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A Vision for Digital Learning

The ongoing lockdown has pushed many music teachers to move their teaching online. But for one pioneering violin teaching business, online teaching is nothing new.

Simon Hewitt Jones, Director at ViolinSchool, which launched as an online violin teaching school in 2012, says:

As we move forward into September 2020 and beyond, ViolinSchool will be leveraging the power of digital technology more than ever before.

I believe that the pandemic has stripped away much of the mystique that perhaps surrounds instrumental tuition. The practical requirements of continuing to operate during such an extreme situation have forced everyone to question how they are delivering education, and why.

In a world where digital resources are so readily accessible, physical experiences such as concerts and printed books are more important than ever. Digital formats don’t replace physical formats, but each plays its role in enhancing learning, music-making, performing and listening experiences. Digital shouldn’t detract from what’s precious and unique about shared in-person events. If anything, the opposite is true.

ViolinSchool offers a mix of public violin-learning resources such as the Glossary and scales and arpeggio notation, fingering charts and audio, and materials that are exclusively available via subscription.

The two guiding forces behind the school are creativity and community. The method is designed with a holistic and social approach. ViolinSchool is research-focused and results-orientated. 

The vast majority of the school’s learning programs are anchored around three key ‘pillars’: music, violin technique and performance skills. These are underpinned by a meaningful knowledge of how to practice, and an understanding that performance psychology is an integral part of violin learning. Each ViolinSchool student has a clear understanding of practice skills, so that they can take responsibility for their own learning.

Simon’s vision for the future is optimistic: 

I think that it’s going to be a lot more creative, and a lot more focused on empowering learners. It will be less about following rules… and more about gaining a deep understanding of the fundamentals of music in a creative way and learning how to apply that on a musical instrument.

Ultimately, what we do always comes back to our raw materials – rhythm, pitch, sound, expression, and so on, and that’s not going to change whether we’re teaching in person in a room or digitally over Zoom. 

I think the key is to be flexible about how we approach new technologies, and always be ready to innovate and try new things. That way, we can constantly encourage creativity and curiosity in our learners, whilst opening their eyes to the fundamental principles of our art. 

That’s how we set free the imagination of the next generation of musicians. And that’s the future for which I’ll keep advocating!

Find out more

Interested in exploring ViolinSchool’s digital resources? Check out String Music or Tick Tock, Tock Tick.

Or you can sign up for ViolinSchool’s FREE Getting Started course (registration required).

Image courtesy of ViolinSchool.com

Jazz: the “Standard Repertoire”

Jazz standards are musical compositions that form a fundamental part of the repertoire and language of jazz. They are often performed and recorded, and are therefore widely known to listeners. They are also used within education to introduce key musical concepts such as certain chord progressions and modes. 

Most of the compositions that become standards have their roots in popular culture.  The 1959 song My Favourite Things first appeared in The Sound of Music, but it wasn’t long before jazz musicians began producing their own stylistically diverse versions of the melody. John Coltrane’s approach (1960) was to play extended modal sections around the tune with such high intensity that it turned into an almost hypnotic dance: 

Whilst Sarah Vaughn’s version (1961) was slow, mournful, and forced a new emotional twist onto the unaltered lyrics:

The original:

The majority of jazz standards originate in the first half of the 20th century. Each decade brought its own set of standards, and this can provide a useful snapshot of the changing musical style of the period. Here’s a whistle-stop tour through some of the standards that defined the first part of the last century…

The 1920s saw the beginnings of the Jazz age in America and the first songs that would become standards. These songs often contained simple harmonies:

Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin

Some interesting facts about Fats:

Fats Waller was kidnapped while leaving a performance in Chicago in 1926. He was bundled into a car and taken to the Hawthorne Inn, which was owned by the notorious gangster Al Capone. Waller was ordered inside the building where a party was in full swing. With a gun to his back he was pushed towards a piano and ordered to play. Terrified, he realised that he was the ‘surprise guest’ at Capone’s birthday party. Capone released him after three days.

Waller died on December 15, 1943, while traveling aboard a Los Angeles to Chicago train near Kansas City, Missouri. He was just 39 years old.

