a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education, the Incorporated Society of Musicians and the University of Sussex, which was published in February 2019. 

Abandoned music classroom, image Tiffany Bailey

Image: Tiffany Bailey 

The fourth area of the new DCMSC report explores some of the challenges facing the music talent pipeline and makes some recommendations. It draws on a wide range of sources of information, from interviews with the Royal Albert Hall’s Artistic and Commercial Director and input from the Musicians’ Union to an interview with Noel Gallagher taken from the Daily Record.

It covers a number of key areas that are adversely affecting the talent pipeline, including music education in school, the music curriculum, the impact of the EBacc, the work of Music Hubs, sustainable income streams, and access to employment opportunities after Britain leaves the EU.

The discussion around music education highlights that not all professional musicians have studied music in a formal setting but agrees that for some disciplines, formal music education is necessary. The report states:

Music is compulsory in the national curriculum up to the age of 14; however, we have heard concerns about a ‘policy clash’ in music education, with the consequences of the English Baccalaureate, the rights of Academies to diverge from the national curriculum and local authority funding cuts leading to a ‘postcode lottery’ in the quality of music education.

Abandoned music classroom, image by Clay Gilliland

Image:Clay Gilliland

The fact that music lessons are not a compulsory part of the curriculum in all schools is contentious and has been debated for some time. This issue was highlighted in Music Education: State of the Nation:

The entitlement to school music education was recently reaffirmed by the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb:  

‘… high-quality arts education should not be the preserve of the elite, but the entitlement of every child. Music, art and design, drama and dance are included in the national curriculum and compulsory in all maintained schools from the age of 5 to 14.’

Here Nick Gibb specifically states that the national curriculum is only compulsory in maintained schools. In 2017, 77% of primary schools were local authority schools while only 31% of secondary schools counted as ‘maintained’ (Fullfact.org). These statistics do not include private schools. The reality is, 69% of local authority secondary schools do not have to teach music as part of the curriculum.

The DCMSC report raises a number of problems with this. For example, there is the real concern that students are not being made aware of the wide range of opportunities in music (e.g. sound engineer and tech careers), leading to a potential future ‘talent drain’ in all areas of the industry.

Discussion of the EBacc links to the findings of Music Education: State of the Nation highlighting that 59% of nearly 500 schools surveyed think that the EBacc has had a negative impact on the provision and uptake of music.

The State of the Nation report compares GCSE music entries from years since 2014/15, showing the drop in applicants:

Change in music uptake and exam entries between 2014 and 2018

This image clearly shows the change in cohort size and change in music entries. Compiled from Department for Education data. Taken from “Music Education: State of the Nation” report.

The DCMSC report also raises the challenge of Music Hub provision stating that although 700,000 children were taught to play a musical instrument through a Hub and 89% of schools benefited from Hub support, quality of Hub provision is not of a consistently high quality.

To address this, Darren Henley, CEO of Arts Council, England confirmed that investment will be made to “build quality measures” into the Hub system. The DSMSC recommends that, “as part of its review into the effectiveness of the existing National Plan for Music Education, the Government should conduct a thorough study of where provision by Hubs is good and where it could be improved.” It also highlights the importance of Hubs receiving sufficient financial resources and workplace expertise for evaluation of their work and impact.

In the final recommendations, the DCMSC report focuses on a few key suggestions for music education.

One recommendation states that it welcomes Government’s intention to review the music curriculum, recommending,

The Government’s independent expert panel should engage musicians from different genres, stakeholders from across the music industry, and young people to ensure the new model music curriculum reflects how people make and consume music in the modern age, as well as the industry’s skills-needs now and into the future.

Another focusses on the EBacc and states: “

We repeat the call for arts subjects to be added to the EBacc to ensure all students benefit from a creative education at GCSE

Sources

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcumeds/733/73302.htm

https://www.ism.org/images/images/FINAL-State-of-the-Nation-Music-Education-for-email-or-web-2.pdf

https://fullfact.org/education/academies-and-maintained-schools-what-do-we-know/

The New Tradition

How the National Youth Folk Ensemble offers opportunities for young musicians

The National Youth Folk Ensemble was set up in 2016 by the English Folk Dance & Song Society to provide a progression route for talented young folk musicians. Ensemble members experience intensive residential courses where they create new arrangements of folk tunes, guided by inaugural Artistic Director Sam Sweeney and a team of leading folk artists. 

Watch this film to find out more: 

During the courses, which are funded by Arts Council England, the tutors support the young musicians to develop their individual musicianship and ensemble skills in an environment of creativity and collaboration. 

National Youth Folk Ensemble playing instruments

Elye Cuthbertson, aged 14, melodeon: 

I discovered folk music for the first time when I attended a course at Cecil Sharp House when I was 9 years-old, and I loved it! So I kept going, and later joined the London Youth Folk Ensemble. When I first watched the National Youth Folk Ensemble perform, they blew me away and inspired me to try to take my folk music to the next level. Since then, the Ensemble has taught me a lot about my own solo playing and playing in a group. The tutors are great at challenging us beyond what we thought we could do and they guide us really well, while letting us contribute our ideas and make the decisions. On the last residential course, they helped prepare us for our gig, but they emphasised the point that it was our gig, not theirs! We were also encouraged to think about how we play music: that it’s the small, subtle ‘nuances’ that really give a tune its life. I’ve also learned a lot just from playing with the other young people. It’s not often you get about 20 talented folk musicians under the age of 20 (or even 60!) all playing together! But when it happens, I think it’s pretty magical.

