Leonard Bernstein: A Musician for all Ages


Summer 2018 marks the centenary of the amazing musician Leonard Bernstein who was born on 25th August 1918.

Bernstein was a composer, conductor, author, educator and pianist, perhaps best known for what some consider the greatest of all American musicals: West Side Story.

Bernstein’s influence on the American music scene cannot be underestimated. His voice can be heard through his compositions, his recordings, the popularity of composers he championed and his influence on great conductors such as Marin Alsop, Paavo Jarvi, Seiji Oazawa and Michael Tilson Thomas.

Time spent at Harvard (he graduated in 1939) was influential to Bernstein’s work. His tutors, Edward Burlingame Hill, Walter Piston and David Prall, the conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos and friends he made during this period including Donald Davidson and Aaron Copland all made an impact. Copland became a major influence for Bernstein who called Copland his “only real composition teacher”. After Harvard, Bernstein attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where he studied conducting with Fritz Reiner who was one of his mentors.

Bernstein continued his education at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer institute, Tanglewood, an association that continued and inspired him throughout his life. As a student at Tanglewood, he studied with Serge Koussevitzky, who became a sort of father figure, influencing the emotional way in which Bernstein interpreted music. Bernstein became Koussevitzky’s assistant and later dedicated his second Symphony to him.

His break as a conductor came in 1943 when, as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, he stepped in at just six hours notice when Bruno Walter was taken ill. The New York Times put the story on their front page and so Bernstein’s fame as a conductor spread.

But it was the following year that marked him out as an important composer, with premieres of The ‘Jeremiah’ Symphony (No. 1) (heavily influenced by Copland) the ballet Fancy Free and the musical On The Town.

Bernstein preferred to collaborate with others, rather than working alone. Key collaborators included the choreographer Jerome Robbins, and the lyricists Betty Camden, Adolph Green, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim.

His career included many firsts. He conducted the American premiere of Britten’s Peter Grimes, the world premiere of Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony, the world premier of Ives’ Symphony No 2. He was the first American conductor to appear at La Scala Opera House in Milan where he worked with Maria Callas, and the first to complete a cycle of recordings of all nine Mahler Symphonies. He worked with many of the World’s top orchestras including the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic, Orchestre National de France, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic. He also conducted at La Scala, the Vienna State Opera and the Metropolitan Opera.

One project that raised his profile across America was his television series for CBS, Young People’s Concerts. This was the first series of music appreciation programmes produced on television. The programmes were very influential and highly acclaimed by critics. Some were released on record, leading to a Grammy in 1961.

In 1973, Bernstein was appointed to the Charles Eliot Norton Chair as Professor of Poetry at Harvard University where his televised lectures compared musical construction to language. In 1982, along with Ernest Fleischmann, he founded the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute as a summer training academy similar to Tanglewood. He later founded a similar project – the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo with Michael Tilson Thomas. In 1990 he received the Praemium Imperiale, an international prize awarded by the Japan Arts Association. Bernstein used the prize to establish The Bernstein Education Through The Arts (BETA) Fund Inc.

Throughout his career Bernstein struggled with balancing the different parts of his work, but he is remembered for his great compositions and conducting work, his championing of other composers, his influence on other conductors and his inspirational education work.

Our picks on where to hear Bernstein’s work this summer:

Chichester Psalms – 2nd August Hereford Cathedral with Carlo Rizzi and the National Youth Orchestra of Wales with the National Youth Choir of Wales

Symphony No 2 The Age of Anxiety – 10th August Usher Hall Edinburgh with Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra

West Side Story – 11th August at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall and live on BBC Radio 3 with John Wilson and the John Wilson Orchestra

On The Town – 25th August at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall and live on BBC Four with John Wilson and the London Symphony Orchestra

Serenade after Plato’s “Symposium”, for solo violin, strings, harp, and percussion, West Side Story: Symphonic Dances, On the Town: Three Dance Episodes – 25th August at Usher Hall, Edinburgh with Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra featuring Nicola Benedetti on Violin

For more info on these events follow this link >>

Music by Bushra El-Turk, Bernstein, Sondheim, Copland and more Proms at … Cadogan Hall 7: Bernstein on Broadway and Beyond – 1pm on 27th August at the Cadogan Hall, London

El-Turk, 35, is London-born, from a Lebanese family. Trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, she decided to become a composer aged 17, when “I woke up to a blackbird twittering a rhythm that created an orchestral piece in my head. That moment has dictated the rest of my career.” She is also composer in residenc

Her new work, Crème Brûlée on a Tree, was inspired by Leonard Bernstein’s settings of La Bonne Cuisine, a song based on a recipe for plum pudding. El-Turk’s composition is based on the durian fruit, otherwise known as stink fruit. – ES Magazine


 

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Music Award for Young People Highlights Mental Health

Applications are open for a music award that supports young musicians from South East London.

Designed for artists between 16 and 25 years old who display musical talent, performance skills, business acumen and are passionate about forging a successful career, the Ed Renshaw Award was set up in 2012 in memory of an accomplished young guitarist who tragically took his own life aged just 30.

Renshaw was a gifted musician. Born in Greenwich in 1981 and a student at Thomas Tallis School, he began learning guitar aged 10. Music broadcaster Sandy Burnett called him: “a supremely talented jazz and classical guitarist.” But Renshaw also suffered with bouts of depression, and in 2011 he lost his struggle.

Judged by representatives from Peter Conway Management, a music management and promotions company which runs the award, and The Albany, a performing arts centre driven by the cultural diversity and creative mix of south east London, the Ed Renshaw Award is open to solo artists and bands. Cash prizes of between £1000 and £3000 help young musicians fund their career plans. Prizes also include mentorship and support from Peter Conway Management and rehearsal and performance space at The Albany. Winners are invited to partake in four live concerts between October 31st and November 3rd 2018, with headline acts to be announced later in the year. Musicians are chosen for their originality, talent and commitment, regardless of genre.