The 1930s is considered to be the start of the “Great American Songbook” era. Many of the standards from this decade came from Broadway, such as George Gershwin’s hit, Summertime:

1940s

The 1940s was the era when improvising musicians began writing their own songs. Theloneous Monk’s Round Midnight shows off the developing complexity of the jazz repertoire during this period:

Learning to play jazz standards

Learning a standard will help develop any student’s understanding of the language of jazz. The process goes far beyond scales, modes and chord progressions. Too much time spent on technical exercises without improvising on tunes can quickly become boring. Conversely, simply playing tunes without infusing the new vocabulary that accrues from practicing exercises can hold the student back. It’s a question of balance, curiosity and immersion.

When learning jazz standards, it is always helpful to memorise the melodies and chords. The act of note reading can interfere with listening and the intuitive improvisation process. The jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz suggested playing the melody over and over, embellishing it slightly each time. Eventually it will no longer sound like the melody but an improvisation. This method also gives the student the opportunity to experiment with notes that maybe outside the expected scales or chord, enabling them to begin to develop a unique style of their own. 

This blog is published with thanks to Ed Alton who furnished us with his extensive knowledge of jazz. Ed is part of the MWC workshop team.

Feature image with thanks to Mick Haupt at UnSplash


BBC Young Composer 2020

The BBC have launched this year’s BBC Young Composer competition. Previously known as the BBC Proms Inspire Competition and the BBC Young Composer of the Year, the annual competition is open to composers aged between 12 and 18 from across the UK. Winners take part in a development programme and work with a mentor composer on a composition for the BBC Concert Orchestra, to be performed at the BBC Proms in 2021 in a special young composers concert. The closing date for entries to the competition is 5pm on Thursday 11 June 2020.

Former winners

The competition boasts an illustrious list of former winners including Shiva Feshareki, Kate Whitley, Tom Harrold, Alissa Firsova, Mark Simpson, Toby Young, Lloyd Coleman and Duncan Ward. 

Shiva Feshareki won the BBC Young Composer Award in 2004 and has since been honoured with the 2017 Ivor Novello Award for Innovation (formerly known as British Composer Award) and The Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize (2009). She achieved her doctorate from the Royal Academy of Music and her research has contributed to the rediscovery of some of the early innovators of electronic music such as Pauline Oliveros, Daphne Oram and Éliane Radigue. In the 2018 BBC Proms, Feshareki performed Oram’s Still Point for turntables, double orchestra and five microphones with the sound artist and curator James Bulley and the LCO. This performance took place in the Royal Albert Hall; the venue for which the work was written.

Kate Whitley runs The Multi-Story Orchestra with conductor Christopher Stark. Her composition Speak Out, which uses the words of Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, was commissioned by the BBC for International Women’s Day 2017, in support of the campaign for better education for girls. Whitley won a Critics Circle Award in 2018.

Tom Harrold’s recent projects include Nightfires, a commission from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra , a Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra for Emma McPhilemy and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, A Brief Nostalgia for Birmingham Royal Ballet and Queensland Ballet companies, and Unchained, a mini-concerto for percussionist Colin Currie.

Alissa Firsova won the BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer competition in 2001. She has since received two world premieres at the BBC Proms: Bach Allegro in 2010 and Bergen Bonfire in 2015. Alongside her work as a composer, Firova is also a pianist and conductor and her triple-debut with the English Chamber Orchestra at the Cadogan Hall in 2013 as director, composer and conductor.

Mark Simpson won the BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer of the Year competitions in 2006. In the same year he won the BBC Young Musician of the Year – he was the first (and to date the only) musician to win both. Some of Simpson’s composing highlights include the premiere of his first opera, Pleasure, with a libretto by Melanie Challenger, commissioned by Opera North, the Royal Opera House and Aldeburgh Music with performances in Leeds, Liverpool, Aldeburgh and London. He also gave the online premiere of Darkness Moves for solo clarinet, commissioned by the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.

Toby Young won the Guardian/BBC Proms Young Composer of the Year in 2006 and 2008, going on to win the International ABRSM Composition Competition in 2009. Young’s works have been performed by orchestras such as London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Academy of Ancient Music, and choirs such as Westminster Abbey, the Joyful Company of Singers, and the BBC Singers. He is currently Composer-in-Residence with the Armonico Consort, following past residencies with the London Oriana Choir and Reverie and being the featured composer at the Kings Lynn and Stratford Festivals.