One important aim of the Ensemble programme is to raise the profile of folk music by taking it to new audiences. During our most recent residency, in Giggleswick, North Yorkshire, the Ensemble performed for local school children and we collaborated with youth music charity NYMAZ to film the concert for an online audience. 

National Youth Folk Ensemble on stage

Visit www.connectresound.live/watch to view the film and download the teachers’ resource pack. 

Sean Spicer, aged 16, harmonica:

The Giggleswick concert was terrific. We played five numbers that we had arranged together, from Winders Hornpipe to the experimental Apple Processional written by fiddle tutor Emma Reid, which had an eerie improvised introduction. Even though this was my first public performance with the Ensemble and I was slightly nervous as we went on stage, my butterflies were soon replaced by exhilaration. It was very special to play collaboratively in a unit, and having such a supportive and enthusiastic audience of school students brought the performance to life. It is rare in a folk audience to see so many young faces. With the live stream also going out across the country, it really felt as if we were making a connection and spreading the message.

National Youth Folk Ensemble on stage

Another aim is to improve practice in folk music education, and we are encouraging the Ensemble members to develop skills as educators and leaders. 

Rowan Collinson, aged 17, 5-string fiddle 

For me, performing with the National Youth Folk Ensemble is one of the best feelings in the world and this gig was particularly special. Working with NYMAZ, we had a brilliant opportunity to showcase folk music to children and young people in the theatre and online. This made it a very different experience to a normal gig and it was great to be able to include interactive workshop sections to really engage with our audience. Actively demonstrating how we took a tune from an old manuscript and created an arrangement really involved the audience, and they all seemed to enjoy clapping and stamping the different rhythms of 3/2 hornpipes and jigs!

Of course, interacting with an audience is quite a challenge – there are no second chances! The tutors helped us prepare, working not just on the music but also on our stage presence and confidence to communicate with the audience. We had an amazing session with musician and theatre practitioner Tim Dalling who helped us to really be ourselves on stage.

It was amazing experience to share something that means so much to us with a new young audience in such a dynamic and innovative way. I really hope this concert has inspired children across the country to get into folk music!

Young musician with five string fiddle

If you are interested in learning more about folk music, or are inspired to apply for the National Youth Folk Ensemble, come along to a free Youth Folk Sampler Day! These are creative workshop days for 14-18 year olds, with optional auditions, taking place across England in May half-term. 

Visit www.efdss.org/youthfolk to book your free place. 

All images by Camilla Greenwell courtesy of the National Youth Folk Ensemble.


If you are interested in finding out more about the Music Workshop Company’s range of bespoke experiences, or would like to be featured in our guest blog, contact us today.

Movers and Shakers: Sir Charles Hallé and Sir Henry Wood

March 2019 is the 150th ‘birthday’ of Henry Wood, and April 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Hallé. Both men left a lasting musical legacy integral to the orchestral world in the UK. But where did they come from and what inspired their achievements?  In this ‘double bill’ we celebrate the lives of two great musicians…

Sir Henry Wood

Sir Henry Wood, described in an interview in the Guardian from October 1938 as the ‘busiest and most versatile of Britain’s musicians,’ began his career conducting at a church choral society in 1888 where he earned ‘the enormous sum’ of two guineas.

Born within a stone’s throw of Oxford Street, Wood’s interest in music was encouraged by an intensely musical engineer father. Trained in the UK (he studied composition and voice at the Royal Academy of Music from 1886) he travelled widely to see and learn from great international musicians.

Often credited with founding the Proms, Henry Wood was instrumental in bringing the summer music series to London. He did so in partnership with the entrepreneur, Robert Newman who became manager and lessee of the newly opened Queen’s Hall in 1894, and Harley Street throat specialist, Dr. George Cathcart, who funded the first season. The vision was a series of classical concerts that anyone could attend, regardless of income. In 1895, Promming tickets cost one shilling, the equivalent of around 60p today.

It was Newman who devised the idea of Promenade concerts on the French model and who took on Wood as the sole conductor. However, while Newman and Cathcart’s input was essential, it was short lived. Newman went bust in 1902, and the main backer withdrew in 1926 leaving the Proms without support until the BBC took over in 1927, yet Henry Wood continued.

Drawing of the inside of Queens Hall

The first ever ‘First Night of the Proms’ was on August 10th 1895. 2,500 people gathered for the concert, which opened with the National Anthem. The programme featured popular works by Saint-Saëns, Haydn and Liszt, as well as London premieres of works by Chopin and Bizet. By the time of the 1938 interview, Wood was in his 44th season at Queen’s Hall, and had conducted nearly 3,000 Promenade Concerts, nearly 1,000 Sunday concerts and 600 symphony concerts.

The 1939 Proms season was abandoned after only 3 weeks following the declaration of war: The season, which had opened during the Battle of Britain, was forced to close early due to the Blitz. The concert on September 7th 1939 was the last Prom concert to take place at the Queen’s Hall, as the building was destroyed when a bomb hit the roof on 10th May 1941. In its 50th season, now at the Royal Albert Hall (RAH), the Proms again finished early because of the war, but concerts scheduled for broadcasting continued from the BBC’s Bedford wartime studios.