In its third bi-annual outing, Peter Conway Management and The Albany welcome a new partner, the national charity Youth Music. Funded by the National Lottery via Arts Council England, Youth Music exists to support children and young people, to build their confidence, resilience and self-esteem, and to develop the skills they need to succeed.

Youth Music’s CEO, Matt Griffiths says:

We’re very pleased to support this award, which will provide vital career progression opportunities and support young musicians who might otherwise miss out.

Renshaw’s life is regularly commemorated by concerts at The Albany. Staged by family and friends in partnership with Peter Conway Management, proceeds from the events combine with donations from members of the public towards the award.

Winners from 2016 were Megan Tuck and Blinkz Virgo, and Jay Johnson and in 2014 prizewinners included Lucy Cait whose song Gabriel’s Wharf has been featured on the BBC’s Steve Lamacq’s Rock College.

The closing date for applications is Thursday June 28th and shortlisted applicants will be interviewed by the awards panel on Saturday 14th July. Application forms can be found at thealbany.org.uk.

If you or a friend or colleague is suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, use the links on this advice page from Help Musicians to find help. 

Those needing help and emotional support can also call Music Support on 0800 030 6789 or call the Help Musicians’ dedicated mental health helpline on 0808 802 8008. It’s free of charge and someone will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to take your call.

Women Composers – A Reflection on Cultural Expectation

Composer: A person who writes music especially as a professional occupation

The history of music is rich with composers, experimental, creative, daring, dashing, often with fascinating personal lives, and each still receiving regular concert billing. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Ives, Britten – in 2015, music exam board Edexcel featured 63 such composers in its A-Level syllabus.

In 2015, however, it was also pointed out via a change.org petition set up by student Jessy McCabe, that the syllabus was notably missing the inclusion of a single female composer.

This is not an unusual admission. We are used to the same names recurring. Concert societies look for music that will draw audiences, preferring to stick with safe, in-budget programming of Mozart and Beethoven quartets, and composers we’ve all heard of.

Meanwhile double standards and censorship abound. In the wake of the #metoo campaign (which saw Waterhouse’s painting Hylas and the Nymphs removed from display at the Manchester Art Gallery to supposedly prompt conversation about the way images of women’s bodies are displayed), singer R Kelly has been removed from Spotify playlists due to sexual abuse allegations (which the singer has denied). Spotify’s new ‘hate policy’ states that:

When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful, it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator.

Meanwhile the music of Don Carlo Gesualdo is currently celebrated on the streaming platform. Gesualdo murdered his wife and her lover, and allegedly also the baby, but it was 400 years ago after all, so we can enjoy articles about him that wittily talk about ‘killer harmonies’ and bow to the description ‘irrefutably badass’ given him by the BBC’s Clemency Burton-Hill without so much as a wince in the direction of gender politics, or perhaps taste.

Any gender issue tends to spark heated debate. Claims that resurfaced on social media recently that Bach’s wife may have written some of his work met with anger, particularly from men who are beginning, understandably, to feel a bit browbeaten by current events.

But it’s a genuine question. Where are all the female composers? Why do we not hear their work? Why are they not simply referred to as ‘composers’ in the neutral way that actresses have become ‘actors’ in modern parlance?

Notable women include Lili Boulanger, who was the first woman to win the Prix de Rome at the age of 19, (Debussy won the 1884 prize at the age of 21 or 22) but her output was limited by ill health and early death at the age of 24. Her older sister Nadia is often spoken of more by association with her male pupils. Nadia Boulanger taught composition to some of the 20th Century’s most prominent composers: including Astor Piazzolla, Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Quincy Jones, John Eliot Gardiner, Elliott Carter, Dinu Lipatti, Igor Markevitch, Virgil Thomson, David Diamond, İdil Biret, Daniel Barenboim and Philip Glass. She was also the first woman to conduct many of the major orchestras in America and Europe, including the BBC Symphony, Boston Symphony, Hallé, New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia orchestras, and conducted several world premieres, including works by Copland and Stravinsky.

Nadia Boulanger, Chanson:

Scottish born Thea Musgrave is one living female composer who is recognised for her incredible output, and actively celebrated. Her work saw significant premieres at the Proms and the Royal Festival Hall in London in the 1960s, since when she has continued to produce work on a large scale, including commissions for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a collaboration with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. She’s written a work called The Seasons that is rarely, if ever, mentioned in conversations comparing composers’ responses to nature that regularly site Vivaldi’s work of the same name.

Thea Musgrave, Winter from The Seasons:

 

It’s rather heartbreaking to read how Clara Schumann (1819-1896), who is generally spoken of in association with her more famous husband (generally just known as Schumann!), felt about the societal pressure placed upon her at a time when creative women were often suspected to be witches, or had to present as angelic to avoid implications of prostitution:

I once thought that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose — not one has been able to do it, and why should I expect to?

And Alexandra Coghlan writes in the Spectator,

It’s even more frustrating to learn that, nearly 100 years later, when Elizabeth Maconchy was denied a prestigious Royal College of Music scholarship, the excuse given was, ‘If we’d given it to you, you’d only have got married and never written another note!’

To return to Edexcel, the exam board initially countered complaints about their all-male syllabus saying that female composers were not prominent in the Western Classical Tradition. But as the Independent reported, while this is to some extent true, it should not go unremarked.

Students should be taught about the women whose music we have been denied, because they in their turn were denied the opportunities they needed to succeed….