Lloyd Coleman works closely with conductor Charles Hazlewood and the British Paraorchestra, the first professional ensemble in the world comprised of disabled musicians. In 2017 Coleman was appointed as their first Associate Music Director and he wrote Towards Harmony for the ensemble. Alongside his composing and performing work, Coleman is also a presenter on TV and Radio including for the BBC Proms.

Duncan Ward won the BBC Young Composer of the Year in 2005 and now spends time both as a composer and conductor. Ward’s recent commissions include an encore for the Bamberger Symphoniker, premiered under Rafael Payare in March 2019 and Rainbow Beats, a work for orchestra for the South African organisation MIAGI (Music Is A Great Investment) was premiered on a major tour of Europe in Summer 2018 in celebration of Nelson Mandela’s centenary including performances at the Elbphilharmonie, Concertgebouw, Berlin Konzerthaus and Verbier Festival.

The competition is a springboard for up and coming composers. Winners and highly commended composers are invited to join the BBC Young Composer Ambassadors, giving an opportunity to develop an ongoing relationship with the BBC Proms. Past winners have received additional commissions from the BBC such as:

  • Tom Harold’s Raze for BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Last Night of the Proms in 2016
  • Grace Mason’s River for Proms At…Stage@TheDock in 2017 which was commissioned by BBC Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’ programme and the BBC Proms to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Handel’s Water Music.
  • In 2018, Alex Woolf’s The NHS Symphony which is a half-hour portrait in music and sound of the National Health Service as it celebrated its 70th anniversary. The work was nominated for an ARIAS Award (the BAFTAs of UK Radio) in the Factual Storytelling category in October 2018.
  • Sarah Jenkins, the 2017 winner was commissioned to write And the Sun Stood Still for the BBC Concert Orchestra
  • Alexia Sloane’s Brink was written for BBC Concert Orchestra and will be premiered on Thursday 19thMarch at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre, London. Details at https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/ezhn5v
  • The BBC Singers’ commission for International Women’s Day 2020 entitled Seven Ages of Woman features 7 composers including Helena Paish and Electra Perivolaris
  • Mark Simpson is currently Composer in Association with the BBC Philharmonic, works include The Immortal and his Clarinet Concerto

The competition

Each year the compositions are judged by a panel of leading composers and music industry professionals who have a keen interested in finding and developing young talent. This year the judges include Errollyn Wallen, Shiva Feshareki (former winner), Matthew Kaner and the Director of the Proms, David Pickard. More judges will be announced soon.

The judges will assess the submissions based on compositional idea, originality and creativity and entries are judged in three categories:

Junior Category aged 12-14

Junior Category aged 15-16.

Senior Category aged 17-18

(Note: age category is determined by age on the closing date)

To enter, compositions should be uploaded to www.bbc.co.uk/youngcomposer where the applicants have a form to complete alongside submitting the audio composition file. Compositions can include any instrumentation such as voices, acoustic instruments, electronic instruments and computer-generated sounds.

Past participants have highlighted benefits of taking part in the competition such as meeting people with similar interests, having the opportunity to collaborate, working with established composers and hearing their works performed by professional musicians.

So why not enter the competition this year? The closing date for entries to the competition is 5pm on Thursday 11 June 2020.

For more inspiration, listen to works by former winners at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p030pblf

Featured images source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_W.Bubbles%27_Music_Writing_Pen(32869862850).jpg

2020 – the year of Beethoven?

December 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

The event seems to have split the Classical Music community. Some individuals and organisations see the occasion as an opportunity to celebrate Beethoven’s musical achievements. Others suggest that Beethoven’s music is popular enough and performances and recordings of it are already so plentiful that audiences should be exploring new repertoire and lesser known composers, and particularly work by underrepresented groups.