Wood was a charismatic presence on stage, embracing a new German style of conducting where the conductor’s role was much more expressive, not confined to keeping time. And he had a voracious appetite for music of all kinds. He and Newman had been determined to introduce a broad range of music to a wider audience, working to democratise the genre. The concert atmosphere was informal, with eating and drinking allowed during the performance, and the music had to be popular.

As the seasons progressed, Wood developed an enterprising, challenging and entertaining selection of music, always programming new works. He conducted an astonishing list of premieres during his career: 716 works by 356 composers, including Debussy’s L’Apres-midi d’un Faun. In fact, he was responsible for introducing many of the leading composers of the day to the Proms audiences, including Richard Strauss, Debussy, Rachmaninov, Ravel and Vaughan Williams. He was also passionate about promoting young and talented performers, and worked to raise the standard of orchestral playing.

[Image by: Ed g2s/wikicommons images]

Wood passed away on 19 August 1944 aged 75. He had conducted at the Proms for nearly 50 years. After his death, the concerts were renamed the “Henry Wood Promenade Concerts”, and the Proms continues as the longest running series of orchestral concerts in the world. Henry Wood is remembered every year, by the placing of a bronze bust (borrowed from the Royal Academy of Music) at the back of the RAH stage. His legacy is celebrated at the Last Night concert when a member of the audience drapes a wreath around the neck of the bust and the conductor leads ‘three cheers’ for Henry Wood.


Pianist and conductor Charles Hallé was born Karl Hallé on April 11th 1819 in Hagen, Westphalia. His father, a choirmaster and organist, first introduced him to music, and he quickly excelled. He was a child prodigy, first performing a sonatina in public at the age of 4, and in 1828 he played in a concert where he attracted the attention of the virtuoso violinist (and inventor of the violin chin rest) Louis Spohr.

Aged 16, he studied at Darmstadt with the organist and composer Rinck, and at 17 he went to Paris, where he stayed for 12 years. Whilst in Paris, he knew everybody worth knowing, counting musical greats including Cherubini, Chopin, Lisz and Wagner among his friends.

His time in the French capital ended with the February Revolution of 1848. Hallé had begun a series of chamber concerts in a small room at the Conservatoire, but the third series was cut short by the revolution and finding musical life in Paris had suffered after the revolution, he left for England.

His first appearance in his new home country was as soloist in an orchestral concert at Covent Garden, May 12th, 1848, where he performed Beethoven’s Concerto in E flat. In fact, the familiarity of the Beethoven piano sonatas in England is largely due to Hallé, who was the first pianist to play the complete series here.

He was also the inventor of a mechanical page-turning device for pianists. The pages were set into the mechanism, which was operated by means of a foot pedal. According to Harold C Schonberg’s 1963 book, The Great Pianists: “People would go to his concerts just to see the spectacle of leaf after leaf turning over, ghostlike, without the intervention of human hands.” 

But Hallé didn’t much like London, and in 1853 he accepted an offer to run Manchester’s Gentleman’s Concerts, which had its own orchestra. This orchestra was apparently so bad that Hallé considered returning to Paris, but he was industrious and meticulous. Being the type of person who would not open a letter until he had answered all previous correspondence, he taught himself English every morning on the way to work, and he stuck with the orchestra.

In May 1857, Hallé was asked to put together a small orchestra to play for Prince Albert at the opening ceremony of the Art Treasures of Great Britain. This was the biggest single exhibition Manchester had ever hosted. Hallé accepted the challenge and was so happy with the results that he kept the group together until October. This was the beginning of the Hallé Orchestra, now one of the oldest professional orchestras in England.

Hallé went on to start his own concert series, raising the orchestra to a standard far higher than normal for English music at that time. He decided to keep working with the musicians on a more formal basis, and on January 30th, 1858, the Hallé gave its first concert.

He conducted almost every concert and performed as piano soloist at many, until his death in 1895. He excited the public about music, raising standards and expectations, and introducing new concepts and works including premieres of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and The Damnation of Faust.

A passage in the 1890 publication Manchester Faces and Places describes the change in attitude to music during Hallé’s time in Manchester:

… he declares his conviction that the progress of music in England has been greater during that time than in any other country.

This remark is illustrated by several anecdotes including this:

At that period [Hallé] discovered that if he asked a gentleman in society, ‘Do you play an instrument?’ this appeared to be considered an insult. Did not Lord Chesterfield indeed warn his son not ‘to fiddle,’ on pain of forfeiting his claim to rank as a gentleman? But since then how great is the change! A love of music is now becoming the common passion uniting all classes. A few years ago Sir Charles Hallé was waiting for the train at Derby, when a railway porter who recognised him said, ‘Can you tell me, Mr. Halle, when the ‘Elijah’ will be next performed in Manchester, because I can have leave to take my missus there?’ Only the other day a music-seller in Sheffield, who is in a position to know, assured Sir Charles that there are in that town alone between five hundred and six hundred artisans who play the violin.

Hallé’s death on October 25th, 1895, shook Manchester and the wider musical world, and his funeral procession brought the city to a standstill. Three of his closest friends, Henry Simon, Gustav Behrens and James Forsyth, immediately set about securing the future of the Orchestra, guaranteeing the 1895-96 season against loss. This commitment was renewed for a further three years whilst the Hallé Concerts Society was formed. Under the guidance of such distinguished conductors as Hans Richter, Sir Hamilton Harty and Sir John Barbirolli the Orchestra continued to thrive and develop.