Students should also be taught about the women who did succeed in reaching prominence in their own time, only to be subsequently forgotten… while there were of course fewer women who managed to beat the odds, the International Encyclopedia of Women Composers nevertheless has more than 6,000 entries.

Despite this surprising number, an attempt to redress the balance by Classic FM can offer a list of only 10 Female Composers You Should Know, and even this list rather gauchely describes Ruth Crawford Seeger as “a woman who could ‘sling dissonances like a man,’” a quote ascribed to critics in the 1920’s but presented out-of-context here as though it were a reasonable comment on Seeger’s work.

In the wake of the Edexcel complaint, publisher, Rhinegold, produced a guide to the new syllabus by David Ashworth, who explains in his introduction:

It’s important that we now build on this initial momentum by showcasing the work of even more women composers. The ones included by Edexcel and the other boards are only the tip of a very large iceberg.

However, in this resource I want to go beyond just raising awareness. I want to help teachers and students get ‘under the bonnet’ by looking at some of the rich and diverse composing approaches and strategies used by some these women composers, not only to understand these ideas but also to guide students into trying some of them out for themselves.

Emily E Hogstad sums it up in her satirical blog, In Which I Learn Why There Are No Great Women Composers:

I’m not saying to chuck out Beethoven and Brahms….But once in a while, the boys could be gentlemanly enough to slide over at the table and let the ladies sit down for a bit.

Programmers are beginning to listen. In a move prompted by another gender row, this time within the music world – acclaimed conductor Mariss Jansons’ ill-timed and ill-judged comment that “seeing a woman on the podium… well, let’s just say it’s not my cup of tea” – the BBC has promised to gender-balance its Proms programming, pledging that half of all new commissions will go to women by 2020.

This plan builds a new balance for the future without trying to reinvent the past. Let’s hope it is viewed in a more positive light than the Tate’s current survey of 20th Century art, All Too Human, which was dismissed in the Financial Times as narrowing to gender politics with the inclusion of certain women artists in preference to male artists the writer considered to be more pivotal to art history.

Meanwhile Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance is promoting the importance of women composers with a new initiative, Venus Blazing. Venus Blazing represents an unprecedented commitment by a music college to the music of women composers. Trinity Laban will ensure that at least half of the music it chooses for the multitude of varied public performances it mounts on its landmark Greenwich campus and in venues across London in 2018/19 will be by women composers.

[Image: Gnissah]

This encompasses over 50 concerts and opera performances given each year by the conservatoire’s large-scale student performing groups, with a particular focus on 20th and 21st century British composers, including Trinity Laban students, alumni and staff.

Performances will include a new production of Thea Musgrave’s opera A Christmas Carol, symphonies by Louise Farrenc and Grace Williams performed by the Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra, an exploration of the music of Trinity Laban alumna Avril Coleridge-Taylor, and music by current Trinity Laban composition students and staff, including Errollyn Wallen, Soosan Lolavar, Laura Jurd and Deirdre Gribbin.

The title Venus Blazing is taken from the title of a violin concerto by composition professor Deirdre Gribbin, who also runs the Venus Blazing Charitable Trust.

Trinity’s Chair, Harriet Harman, says:

Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance is strongly committed to diversity in all elements and it has a mission to constantly challenge the status quo. Venus Blazing is a great example of just how it can do this.

This celebration will encourage and inspire its students – many of whom will go on to shape the future of the performing arts – to engage with the historic issue of gender imbalance in music by women, and ensure that it does not continue into the next generation.

GDPR For Small Music Organisations

There’s a big change imminent in data law that’s been putting big business in a spin for months. However, many small organisations and individuals may not even be aware of it.

On May 25th, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will replace existing data laws. The GDPR is largely designed to bring data protection up to date with advances in data analysis and storage and the way that technology is used to sell us things. It’s designed to protect the rights and privacy of internet users in a much more relevant way, given advances in the integration of ‘online’ into every day life.

It’s easy to see how this doesn’t apply to your UK based music education organisation. Firstly, it’s an EU regulation, and we’re leaving the EU, right?

Wrong. The UK government has made it clear that the GDPR will be enforced, despite Brexit.

But you have a relatively small mailing list of members and you’re not sending constant sales emails or selling your list of email addresses to other companies. You don’t even keep it online, it’s filed in a cabinet.

It doesn’t matter!

If you hold a mailing list of any kind, the law applies to you.

The GDPR applies to ‘personal data’ meaning any information relating to an identifiable person who can be directly or indirectly identified in particular by reference to an identifier.

This definition provides for a wide range of personal identifiers to constitute personal data, including name, identification number, location data or online identifier, reflecting changes in technology and the way organisations collect information about people.

The GDPR applies to both automated personal data and to manual filing systems where personal data are accessible according to specific criteria. This could include chronologically ordered sets of manual records containing personal data.

ICO website

Check out this video for a useful outline:

Should I panic?

This is a serious piece of legislation. The consequences for non-compliance are serious, ranging from compensation claims to fines of up to €20million and a ban from storing and processing data.

No. Don’t panic.

What do I need to do?

One of the biggest changes from previous data law is the emphasis on consent. You can now only add someone to your mailing list if you have their direct consent, which means they must opt in to receive your news rather than opting out of not receiving it.

In order to make sure your mailing list is compliant, you should either ensure you have opt-in records for everyone on the list, or ask people to opt in again. You can offer an incentive for them to confirm opt-in, such as entry into a prize draw.

It’s also a good time to reaffirm your privacy policy. Let people know what you use their data for, and that they can remove consent by unsubscribing at any time.

This is a good opportunity to reconnect with your mailing list, and to let them know their data is safe and that you are taking the new laws seriously.