Beethoven is one of a group of composers from the Western Classical tradition who is often given the title ‘genius’. He was a prolific composer, writing 722 works, including 9 Symphonies, 16 overtures and incidental pieces, 16 string quartets, 32 piano sonatas, 20 sets of variations for piano, 10 works for chorus and orchestra, hundreds of songs, operas, piano trios, works for wind ensembles and concertos for violin, piano and a lost work for oboe. His development of musical forms such as the symphony, string quartet and piano sonata are seen as revolutionary, and his influence on later composers is often cited.

If you want to take 2020 as the year to explore Beethoven’s works further, check out #TheCompleteBeethoven on Twitter for advice from The Symphonist or follow the hashtag #Beethoven2020.

Beethoven led an interesting life. His father was abusive, he struggled with his health, he lived in politically turbulent times, his romantic life was complicated and he suffered hearing loss. However there are stories of his bad temper and of his poor treatment of his sister-in-law and nephew. All these elements add to the image of a tortured genius, a persona that has appealed to audiences and, it could be argued, has helped keep his music popular over the past 200 years. 

As Beethoven’s work is frequently performed, recorded and broadcast on radio, should we take his 250th anniversary as an opportunity to enjoy ever popular works such as his 9th Symphony and 5th Piano Concerto, or should we explore some of his lesser known works, such as his works for military band…

or his songs…

Or should we be exploring more obscure composers? As William Gibbons states on Twitter:

Every time I listen to Beethoven, I’m not listening to something else.

Inspired by some of the discussion around exploring a wider range of composers, Musicology Duck’s blog influenced by Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, has suggested a hashtag of #ListenWider. Rather than recommending specific books or pieces, both challenges give categories, allowing readers and listeners to find works that appeal to them. Musicology Duck gives 30 categories of pieces to listen to including a composition of 60 minutes or more in length by a woman or non-binary composer, a miniature composition under 90 seconds long, a top hit from the year you were born or from a country other than your own, and a concerto for tuba, bassoon or double bass. 

You could take the opportunity to explore works by other composers and performers who have key anniversaries in 2020, such as:

Dave Brubeck – 100th anniversary of his birth

Dorothea Anne Franchi – 100th anniversary of her birth

Ravi Shankar – 100th anniversary of his birth

Del Woods – 100th anniversary of her birth

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) – 100th anniversary

John Rutter – 75th Birthday

Of course, there is a happy medium for those who love Beethoven’s music but still want to discover new repertoire. Ensembles such as the English Symphony Orchestra are taking the opportunity to partner Beethoven’s works with lesser known composers such as Ruth Gipps and Adrian Williams.

So how will you approach your year of listening to music? Let us know what you think in the comments!

The Nutcracker

On 18th December 1892, Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker was premiered at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Although the ballet is now popular throughout the world, the premiere was not well received, with popularity only coming after Tchaikovsky worked the music into a Suite.

Following the success of Sleeping Beauty, Tchaikovsky was looking for inspiration for his next ballet and a gift of a new Russian translation of E.T.A Hoffmann’s story Nussknacker und Mausekönig gave him a story he could work with. It has been suggested that his love of the ballet Coppelia by Delibes, premiered in 1870, which was also based on two Hoffmann stories, Der Sandmann (The Sandman) and Die Puppe (The Doll) may have influenced his decision. Hoffmann’s Nussknacker und Mausekönig mixes reality and fantasy and there is some debate as to whether it was written as a children’s story or not due to the philosophical content and allusions unlikely to have been understood by children.

Tchaikovsky had collaborated with Marius Petipa on Sleeping Beauty, and so they set out to work together on The Nutcracker. Petipa took Hoffmann’s story and provided a scenario with detailed notes on action and dance plan with some suggestions for the music. However Petipa fell ill and passed the task to Lev Ivanov who had worked with him on Sleeping Beauty. Ivanov had previous devised the dances for Borodin’s Prince Igor and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mlada.

The ballet is now a firm family favourite, and tells the story of a Christmas gathering where Drosselmeyer, a local councilman, toymaker and magician appears. He brings dancing dolls to entertain the children, then gives Clara and Fritz a toy for them: A wooden nutcracker which is carved in the shape of a man. Clara immediately takes a liking to it however Fritz breaks it, leaving Clara upset. Once everyone is in bed, Clara creeps downstairs to check on the broken Nutcracker and as the clock strikes midnight she sees Drosselmeyer on top of the Christmas tree which begins to grow as does the nutcracker. Mice appear, led by their King and begin to fight with an army of gingerbread soldiers.