In an interview for the Telegraph, Mark Elder, current music director of the Hallé since 2000 (seen in the image above with the orchestra in 2011), explains the driving force in the success of the orchestra both then and now:

One way in which Hallé was ahead of his time was his understanding that education is absolutely key to an orchestra’s success. When you understand something, you enjoy it. That’s why he was so keen to bring the latest music to England, and why he was the first person to play a complete cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas.

He also understood that to reach a public you have to make the effort to go out to them. Part of the secret, I feel, is to link the orchestra to its community in a way that goes beyond concert-going.



Both Hallé and Wood were passionate, not only about their own musical careers, but about sharing their love and excitement for music with the wider community. The legacy of these two historic artists centres around what is now a formal body of classical music but one which, in the case of both the Hallé and the Proms, still works to engage the wider community in as many ways as possible, staying true to its original intent. It is almost impossible to quantify the value of those musicians who work so hard to share their gifts, except in the enjoyment of the opportunities and organisations they leave behind, whatever the challenges they faced. In a time when the future of music in education is unclear, it is encouraging to understand how much difference one person with talent and vision can make.

Where Is My Money Going?

Securing the Value of Music Lessons

MyMusicPB.com is an interactive resource for music teachers, music services and music students that offers a way for teachers to stay organised, up to date and compliant with European data laws while motivating pupils of all ages. Its intuitive interface is free for teachers to use. The Music Workshop Company speaks to MyMusicPB’s creator, Phillip Brunton, about how the site can add incremental value to instrumental lessons and help build a strong framework to support learning:

“In the present climate of financial justification it is often hard to pinpoint how value is reflected in the cost of vocal and instrumental music lessons. With unlimited activities vying for students’ attention, it can be challenging for teachers to account for the impact of their lessons and add more value to those lessons, yet ‘value’ or at least cost is a question that is likely to raise its head when money is discussed. In developing MyMusicPB.com we identified three key ‘links’ that every teacher can strengthen to ensure that the personal enrichment value of music making is truly appreciated alongside its financial value.

Music lessons are a unique exchange. Parents pay for something that they are not directly receiving, and often making this payment to a school or music service rather than to the person teaching the lesson.  As it is rare for a parent to sit in on the child’s lesson, and even when they do they won’t necessarily understand what they are watching, so the parent’s perception of value for money is observed through the experience of the child away from the lesson. The parent’s assessment is based on the following points:

Is the student making progress?

It can sometimes be difficult for parents to appreciate the progress being made, with some technical and musical skills requiring a longer period of time to develop. Reports and external graded exam results can give a measurable feedback of progress, although these are rarely produced more than once a year, and only a proportion of students will receive top marks.

How engaged is the student?

For many parents, value for money is observed through the child’s enthusiasm, motivation and enjoyment in their playing; how engaged they are with their practice and other musical activities such as playing in an ensemble? Students who are motivated to practise, and who understand how to get the most from their practice, will make enjoyable progress, but when the child doesn’t want to practice, the result is commonly that the parent will decide to stop lessons. Students who practise will want to learn more and will learn more quickly, making lessons much more ‘cost effective’. However, students attend lessons for a very small portion of the available 10080 minutes that make up a week. The true measure of their learning is determined by what happens betweenthe lessons.

Is the teaching effective?

Parents also observe value for money through the professionalism of the service and the effectiveness of the teaching being offered. Regardless of how one becomes an effective teacher, effective teaching aims ultimately to guide and inspire students to become self-learners. The value of effective teaching extends beyond the lesson itself, and this means teaching effective practice skills. 

How does the parent observe effective teaching outside of the lesson?  

Is the teacher organised and keeping both students and parents informed? This is reflected through the effectiveness of the communication ‘links’ between the teacher, student and parent. How informed are the parents? It is perfectly natural for a parent to want to support their child, especially in the early stages of learning. What is my child working towards? How and what should they be practising? When is their next lesson and how are they getting on? How can we help?

The Practice Book

The paper practice book has traditionally been used as a teacher’s method of communication, informing students what to practise and sending parents important messages. Many teachers are aware that practice books never make it out of the music bag and they are often just used by the teacher as a reminder of what was covered in the previous lesson. As a teacher, does your use of a practice book truly reflect the value of your teaching? Could an interactive practice book be more engaging to the student, more efficient for your teaching and more effective in communicating with the parent?

3 Key Links

MyMusicPB, the interactive music practice book, identifies the ‘links’ between the teacher, student and parent as key to ensure that music tuition is effective and ultimately valued.   

As an interactive resource, it successfully organises and connects the teacher’s planning, notes and assessments with the student’s practice, focus and progress. Parents can be more informed and appreciative of the process due to improved communication, and they can offer more support to the child through the built-in weekly progress indicators. Students become more engaged through the interactive features of the practice book, leading to more practice, progress and enjoyment.

Some more important answers…

How much does it cost?

MyMusicPB is free to use for all teachers. The linking interactive student practice books can be purchased separately by the parent or teacher. Alternatively, a school, music service or Hub may purchase a user licence, giving all their students and their parents access to a linking practice book. This offers better value for students.  

What support is there for teachers?

Schools and music services have ‘Admin Access’ to key data, which allows them to further support their teachers, students and parents. This strengthens links between all parties, and adds value to both individual and group lessons.  

Is it mobile optimised?

As an online application, MyMusicPB can be accessed from, and is optimised for use on, any device.

What about my privacy?