Email privacy

It’s very common to see organisations emailing their members with all of the email addresses visible in the CC bar. It’s a convenient way to make sure members can contact each other. We’re all friends here, after all.

Wrong. Email addresses stored on your system should be held securely and not shared. To send emails which openly share the data of other members is a breach of privacy law. ALWAYS use the BCC line.

What if I work with children?

The law safeguards children’s data too. Here are the guidelines laid out by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) with regards to children:

  • Children need particular protection when you are collecting and processing their personal data because they may be less aware of the risks involved.
  • If you process children’s personal data then you should think about the need to protect them from the outset, and design your systems and processes with this in mind.
  • Compliance with the data protection principles and in particular fairness should be central to all your processing of children’s personal data.
  • You need to have a lawful basis for processing a child’s personal data. Consent is one possible lawful basis for processing, but it is not the only option. Sometimes using an alternative basis is more appropriate and provides better protection for the child.
  • If you are relying on consent as your lawful basis for processing personal data, when offering an online service directly to a child, only children aged 13 or over are able provide their own consent.(This is the age proposed in the Data Protection Bill and is subject to Parliamentary approval).
  • For children under this age you need to get consent from whoever holds parental responsibility for the child – unless the online service you offer is a preventive or counselling service.
  • Children merit specific protection when you use their personal data for marketing purposes or creating personality or user profiles.
  • You should not usually make decisions based solely on automated processing about children if this will have a legal or similarly significant effect on them.
  • You should write clear privacy notices for children so that they are able to understand what will happen to their personal data, and what rights they have.
  • Children have the same rights as adults over their personal data. These include the rights to access their personal data; request rectification; object to processing and have their personal data erased.
  • An individual’s right to erasure is particularly relevant if they gave their consent to processing when they were a child.

The law comes into force in just under a month. Take the time now to re-engage with your mailing list and assess your data and privacy policies to make sure you comply. There is loads of information on the ICO website, and remember, if unsure about any aspect of data law and how it applies to you, always seek legal advice.


How Should we Sing these Songs?

While planning a recent singing workshop, MWC’s Artistic Director, Maria, had cause to reflect on the names and lyrics of songs, how the meaning of some words has changed, becoming sensitive, controversial or unacceptable, and how some aspects of music might impact workshop participants.

Looking into the topic more deeply, Maria discovered examples that have created debate in the past. One such incident happened when Garry Martin, a headteacher in Melbourne, Australia, decided it was necessary to alter a word in the song Kookabura. His concern was around the phrase, “Gay your life must be.”

Mr Martin mentioned his decision to change the word ‘gay’ to ‘fun’ on local radio, and found himself under fire. He had been conscious that the word would potentially lose him control of his class: “I knew if we sing ‘Gay your life must be’ the kids will roll around the floor in fits of laughter … I wasn’t trying to insult gay people.”

Although Mr Martin’s decision was based on behaviour management, it raised concerns from gay and lesbian advocates who said it sent a signal that the word ‘gay’ was unacceptable.

Mr Martin later acknowledged that instead of avoiding the issue, he should have explained the meaning of gay as another word for happy, and taken the opportunity to educate the children that the term should not be used disparagingly.

Songs that use gay to mean happy or joyful are common. Jamaica Farewell, released in 1957, made famous by Harry Belafonte and covered by various artists including Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke and Carly Simon. is another example.

Down the way

Where the nights are gay

And the sun shines daily on the mountaintop

I took a trip on a sailing ship

And when I reached Jamaica I made a stop

 

But I’m sad to say I’m on my way

Won’t be back for many a day

My heart is down

My head is turning around

I had to leave a little girl in Kingston town.

So how should we teach these songs in schools, youth groups, holiday clubs and other community groups?

The setting can be very important, but should not be prescriptive. While homosexuality can be a challenging issue in some religious settings, the original meaning and context of any lyrics still stand. Approach the subject sensitively. Decide whether it is really necessary to change any words, and think carefully about your reasons for doing so.

Other songs that can raise challenges include songs that may cause children to remember abuse or trauma.

What Shall We do with the Drunken Sailor is a sea shanty dating from as early as 1820 which became popular among non-sailors in the 20th century. As a song for musical activities, it has easy words with lots of repetition, makes use of drone and is a good way to introduce the concept of work songs – songs that helped workers carry out tasks.

Children often find the idea of drunkeness funny. However, for participants who have experienced abuse from a drunken relative, this song could trigger feelings of trauma.

Alcohol is a topic that requires care in religious settings. The tale of Sinbad the Sailor, which makes a great basis for a composition workshop, features drunkenness, even though it is set in Muslim countries. Again, sensitivity and awareness are key. Any elements of a story that might cause offence and risk children losing the opportunity to participate can be removed.

Music that links to war can also bring up bad memories or emotions in participants. The Second World War has inspired many composers, with works including Steve Reich’s Different Trains. MWC’s Maria says: “Having studied the Holocaust at school, I cannot listen to Different Trains. I find it chilling, it literally makes me feel cold.”

As a teacher or workshop leader, be aware that music can trigger strong emotions, and this can be a positive or negative experience. When choosing challenging music, try to predict possible issues, and once in the classroom make sure you are hyper-aware of the body language and reactions of your students.

Race is another subject that requires thought. Some pieces of music might be worth listening to for their cultural context or for their compositional value, but be laden with difficulty. For example, consider how you would introduce Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk. Is it best avoided, or is it better to teach the history behind the name? While it may be more comfortable to disassociate from this area of music history, this is a valuable opportunity to educate students and deepen their understanding. Instead of ignoring the piece, you can explain what it was about, and what ‘golliwog’ and ‘cakewalk’ meant. This excellent essay explains the racism behind the Golliwog Caricature.