The nutcracker leads the army of gingerbread soldiers and tin soldiers, as the Mouse King advances on the still-wounded nutcracker, Clara throws her slipper at him, distracting him long enough for the nutcracker to stab him.

As the mice retreat, in true fairy tale style, the nutcracker transforms into a handsome price, leading Clara to his Kingdom through a pine forest in the snow.

The second act begins in the Land of Sweets which is being ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Prince’s absence. When Clara and the Prince arrive, he tells how Clara saved him from the Mouse King and returned him to his human form. To celebrate his return and to honour Clara, a celebration is staged with dances from around the world, ending with a performance by the Sugar Plum Fairy.

A final dance is performed by all the sweets, before the Sugar Plum Fairy ushers Clara and the Prince down from their throne. He bows to her, she kisses Clara goodbye, and leads them to a reindeer drawn sleigh. It takes off as they wave goodbye to all the subjects who wave back.

For the full ballet, watch the Mariinsky Theatre’s performance here:

Having been influenced by Haydn’s Toy Symphony and Bernhard Romberg’s Kinder-Symphonie, Tchaikovsky includes some unusual instruments in the scoring of The Nutcracker including toy trumpet, rattle and bird calls. He also included a celeste. He wrote in a letter:

I have discovered a new orchestral instrument in Paris, something between a small piano and a Glockenspeil, which a divinely beautiful tone… I want to ask you to order one of these instruments… have it sent direct to Petersburg; but no-one there must know about it. I am afraid that Rimsky-Korsakov or Glazunov might hear of it and make use of the new effect before I can.

After the premier of the ballet, Tchaikovsky wrote to his brother

The staging … was splendid … even too splendid – one’s eyes grew tired of this luxuriance.

There were mixed reviews of the first performance, The St Petersburg Gazette stated:

A more tedious work was never seen…

However, the St Petersburg News-sheet declared

Concerning the music of this ballet, it is hard to say which number is best, for everything from beginning to end is beautiful, melodious, original and individual.

It is this view that seems to resonate with audiences of the ballet and the suite today.

For a sneaky peek at how the Royal Ballet create the wonder and spectacle of The Nutcracker at The Royal Opera House, watch this video:

The Music Industry Today

On 20th November, UK Music, the campaigning and lobbying group, which represents every part of the UK Recorded and Live Music Industry, launched it’s Music by Num8ers 2019 report. Each year, the UK Music report shines a light on the value and contributions made by the music industry.

This year the report highlights the £5.2 billion contribution to the UK Economy that the music industry makes, with 190,935 full time jobs being sustained by the industry, up from 145,815 the previous year.

The music industry covers various sectors, including music creation, the live sector and the recorded sector (see table for breakdown). The Music Creators sector generates £2.5 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) which is almost half the total industry GVA. The Live sector made a GVA contribution of £1.1 billion in 2018, up from £990m the previous year. In terms of export, the Recorded sector contributed £478 million and Publishing £618 million to the total export revenue of £2.7 billion.

The report uses the terms Sectors (or thematic groups as shown above) and Sub-Sectors (or elements of the core) to define the various parts of the music industry. The sub-sectors all contribute to the commercial assets of the UK Music Industry:

UK Music highlight the two relationships to the commercial assets – “economic activities that create these commercial assets. (An example is the creative process of composing, performing or recording music.)….[and]  economic activities whose primary focus is upon the steps necessary to bring these assets to a position where they are able to be distributed and transacted with consumers and businesses in one way or another.”

The report stresses that the inter-dependency between the sectors is “what gives the UK music industry its diversity and economic success, fostering a unique eco-system.”

Music Creators

Alongside celebrating the successes of the industry, the report also puts a spotlight on some of the challenges. For example, the high GVA for Music Creators, does not adequately show the financial struggles of many music creators. Although those at the highest levels, do earn high income from their work, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that musicians earned an average income of £23,059 in 2018 – well below the national average of £29,832.