MyMusicPB actually addresses and solves the problems faced by many schools and music services due to GDPR and is fully GDPR compliant. When parents register, they give direct consent as to what data is held, and data is kept on a secure server with encrypted access. 

Find out more

For further support and resources on efficient music learning, please follow MyMusicPB on twitter: mymusicpb@phillipbrunton 

And visit mymusicpb.com 


If you would like to know more about The Music Workshop Company’s range of bespoke creative experiences, would like to be featured on our blog or would like to ask us anything else, contact the team today!

Welsh Dance – A Living Tradition

Music holds an important place in Welsh national identity – so much so that Wales is traditionally referred to as the ‘Land of Song’. However, despite the positive implications this moniker has in terms of the Welsh affinity with music, this is actually a modern stereotype based on the importance of 19th century choral music and 20th century male voice choirs, and in some ways it clouds a long and unique musical and social history. 

[Image: National Assembly for Wales]

Like Ireland and Scotland, Wales has its own history of folk music, its own cultures and its own dances. The music has distinctive instrumentation and song types. It can traditionally be heard at a twmpath (folk dance session), gŵyl werin (folk festival) or noon lawen (traditional party similar to the Gaelic ceilidh). The fact that Welsh music is less familiar than that of England, Scotland and Ireland is simply due to many years of suppression.

The main reasons for this effectual annihilation of Welsh history were politics and religion. Various Acts of Union, and in particular the 1707 Act that formed the Kingdom of Great Britain, promoted the English language and the eradication of Welsh culture, and the rise of the Methodist Church in the 18th and 19th century further silenced Welsh voices. 

The fervent zeal of the religious revival of the latter part of the last century and the early years of the present century, persecuted and exiled old traditionally Welsh dances.

A Welsh Folk Dancing Handbook by A E Williams

Wales is a small country. It stretches only 130 miles from north to south with a population of around 3 million. Its initial loss of independence came with the fall of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd during the 13th century. In 1536 Wales was brought under the laws and customs of the English crown and the Welsh language was outlawed. The nationalism prevalent during the 18th century went some way to encourage Welsh patriotism, which slowly grew throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. St David’s Day celebrations became common, the red dragon (the royal badge of Wales since 1807) and an unofficial national anthem (Hen Wlad fy nhadau or Land of My Fathers has been used since around 1905) returned a sense of national identity and pride. But much of what could be interpreted as Welsh patriotism was a tourist-orientated and romanticised ‘Victorian’ version of the country’s genuine culture.

In recent decades much work has been done to advance the Welsh language and the customs of Wales. Radio and television channels transmit in Welsh, the country has an increasing presence in parliament from members of Plaid Cymru, and in September 1997 a national referendum furnished Wales with its own elected assembly. Thanks to the work of individuals and societies like the Welsh Folk Dance Society (formed in 1949) there is an abundance of Welsh folk dancing today. 

About the dances

Welsh folk dancing encompasses several forms of dance – set dance (couple dancing), Morris dance and clog (or step) dance.

Clog dancers create rhythmic sounds by the placing and timing of their steps, manipulated with foot, ankle and shoe, a wooden-soled clog. Clog dancing differs from tap dancing in that it relies on the use of the whole foot rather than the ball of the foot, but like other forms of dance it includes the use of improvisation. Male dancers would often perform solo step dances in the local village pubs, competitive displays of virility, strength and agility. Women’s solo step dances were generally more controlled and portray aspects of folklore such as the ‘Mother of Wales’ and local customs such as courting rituals.

Set dancing is a kind of dance where everyone can join in and the dance can often be learned quickly. If you have ever learned a ceilidh dance at a wedding or party this will be a familiar concept. Folk dances are social by nature. This can be seen in the Children Festival, Gwyl y Plant, where children from all over Wales come together to dance the simple twmpath dances.

Some dances, including court dances, are much better suited for display and are most often seen at Eisteddfods where the dance itself and the skill of the dancers is important. In fact, these competitions have helped to raise the standard of dancing. Dance performances must be based on traditional patterns and steps, though it is argued by some participants that this hinders the natural development of a living tradition.

Morris dancing also exists in Wales. Dances are associated with important festivals and days including Christmas and the New Year.

Welsh folk dancing only saw a revival in the early 20thcentury, making it a relatively young tradition. Its survival and progression relies on its popularity with younger generations. The tradition was suppressed for over a century, and there is no way of fully knowing what a folk dance looked like. The music and dance styles from other countries and regions within the British Isles will have influenced Welsh dance in the meantime, and these influences are as integral to the tradition as they have been to the history that built it. Old manuscripts, notations and visual recollections provide clues but no absolute points of reference that a dance was ‘exactly’ one way or another. In some ways this gives the opportunity to look at where Welsh dance fits in Wales today, rather than holding onto an authentic version of its steps, styles and meaning, opening the way for the true continuation of a living tradition. 

Welsh folk dancing only saw a revival in the early 20th century, making it a relatively young tradition. Its survival and progression relies on its popularity with younger generations. Dancing in Wales was suppressed for over a century, and there is no way of fully knowing what a folk dance looked like. The music and dance styles from other countries and regions within the British Isles will have influenced Welsh dance in the meantime, and these influences are as integral to the tradition as they have been to the history that built it. Old manuscripts, notations and visual recollections provide clues but no absolute points of reference that a dance was ‘exactly’ one way or another. In some ways this gives the opportunity to look at where Welsh dance fits in Wales today, rather than holding onto an authentic version of its steps, styles and meaning, opening the way for the true continuation of a living tradition. 