Remember too that it is possible to be oversensitive. Teachers who changed the words to the nursery rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep to Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep because they felt the word ‘black’ was racist caused a debate about political correctness ‘gone mad’. In the case of this song, the sheep is black simply for the purposes of alliteration. Removing the word could send the message that ‘black’ is a negative term. It also gives an example of trivial political correctness that racists can use to criticise and undermine the very real issue of racism.

With many cultural items, things move in and out of fashion or are interpreted differently over time. Only recently, removal by Manchester Art Gallery of John William Waterhouse’s painting Hylas and the Nymphs, triggered by the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, sparked discussion about political correctness and the danger of censoring or editing art that does not conform to what is currently acceptable.

It’s important to constantly evaluate traditional attitudes and familiar phrases. It is also always possible, if you feel there will be a problem that might preclude some children’s inclusion, to chose an alternative song or piece of music that achieves the same result.

Every piece of art is a result of the society in which it was created. The challenge for music educators is to ensure the survival of great music while placing it in a context that shows sensitivity to the audience/participants and the works themselves.

Creative Subjects Need Your Support

The Music Workshop Company has been following changes to the secondary curriculum in the UK with concern, as the implementation of the EBacc (English Baccalaureate) results in a worrying decline in take-up of arts subjects.

We’ve been supporting Bacc for the Future – the brainchild of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM). We spoke to the ISM’s Jessica Salter to find out how the campaign is progressing:

“Bacc for the Future calls for creative subjects to be included in EBacc and ABacc league tables, or for these qualifications to be replaced by a more rounded option. The campaign began in 2011 when the EBacc was first imposed. It’s now supported by more than 30,000 individuals and 200 creative organisations.

[Image: Tiffany Bailey]

The EBacc is a league table measuring schools by pupil performance in five subject areas. The intention is for ‘at least 90% of students’ (nationally) to be entered into the EBacc subjects, with only certain types of schools exempt. This essentially makes it a compulsory qualification for most school-age children in England.

For a pupil’s performance to count towards this new measure, he or she needs to have studied a minimum of seven GCSE subjects which must include English Literature, English Language, Maths, two or three sciences, an ancient or modern language, and history or geography.

If students are encouraged to study triple science and history and geography, this minimum of seven GCSEs becomes a minimum of 9.

It becomes clear looking at this list that the EBacc pushes creative subjects, like music, out of the curriculum and out of school options at Key Stage 4 (GCSE level).

The fact that the EBacc undermines creative subjects in secondary schools is a big problem. Statistics released by the Department of Education (DoE) in January showed an 8% drop in the uptake of creative GCSEs in 2017.

Add that to the 8% drop in 2016, and the figures are significant.

A recent survey from the BBC, which looked at 1,200 schools nationwide, found that 90% of these schools had cut back on lesson time, staff or facilities in at least one creative arts subject.

The ISM continues to meet with parliamentarians to fight the EBacc. We still need your support and encourage musicians and music educators to actively participate to help us. You can do this by writing to your local MP and the Prime Minister about why creative subjects matter in our schools.

To find out more and to support our Bacc for the Future campaign visit baccforthefuture.org and follow us on Twitter @bacc4thefuture.”

Read MWC’s previous blogs about the campaign:

The EBacc and the Importance of the Arts in Schools

The EBacc and the Arts – An Educational Paradox

Government Bulldozes on with EBacc Despite Evidence

The ISM was set up in 1882. Today the organisation supports a growing membership of nearly 8,500 professional musicians from across the music sector. Its members include performers, composers, music teachers, music administrators, music technology professionals and portfolio musicians. The ISM provides a range of services including specialist legal and tax advice, template contracts, comprehensive insurances, professional development materials and select discounts – as well as fearlessly protecting musicians, the music profession as a whole and the wider industry through rigorous campaigning.


If you would like to contact the Music Workshop Company to book one of our bespoke workshops, or if you have an issue, an event or anything music-education related you’d like to see covered in our blog, get in touch today, we’d love to hear from you: info@music-workshop.co.uk


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Debussy: Trailblazing Modernity

Achille Claude Debussy, or Claude Debussy as he’s usually known, was, along with Maurice Ravel, the most prominent French composer of classical music associated with Impressionism. Born in 1862, he died on March 25th, 1918, making this year the centenary of his death. His music is still incredibly popular, and ‘centenary’ recordings are trending in the classical music charts.

Impressionism is a term used to describe both music and art. In music, it indicates works that convey emotion, suggestion and atmosphere, using timbre (texture) harmony (colour) and orchestration (palette) in the same way that impressionist painters such as Monet and Renoir built an overall impression rather than a detailed realistic image.

Children on the Beach at Guernsey, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1883

These styles were in keeping with the literary fashion of the time: Symbolism. Symbolism was a reaction against the grittiness of realism. It featured metaphor and suggestion. Individual objects were given symbolic meanings with the intention of representing ‘absolute truths’ that could only be described indirectly.

Debussy rejected the term ‘Impressionism’ when applied to his music. In a letter of 1908 he wrote,

I am trying to do ‘something different’ — in a way realities — what the imbeciles call ‘impressionism’ is a term which is as poorly used as possible, particularly by art critics.

In fact, the composer spent a lot of time, and shared many ideals with symbolist writers, including Mallarmé and Pierre Loüys. Although the label of ‘impressionist’ that was given him in a less than flattering way after he submitted Le Printemps to the Conseil de Art (it was refused by the Académie’s Secretary in a letter warning him about “impressionism, the most dangerous enemy of artistic truth”), he adhered more to symbolism than impressionism, and transcended both.