In 2018, a total of 139,352 people were employed in the Music Creators sector, and employment growth continues to be robust as more creators move from part-time to full-time work. Research by the DCMS, shows that 72% of those working in music, performing and visual arts are self-employed compared to just 15% of the UK working population as a whole (ONS). The Music Producers Guild found that 94% of its membership is self-employed, according to their 2019 survey.

Freelance work can be challenging and many music creators find it hard to maintain a full-time career. This has led to a workforce where many people balance multiple roles within the industry. A shift in the industry in recent years, which is highlighted in this research. is the move to more artists self-releasing, self-managing and self-publishing. Although there can be benefits to this way of working, it can also put pressure on these individuals and leave them at risk when developing their careers.

Music Retail

Music Retail covers retail and manufacture of musical instruments, plus digital and physical retail. The report highlights that although music instrument sales are an area that is often overlooked, it contributes £402m total GVA. 

In terms of “physical music”, vinyl continues it’s growth up 1.5% on the previous year. Initiatives such as Record Store Day and National Album Day have helped this growth, particularly for small independent shops.

Streaming continues to grow, the BPI report that there was a growth of 33% from the previous year – a total of over 90 billion streams in 2018. One challenge for the sector is to ensure that music creators are fairly financially compensated for their work.

Recorded Music

This sector includes a wide range of areas including record labels, music distributors, recorded rights holders, physical manufacturers and for the first-time in UK Music’s research, recording studios. The sector had a 5% rise of GVA, contributing £568 million in GVA to the UK economy, and a rise of 8% in exports -£478 million. The BPI reports that Label revenues alone, increased by 3% – a third consecutive growth in label revenues.

The report highlights the significant investment and risk undertaken by the record labels which helps contribute to the value created by the sector as a whole. While the inclusion of studios in the data for the first time has helped raised the GVA, the research demonstrated that many studios are facing pressures from increasing rent and business rates leading to businesses having to diversify by renting office space, promoting events and moving into educational activities.

Music representatives

The Music Representatives’ sector includes a wide range of personnel and skills including music managers, music trade bodies, collective management organisations (CMOs) and for the first time in UK Music’s research, lawyers and accountants who represent music organisations or music creators are also included.  

This sector added £148 million to the music industry’s GVA in 2018, while exports remained strong at £387 million. In terms of export revenue, contributions from collective management organisations (CMOs), such as PRS For Music and PPL, were a large part of the total export revenue.  CMOs deal with the management of copyright and the collection of revenue for their members who include musicians and performers. 

The report highlights the changing role of music managers who are working with Artists earlier in their careers and investing their own money in Artists development: 74% of managers surveyed by the Music Managers Forum have invested their own money to support the careers of their current clients, while 40% have received no outside investment for their artist.

Music Publishing

Music publishers and publishing rights holders work on behalf of songwriters and composers, to collect revenue when their work is used commercially, securing commissions and sync deals: when work is licensed for use in film, advertising and games. The sector contributed £459 million in GVA to the UK economy and £618 million in exports .The Music Publishing sector currently maintains around 1,363 jobs. Over the past five years, there have been large changes to the sector with several consolidations within the publishing world and many businesses have merged to form larger organisations, however the number of employees have continued to increase reflecting the industry’s expansion.

Live Music

As highlighted, the live sector is particularly vibrant, it covers festival organisers, promoters and agents, production services, and ticketing agents, grassroots music venues, concert venues and arenas (the proportion of their activities which involve live music.) As a key player in the industry, Glastonbury has a large impact on the live sector, however even though 2018 was a fallow year for Festival, there was a surge in festival ticket sales across the country leading to a record high of £1.1 billion GVA, which is a 10% overall rise on 2017. UK Music’s research shows a total of 4.9 million people attended festivals in 2018 compared to 2.7 million in 2012.

In terms of venues, three of the top 13 arenas in the world – The SSE Hydro in Glasgow, the Manchester Arena and the 02 Arena – are in the UK, according to Pollstar. It is important to remember that grassroots plays a vital part in the industry’s eco-system, acting as an incubator for emerging talent, an area that is facing challenges. A total of 30,529 people were employed in the live music sector in 2018, a rise of 7% on 2017.