Dungeons, Detail and Design

Composer Steven Coltart on writing music for gaming…

The way young people experience music is changing. October 2018 saw the publication of the findings of a YouGov survey in association with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which showed the increasing influence of video game music and its value as an access point for classical music.

This access point is valuable both experientially and creatively, as opportunities open up for composers to work in sound design.

In this month’s guest blog, The Music Workshop Company talks to composer Steven Coltart about his work writing and producing the score for Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier.

Steven has worked extensively across film, games and television, but Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier provided a hitherto unique opportunity for him…


Can you tell us a bit about the game?

Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is a narrative adventure game of conquest, betrayal and survival. When the fates of a tribe of apes and a band of human survivors intertwine, two worlds collide as their precarious existence hangs in the balance. It’s out now on PS4XBOX ONE and PC.

So how did you approach writing the music for this game?

Unlike with other games I had worked on, I treated this project as close to possible as a linear film score. From the off I was opposed to using any loops, menu theme aside, and instead all music was bespoke composed for the different pathway options. That became quite complex on the longer scenes, however the end result is far more filmic due to this approach.  

Crucially for this game I was involved across full production; not only composing the soundtrack, designing sound effects and ambiences, but also employed as audio lead. This included personally implementing all my music into Unreal too. 

Having this level of control and understanding allowed me to have attention to detail across both creative and technical areas. I believe the composer also implementing is quite unique on a project of this size, but in my opinion, is one of the strengths in the soundtrack’s success.  

I can see this process becoming more commonplace going forward. 

Steven in his studio

How do you retain your artistic creativity and freshness when you’re working within an existing franchise?

I have a signature “Coltart sound” that is consistent across all my video game, film and television work – an emotionally charged, cinematic sound –  something that offers a standout, gives my music uniqueness, an identity in a crowded market.    

There are a couple of themes that I’m particularly happy with which recur in Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier: Toms Burial and We Go Home.

Regarding the Toms Burial theme, a listener posted to my Twitter account: 

“There’s so much pain in it.” 

It’s a melancholy that’s ambient (so as not to distract from the storytelling) but has enough detail to give listeners enjoyment when playing the original soundtrack in isolation. That’s something I kept in the back of my mind across the full soundtrack: Does the music sound as good away from the game as it does supporting the game play in it?  If so, I’ve done my job.

When you’re recording your own sounds, can you tell us a bit about what goes on behind the scenes?

The game was developed at Ealing Studios, but lots of the sound designs in game were actually recorded on location in Norfolk. This included getting access to record at Norwich Castle* capturing sound designs such as skull handling and hall/ dungeon ambiences.

The game features several snowy scenes, and I headed out into rural south Norfolk countryside for the perfect snow recordings, both during daytime, and at night to ensure attention to detail, and immersion. Going above and beyond with these original audio recordings aided the cinematic storytelling.    

*Special thanks to John Holdaway, Anne Brown and Dr. David Waterhouse!


Steven works across games, film and television. See/ hear what he is up to at his website, https://www.stevencoltart.com/ and on Twitter @ColtartMusic

He has also personally developed highly current, specialist game audio content, which he currently delivers within the music department at The University of Hertfordshire.  The course has ongoing graduate success due to the implementation of audio middleware and UE4/ Unity.

If you or one of your students would like to know more about a career in game audio, check out the course specifications to find out more. 


If you would like to know more about The Music Workshop Company or book one of our bespoke workshops for your school or workplace, contact us today.

Nationalism in Music: A Grand Expression of Political Turbulence

The Eduqas A-level music syllabus includes study of Western Classical music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The syllabus asks students to explore this era, which “witnessed a fading romanticism and looked forward to new directions and musical challenges”.

This was a period of change and emancipation. No single composer led the way in terms of style, and artistic creativity was expressed with compositional devices including explorations in instrumental sonority and harmony, including increased use of dissonance and chromaticism. Nationalism, the use of cultural and patriotic references including the integration of elements of folk songs and folklore (often as programmatic forms and ideas) became an important feature.

However, alongside the stylistic emancipation, which has to some extent become romanticised in itself in the music history texts, this was a period of significant upheaval and in some areas of the world, restriction, dictatorship and death camps.

What Prompted the Rise of Nationalism?

Nationalism in music did not exist out of context. Rather topically to today’s political events, it was an ideological movement that provided an important factor in the development of Europe. In the late 19th century (1871), both Germany and Italy were newly unified, created from their various regional states and given a common ‘national identity’. Other countries, including Serbia, Poland, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, were formed in uprisings against the Ottoman Empire and Russia. At a time of social and political upheaval, romantic nationalism purportedly represented a general optimism for self-determined rule by newly formed government in place of the traditional monarchies and foreign control of territories. 

The Dark Side of Nationalism

It is common for nationalism in music to be superficially explained as the patriotic exploration of a nation’s folk music in the high cultural field, which makes sense in light of the new feeling of identity. However, if nationalism can be described as calling on people “to identify with the interests of their national group and to support the creation of a state – a nation-state – to support those interests,” (Professor Leon Baradat) music could also be used as a propaganda tool. It is interesting that when current politics demonstrate the dangers of nationalism, or of strong national identity without inclusion or integration, this element is often romanticised as a positive expression in the context of classical music

The truth is, composers were not always exploring nationalist ideas out of sheer creative and patriotic inspiration. This was demonstrated with the discovery of a Suite on Finnish Themesby Dmitri Shostakovich, which was written in 1939 but only discovered in 2001. The composer had never claimed authorship of the suite, it was never performed in his lifetime, and only one reference is made to it in his letters. Why?