Debussy at the Piano

Debussy’s musical language marked the era of modernity. His focus was constantly on originality – a genuine trailblazer in the world of music. Experimental from the outset, he was also a brilliant pianist and a fantastic sight-reader. While he applied the techniques of the old masters, he pushed these to their limits. He used whole tone scales, pentatonicism, and unresolved dissonances by removing them from the tonal framework.

Travels to Russia in his youth had interested in non-European music. These trips possibly also prepared him for the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889, where he discovered the Japanese gamelan and Annamite theatre. By integrating these elements into his language, he created a sound that was previously unknown and was to spark modernism in music.

Russian music itself made a strong impression. Influences from late nineteenth-century Russian music, including that of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Borodin can be heard in Debussy. There was increasing cross-cultural flow during the period of the Franco-Russian alliance in the late nineteenth century, and Russian music was also performed and popularised by musicians including Liszt and Saint-Saëns.

As winner of the 1884 Prix de Rome with his composition L’enfant prodigue, Debussy had received a scholarship to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. This included a four-year residence at the Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome, to further his studies (1885–1887).

In his letters to Marie-Blanche Vasnier (a singer with whom he went on to have an eigth-year affair) he complained that he found the artistic atmosphere stifling. He didn’t enjoy the culture in Rome either. The operas of Donizetti and Verdi were distinctly not to his taste. He was often depressed and unable to compose. He was, however, inspired by Franz Liszt, whose command of the keyboard he found admirable.

In June 1885, he wrote of his desire to follow his own way, saying,

I am sure the Institute would not approve, for, naturally it regards the path which it ordains as the only right one. But there is no help for it! I am too enamoured of my freedom, too fond of my own ideas.

It was Debussy who can to some extent be attributed with the development of modern music in the United States in the early twentieth century. American music critics showed mixed reactions to the composer’s highly original harmonic language and style, but his modernistic musical language and symbolist ideals soon evoked enthusiasm. In the early decades of the century, Debussy’s orchestral music was championed more than that of any other contemporary composer by the symphony orchestras of Boston, Chicago, and New York. His work is also thought to have influenced American jazz long after his death.

Debussy died of rectal cancer at home in Paris home at the age of just 55. His death occurred in the midst of the aerial and artillery bombardment of Paris during the German Spring Offensive of World War I.

His funeral procession passed through deserted streets to Père Lachaise Cemetery as the German guns bombarded the city. The military situation in France was grave, and the public funeral he would otherwise have received, with its pomp and ceremonious graveside orations, was impossible. The following year, his body was reinterred in the small Passy Cemetery  behind the Trocadéro, fulfilling his wish to rest “among the trees and the birds”.

Further Reading:

Debussy: The first ‘modern’ composer (a New York Times article by Pianist Stephen Hough

Five pop-ish musicians who owe a debt to Debussy 

Debussy’s influence on jazz

And check out our MWC ‘Debussy’ Spotify playlists:

Debussy’s Piano Music

Debussy’s Orchestral Music

Wales – Land of Song

The feast of Saint David, patron saint of Wales, falls on March 1st, the date of his death in 589 AD. Saint David’s Day has been regularly celebrated since his canonisation in the 12th century. To celebrate, we are exploring the music of Wales.

Wales holds a special place in our hearts here at the Music Workshop Company; firstly because it’s the home nation of founder and Artistic Director, Maria, and secondly because of its apt and joyful reputation as “Land of Song”.

“Door of Abbey of Ystrad Fflur. have crumbled and disappeared. The solemn procession and song of tonsured priests, themimicry of the heavenly choir by urchins of the hills hastily draped in white, and the fervidchant of the Cistercian fraternity, blending with the deep and thrilling tones of the organand sweetest voices of chilldren,— Ave, Regina coelorum !Ave, Domina angelorum ! have long ago passed away. Generations many, of the gentlest and best, the bravest andstrongest of the Ceredigion households, he in dust around,—princes, princesses, lords ofmanors and castles, warriors once terrible in battle, and the poorest of the poor, without dis-tinction or memorial, as equal as grains of sand, as unknown as if they had never been. Howimpressively quiet is their rest amid the mountain solitudes! ANTIQUITIES : LLANDDEWI-BREFI. 165 All that remains of the abbey is this solitary arch of Norman design. The land onwhich the abbey stood, and much of the country around, belongs to the estate”

This is partly a modern stereotype, based on the popularity and worldwide reputation of Welsh male voice choirs, a history of Nonconformist choral music and the Eisteddfods. But even as early as 1187, medieval chronicler Geraldus Cambrensis recorded that the Welsh sang in as many parts as there were people, and even that quite small children could harmonise. Music in Wales was a primary form of communication.

Welsh traditional songs, like those of other cultures, were based on seasonal customs such as the welcoming of spring and New Year. However, this music was suppressed for generations as a result of the Act of Union in 1535 and 1542, in which the legal system of England was extended to Wales. The intention behind the act was to create a single state and legal jurisdiction – fundamentally, Henry VIII was making the point that Wales was part of his England, and its separate language should not disabuse anyone of this fact. Section 20 of the 1535 Act made English the only language of the law courts and said that those who used Welsh would not be appointed to, or paid for, any public office in Wales:

from henceforth no Person or Persons that use the Welch Speech or Language, shall have or enjoy any manner Office or Fees within this Realm of England, Wales, or other the King’s Dominion, upon Pain of forfeiting the same Offices or Fees, unless he or they use and exercise the English Speech or Language.

The effect of this clause was to lay the foundation for an Anglicised ruling class of landed gentry in Wales. This would have many consequences, not least for Welsh music. The language became the preserve of the workers, creating class divide within Wales and cultural ignorance outside.