The Winter War began on November 30th 1939, when the Red Army invaded Finland. Research shows that the Soviet government commissioned Shostakovich to write a suite based on Finnish melodies. The commission was instigated between November 23rd and 25th 1939, with a completion date of December 2nd, representing the timeframe of the invasion and the proposed date of occupation. 

A Finnish machine gun station during the Winter War

This was a propaganda tool. If the invasion had succeeded, Shostakovich’s suite would have been performed by Red Army marching bands in the streets of Helsinki, either with the intention to demonstrate the Soviet commitment to nurturing Finnish culture and prevent dissent, or to further humiliate the Finnish people after their defeat.

Shostakovich had a notably difficult relationship with the Soviet state throughout his life. He was one of the few composers who did not flee Russia when the revolution took place, and he was kept under close scrutiny. The Finnish commission of 1939 came some time after the composer’s first denouncement by the Communist Party, and these condemnations of Shostakovich’s music were not insignificant.

In fear for his life, Shostakovic was forced to take a more conservative and patriotic approach, as heard in particular in his 1937 Fifth Symphony. His acceptance of the commission to write the Suite on Finnish Themes demonstrates this forced patriotism. Shostakovich needed to escape the Communist Party backlash and return to Stalin’s favour. His alternative, the consequence for dissention, the Gulags. 

Further Examples of Nationalism in Music

Edvard Grieg – Norway

Grieg combined elements of traditional Norwegian folk songs with the Romantic style, often using poems by Norwegian poets such as Henrik Ibsen and Bjornstjerne Bjornson to set to his vocal songs.

His Opus 25, a set of six songs all set to poems by Ibsen, is a good example of his compositional style, demonstrating his feelings about nationalism through his synthesis of compositional elements and text. The form, harmony and melody of his works reflect his close relationship with the landscape of his home country. 

Bela Bartók – Hungary

Bartók is often painted as a highly nationalist composter, but study of his music shows how his idea of nationalism developed throughout his career and actually became diluted by social awareness.

In his late teens, in allegiance to the divisive politics of Hungarian nationalism he was attracted to what was known as the Hungarian popular music, often performed by Gypsy musicians. One of his early works, the 1903 symphonic poem Kossuth, tells the story of one of the heroes of the 1848-9 revolution.

This work employs characteristic features of the urban Gypsy music, which is also heard in the music of Franz Liszt. Musical devices include the use of a minor key scale with a sharpened fourth note, a short-long rhythmic figure (much like the Scotch-snap found in Scottish folk music) derived from the stress pattern of Hungarian speech, and the emulation of the performance style of indigenous instruments. These included the hammered dulcimer or cimbalom, the sound of which was later made famous in Anton Karas’s score for The Third Man.

However, through the influence of his friend Zoltán Kodály, Bartók was to discover a very different type of Hungarian popular music – music from the countryside. Much like Cecil Sharpe who built up the English folk song and dance collection, Bartók subsequently spent much of his life collecting, editing and cataloguing these folk songs, which he recorded in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, North Africa, and Turkey. Along with 2700 Hungarian melodies, Bartók collected 3500 Romanian and 3400 Slovakian tunes, and 10,000 other melodies from field workers.

Gypsy musicians in Budapest, May 1946, image source: http://www.fortepan.hu

One notable aspect of Bartók’s research was that he attempted to be properly systematic and scientific, making use of the recently developed phonograph rather than transcribing by ear. He refined the approach thoughout his life, creating ever more detailed transcriptions and seeking out points of correspondence between the music he had sourced from people of different ethnic backgrounds.

Through this ethnomusicological study he effectively reorientated himself. What had begun in his youth as a narrow Hungarian nationalist outlook became a much broader and more inclusive view. He came to see an essential unity between the rural working people of Hungary and its neighbouring states. In compositional terms this led to a musical style with a firm base in Hungary but which was permeated by elements derived from other cultures.

Richard Rogers’ Oklahoma! The Story of a Game Changing Musical…

Musical Theatre, or ‘Music for Theatre’ is a diverse topic, and the variety and quality it offers ensures its place in the exam board syllabus. Both the AQA and Eduqas at A-Level curriculums give Musical Theatre equal weight to hefty genres like the western classical tradition and jazz.

One composer common to both syllabuses is Richard Rogers (June 28, 1902 – December 30, 1979). Rogers wrote 43 Broadway musicals and more than 900 songs, and is recognised as one of the most significant composers of 20th century American music. He is known in particular for his song-writing partnerships with the lyricists Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II. His work has had a significant impact on musical theatre and popular music, and 2018 marks the 75thanniversary of the opening of his ground-breaking musical Oklahoma!

Rogers met Lorenz Hart, his first collaborator, at Columbia University, in 1919. Together they wrote 26 musicals, which were performed on Broadway, in London and recorded in Hollywood. Sadly the partnership ended in 1943 when Hart died. Their work together includes On Your Toes, Babes in Arms, The Boys from Syracuse (based on Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors) and Pal Joey.