Welsh traditional music declined further in the 18th and 19th centuries with the rise of Nonconformist religion, which emphasised singing over instrumental music. Any English subject belonging to a non-Anglican church or a non-Christian religion was called a Nonconformist. More broadly, this covered any person who advocated religious liberty. Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Calvinists Methodists, Unitarians and Quakers all fell under this definition. Due to the puritanical nature of many of these religions, traditional music became associated with drunkenness and immorality. However, many hymns that developed from the Welsh Methodist revival of the late 18th century were set to popular secular tunes or adopted Welsh ballad melodies.

The Male Voice Choir

The tradition of Welsh male voice choirs grew up out of mining, industrial and religious heritage, and in the competitive choral singing of the eisteddfod. It was not uncommon for a group of miners working together to form a choir to enter a competition or eisteddfod and disband shortly after.

Other choirs thrived and survived, such as the Treorchy and Morriston Orpheus choirs, both now famous throughout the world.

The men were tough workers and had hard lives, but produced some of the most soulful, powerful, sensitive music. Land of My Fathers is the National Anthem of Wales. Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau in Welsh, the words were written by Evan James and the tune composed by his son, James James, both residents of Pontypridd, Glamorgan, in January 1856.

Despite the decline of the mining industries, the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’s comment, “We are a musical nation,” is as relevant as ever. Male voice choirs remain a feature of life in Wales. More recently, too, there has been resurgence for Welsh male choral singing. In 2000, Tim Rhys-Evans, former musical director at Welsh National Youth Opera and a classically trained singer, formed the award winning Only Men Aloud! And Only Boys Aloud! Only Kids Aloud! followed, ensuring that choirs have a future among the younger generation.

Members of the Royal Welsh Ladies Choir – 1908

Female and mixed choirs, though historically not as well represented, are now equally popular, and choral singing is increasingly recognised for its health and wellbeing benefits.

Eisteddfod and Competitive Singing

​Competitive singing is very popular in Wales. The National Eisteddfod of Wales is the largest festival of competitive music and poetry in Europe. Running over eight days each summer, it features competitions and performances entirely in the Welsh language, with all official announcements also in Welsh. It attracts over 6,000 competitors and audiences of over 150,000.

Another example of competitive singing can be seen in the Mari Lwyd (the Grey Mare) – a type of pre-Christian house-visiting wassail said to bring good luck.

The Mari Lwyd (a hobby horse made from a horse’s skull mounted on a pole and carried by an individual hidden under a sackcloth) and its companions would go door-to-door, singing, and challenging the families inside to a battle of rhyming insults in Welsh. At the end of this battle, the group would be invited into the house for refreshments.

A Gymanfa Ganu is a Welsh festival of sacred hymns, sung with four part harmony by a congregation, usually under the direction of a choral director. More than a thousand Gymanfa Ganu are held in Wales each year, taking place in almost every village and town. Other larger versions take place at festivals such as the National Eisteddfod of Wales and the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod. Gymanfa Ganus are held across the world wherever people of Welsh heritage live, significantly in Patagonia, Argentina.

Maria Thomas attended her first Gymanfa at the National Eisteddfod of Wales, when she competed in the instrumental competition as a teenager.
I attended with friends and family, and even though I don’t speak Welsh and therefore didn’t understand the announcements or the hymn words, the sense of community was fabulous. Singing is a great activity, and when hundreds of people come together to sing, it is a very special atmosphere.

To listen to some examples of traditional Welsh song and choral singing, check out our Spotify playlist:

 

Music for my Mind

Music for my Mind is a new charity which seeks to provide evidence that personalised music enhances the lives of people living with dementia. The Music Workshop Company speaks to Project Assistant, Dimana Georgieva, to find out about the study, its potential impact and how it’s being funded.

For many years, it has been known that familiar music has a powerful effect on people. It can make us join in by singing along, tapping our feet or moving our hands, smiling or even dancing. Music allows us to go back in time and remember treasured memories from years ago. Using technology to select and monitor favourite music is new and a clinical trial will provide the evidence needed to make this treatment standard of care in care homes throughout the UK and internationally.

This is what Music for my Mind is all about. We are a new charity seeking to provide evidence that personalised music enhances quality of life and well-being of people living with dementia; it also helps them reconnect with their loved ones. We are working towards clinical trials that show the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of this approach.

Music for my Mind has the backing of a committed and influential Board, chaired by the Founder, Professor Keith McAdam, who witnessed first-hand, the effect that music and creativity can have on well-being and quality of life in people living with HIV in a clinic in Uganda, where he was the foundation director. His background in clinical medicine and research has helped us envision a step by step process to achieve our goal, working with cross-disciplinary collaborators.

In our pilot study last year, using Spotify, and based on date of birth and music tastes in their youth, a personal playlist was created for volunteers and residents in care homes, living at different stages of the dementia spectrum. Everyone’s playlist was unique and personalised, as were their reactions and emotions. It touched not only those living with dementia, but their family and carers too.

Huguette was born and grew up in Belgium, where she listened to French and Dutch music in her teenage years. In 1973, in her 30s she met and married David, a British accountant and moved to live in England seven years later. Sadly Huguette was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2007 aged 66. David looked after her in the family home until 2014, when it became too much for him to cope and she was moved to full time care. Now as the disease progresses she barely recognizes her visitors. She’s unable to express herself and communicate and is sometimes agitated and disruptive. Until one day she heard the sounds of ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ by Jacques Brel which strikingly translates to ‘Don’t Leave Me’. She responded immediately, starting to sing along and looking lovingly at her husband. The song was followed by similar pieces which again evoked an emotional reaction and recognition. She became more interactive, less agitated and her attention span increased.

We have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to help change the lives of families like David and Huguette. We will be able to commence work on pilot studies that show that music should be part of the standard of care for people living with dementia. The funds will also provide support towards securing grant funding in 2018 for conducting a large scale trial. These pilot studies will answer a series of relevant questions such as:

  • Is there a minimum dose of music an individual needs to improve mood?
  • Is there a particular time in the day when music listening has a better effect?
  • Does a specific type of music help in certain moods – e.g. calming music when people are agitated and anxious?
  • Will the same music have different effects on successive occasions?

The funds we raise will also help us work with a small, experienced team to find an efficient and automated way to build personal music playlists; develop easy-to-use systems for delivering the music to people in care homes; and establish key relationships with health organisations, care homes and technology companies that will help us move this project forward.

Our ambition is to utilise modern technology such as physiological and artificial intelligence monitors to measure emotional responses to the music and to select a favourite musical playlist. Technology developments have made these goals possible. In our pilot studies, we used a wearable monitor, which measured galvanic skin response, blood volume pulse, 3D movement and heart rate. Further research on other monitors is targeted at finding a process that can be taken to scale.

Music for my Mind is also working through leading music streaming service Spotify in compiling personalised playlists from a person’s teenage years, using the program’s recommendation service. This period represents a time where the majority of our memories is created.

We all have soundtracks to our lives, whether we recognise it or not. Everyone can help us spread the message by sharing our cause with your networks or donating towards our crowdfunding campaign: https://musicformymind.hubbub.net/

For full information on the Trustees and future plans you can visit our website: http://musicformymind.com/


If you would like to know more about the Music Workshop Company or would like to book one of our tailor-made music workshops, contact us today:

The MWC Playlists – Listening Resources for You

Listening to music is beneficial for many reasons. It can be a relaxing pastime in itself, inspiring, soothing and uplifting, or it can be a focused learning activity that has many positive influences on social and academic development. The benefits of music have been widely reported for years, marketed by companies selling the concept that a baby who listens to Mozart will grow up to be more intelligent. There’s some truth in behind this belief: Research indicates that music lessons change the course of brain development and are likely to influence children’s success in other, non-musical tasks (read our guest blog from Dawn Rose to find out more).

Last term MWC launched our new Spotify playlists. We will be adding more throughout the year but wanted to introduce you to some of the new listening resources that we have recently shared and offer you the chance to contribute ideas and requests.

As discussed in our blog, A Focus on Listening, there is still debate as to whether young people should be exposed to full symphonies, suites or operas.

But for our playlists we have put together a series of short pieces or movements of larger works to create selections of music on specific themes, or to showcase the work of particular composers and artists.

The idea behind all of our MWC resources is to make teachers’ lives easier. While some music teachers’ knowledge is encyclopaedic, covering a range of genres and styles, others come to take on responsibility for music in a school based purely on enthusiasm or having learnt an instrument when they were younger.

All of MWC’s free resources aim to support novices and experts alike. Check out our free online resources on our website to see the full range.

Our playlists have been developed to help in a range of ways. Perhaps some of these suggestions might inspire you:

  1. Play music as students enter and leave assembly or another school gatherings. This gives them something to focus on, discourages talking and can be used as a starting point for assembly topics or classroom activities
  2. Use music listening as a starting point for a number of subjects, particularly for Early Years and Primary children, for example:
  • Maths – counting beats in a bar
  • Literacy – using music as the inspiration for writing a story,
  • Nature – exploring how composers have characterised animals, birds and weather through music
  • Geography – listen to music from around the world
  • History – make a timeline of music influenced by historic events, or compare how music styles fit with historic culture, fashion and politics
  • Science – looking at the phenomena of sound and acoustics
  • Social skills – discovering how making a simple piece of music together requires teamwork and empathy
  1. Playlists can also be useful when the children arrive or leave for the school day. The MWC team are great believers in “send them out singing!”

The Playlists

Our most recent listening selection is based on the seasons of the year, a topic that has inspired composers for centuries. One of the most famous depictions of the changing weathers is Vivaldi’s Four Seasons written in the 1720s. Vivaldi’s work is a series of four violin concerti, representing Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, each of which is preceded by a sonnet describing the piece. This is thought to be one of the first examples of “programme music” – music that has a narrative.

The playlist takes us through the year, beginning with the popular Largo from Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The sonnet preceding the movement is:

Passar al foco i di quieti e contenti
Mentre la pioggia fuor bagna ben cento.

Our favourite translation of this is:

To rest contentedly beside the hearth, while those outside are drenched by pouring rain.

We move on to Spring as portrayed by Leroy Anderson, Delius, Coates, Vivaldi and Piazzolla.

Summer is represented by works by Gershwin, Coates and Autumn by Delius and Grieg.

The Seasons Playlist – https://open.spotify.com/user/mariamwc/playlist/6FStRJ6u06zfSCbI3dsiAG

In anticipation of our forthcoming February blog about Welsh music, we have put together a playlist of traditional Welsh songs to help you celebrate St David’s Day on 1st March. Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus!

Welsh Traditional Songs – https://open.spotify.com/user/mariamwc/playlist/6kH5uBKNh84AsmLGqHPdLI

Our March blog will celebrate Debussy, commemorating 100 years since his death. We’ve put together two Debussy playlists, one showcasing his orchestral music, and the other featuring his piano music. Debussy is one of the composers most associated with Impressionist music and his work has been extremely influential.

Debussy Orchestral Music – https://open.spotify.com/user/mariamwc/playlist/6nLvshf8FJpAXYvlKXRlHz

Debussy Piano Music – https://open.spotify.com/user/mariamwc/playlist/6URpyG6ZqZLmI8fMQwFR8P

Check out these and other playlists on our website

If you would like a playlist on a particular theme or genre, email your request to Maria at music-workshop.co.uk…

 

 

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