In 1942 Rodgers began working with Oscar Hammerstein II who he had also met at Columbia University. Hammerstein had already made a name for himself working with Jerome Kern but the partnership of Rogers and Hammerstein took both to higher success. It could be argued that this musical partnership changed the American musical: Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals earned a total of 35 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, two Grammy Awards, and two Emmy Awards.

Their first work was Oklahoma!. The musical was immediately popular and ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances – 5 years and 9 months. This was a record that it held for 15 years, until My Fair Lady ran for 2,717 performances from March 1956.

The history of Oklahoma! provides its own interesting story. The musical is based on Lynn Riggs’s play of 1930, Green Grow the Lilacs the name of which is from an old American Civil War song. The play, set in ‘Indian territory’ in 1900, seven years before the State of Oklahoma was founded, was performed just 64 times on Broadway between January and March 1931. However, ten years later in 1941, Theresa Helburn, a producer at the Theatre Guild, saw a production of Green Grow the Lilacs which was supplemented with traditional folk songs and square dance. She saw that the play could be the basis of a musical good enough that it might revive the struggling Guild and approached Rogers and Hart about writing it. Rogers was interested in the project and bought the rights to the play.

Green Grow the Lilacs

Rogers had already started talking to Hammerstein about working together with Hart. Hammerstein had said he would be happy to work with Rogers if Hart were unable to work, and as Hart was struggling with alcoholism and finding it hard to write, it was suggested that Hammerstein would be an ideal new partner for Rogers.

Coincidentally, Hammerstein had already considered setting Green Grow the Lilacs to music, but his then collaborator, Kern was not interested, so when he heard that Rogers was looking for a partner to write the show, he jumped at the opportunity.

One of the reasons the Rogers and Hammerstein partnership worked so well was that the partnership allowed both collaborators to follow their preferred writing methods: Hammerstein preferred to write a complete lyrics before his libretto was set to music, and Rodgers preferred to set completed lyrics to music. It has been suggested that this permitted Hammerstein to build the lyrics into the story so that the songs could enhance the story instead of diverting it.

The work was originally called Away We Go! But following tryouts, it was re-named Oklahoma!for the Broadway run.

According to playwright and theatre writer Thomas Hischak,

Not only is Oklahoma!the most important of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, it is also the single most influential work in the American musical theatre. … It is the first fully integrated musical play and its blending of song, character, plot and even dance would serve as the model for Broadway shows for decades.

However, initially it was expected that the show would bomb. According to theatrehistory.com

The saga of the trials and tribulations of Oklahoma!before it reached its premiere performance in New York to become one of the surpassing triumphs of the American theatre is now a twice-told tale. Virtually everybody connected with the production was convinced he was involved with a box-office disaster. Here was a musical without stars; without “gags” and humour; without the sex appeal of chorus girls in flimsy attire. Here was a musical that strayed into realism and grim tragedy, with Jud as one of the main characters, and his death as a climax of the story. Here, finally, was a musical which for the first time in Broadway history leaned heavily upon American folk-ballet–the choreography by Agnes De Mille, one of America’s foremost choreographers and ballet dancers. Oklahoma!might be fine art, was the general consensus of opinion before premiere time, but it was poison at the box-office. The effort to get the necessary financial backing proved to be a back-breaking operation, successfully consummated only because the Theatre Guild, which had undertaken the production, had many friends and allies. But there was hardly an investor anywhere who did not think he was throwing his money down a sewer.”

In 1955 the show was made into a feature film, in fact, the first feature film shot in 70mm widescreen. It was also unique in that Rodgers and Hammerstein, having held onto the rights until the stage run had finished, personally oversaw the making of the film to ensure that no changes were made. As a result, the film follows the stage version much more closely than any other Rodgers and Hammerstein. The film won Academy Awards for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound, Recording.

Fact file:

  • One innovative feature of Oklahoma! is the dream ballet sequence which reveals the hidden fears and desires of the main characters: A device that was later used in many musicals including, famously An American in Paris: 
  • A key element of the story, following in the footsteps of Show Boat (also by Hammerstein) and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, is the showcasing on Broadway of the pioneering men and women who had worked the land of the American Southwest. It has been suggested that harking back to the ‘good old days’ was timely as Americans fought in the Second World War. Roger and Hammerstein’s Carousel in 1945 also built on this theme.
  • Oklahoma!It opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on April 30, 1947 to rave press reviews and sell-out houses, running for 1,543 performances. Its pre-London run opened a day late at the Manchester Opera House on April 18, 1947, because the ship carrying the cast, scenery, and costumes ran aground on a sandbank off Southampton.
  • The exclamation mark in the show’s title was in common use in musical titles in the 1930s and 1940s. As George Jean Nathan, an American drama critic and magazine editor stated “It seems that the moment anyone gets hold of an exclamation mark these days, he promptly writes a musical show around it”.
  • As the end of the musical celebrates the formation of the state of Oklahoma, the title song became the official state song of Oklahoma in 1953 and is the only state song from a Broadway musical.
  • Richard Rodgers was the first person to win all four top show business awards. He was awarded an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony, and also won a Pulitzer Prize.
The dream sequence from An American in Paris

Songs from the musical:

Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’

The Surrey with the Fringe on Top

Kansas City

I Cain’t Say No

Many a New Day

People Will Say We’re in Love

Pore Jud Is Daid

Out of My Dreams

The Farmer and the Cowman Annie, Laurey, Ike Skidmore, Cord Elam & Ensemble

All Er Nuthin’

Oklahoma

BBC Proms performances with the John Wilson Orchestra:

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