Music Tourism is a key part of the Live Sector this includes those travelling from overseas, as well as domestic tourists, who live in the UK but are not local to the events they are attending.

Challenges identified

The report has highlighted several challenges facing the music industry such as the impact of business rates on grassroots development, copyright protection, shared parental leave for the self-employed, international trade support, talent pipeline including students taking GCSE and A level music, touring post-Brexit and fiscal incentives. UK Music continue to support the music industry and make the case for further government support.

All images in this blog are from the original report, the full version of which can be found here.

Is Grime Dead?

I am first black British artist to headline Glastonbury. At 25 years old I am the second youngest solo act to ever headline Glastonbury, the youngest being a 24 year old David Bowie in 1971.

The words of Stormzy as he headlined Glastonbury in June 2019. Some people questioned the announcement that Stormzy was to take the coveted Headliner slot at the festival. In an interview with BBC1Xtra, he answered the sceptics, saying, “There were so many doubters being like, ‘Oh, he hasn’t had a No 1 song’, or, ‘Oh, he’s got one album out, he’s not ready.’ I’m there because I’m a serious musician.”

However, despite the controversy around his performance, Stormzy already has a long list of achievements. He was awarded Best Grime Act at the MOBOs in 2014 shortly after releasing his first EP Dreamers Disease. This was followed by a performance on Later with Jools Holland, which saw Stormzy become the first unsigned rapper to appear on the programme. 

The following year brought more success. In January 2015, he came number 3 in the BBC Introducing top 5 on Radio 1, and in March that year he released the single “Know Me From,” entering the UK Singles Chart at number 49.

In September 2015, Stormzy released onto iTunes his final instalment to “WickedSkengMan” freestyle series, “WickedSkengMan 4”, along with a studio version of his “Shut Up” freestyle over XTC’s Functions On The Low instrumental. This track debuted at number 18 in the UK chart in September, becoming not only Stormzy’s first top 40 hit but also the first ever freestyle to reach the top 40 in the United Kingdom.

After some time away from the spotlight, Stormzy released his album Gang Signs and Prayers in February 2017. This went on to debut at no 1 in the Album chart in March – the first Grime album to achieve this.

Stormzy has achieved a number of major steps for Grime music.

But what actually is Grime..?

Grime is a style of music with fast, syncopated breakbeats, typically at a speed of 140 beats per minute (bpm). Tracks often feature aggressive or jagged electronic sounds.

Stormzy

The genre emerged from Bow, E3 in East London in the early 2000s, developed from earlier UK electronic music styles such as UK garage and jungle. It was originally known by various names such as 8-bar or nu shape. Among the first tracks to be described as Grime were takes by Wiley such as EskimoIce Rink and Igloo, Pulse X by Musical Mob and“Creeper” by Danny Weed.

Dave, the London MC and Drake collaborator explained the difference between rap and Grime in an Interview:

“Grime is its own sound. The instrumentation usually dictates it. It’s not limited to one tempo, but it’s mainly at this one tempo. It’s the entire sound in the industry that’s behind it. Basically, like you’d have drill music or trap music… grime has the tempo of 140 bpm, set usually goes up to 144.5, never goes down to 138. It has very grungy basslines, a lot of melody [and] a really hard-hitting sound.”

Dave continued: “Grime MCs usually have radio sets where they rap and switch instrumentals, when the beat changes they have to catch the drops in. If I’m rapping, there’ll be a beat underneath me, then they’ll change it and I’ll have to catch the drop.”

“There’s a lot more to it,” he added. “It’s like a sound, culture, style — the way that they dress and speak. Rap, for me, I go at any tempo and any sound of beat and incorporate melody as well.”

“Grime must be its own genre,” he said, when asked if grime was a sub-genre of rap.

The sound of the new genre spread via pirate ratio stations such as RinseFM and through the Underground scene, initially in London, then across Britain. By the mid-2000s Grime was mainstream.

However in August 2018, the BBC ran an article entitled Is grime dead? Or has it ‘just gone back underground’? The article suggested that Drill music, with its slower trap beats, was becoming more popular, along with Afrobeats, Afro-swing, or Afro-bashment. In the article, London-born photographer Courtney Francis, who had worked with Stormzy, stated:

“Grime had a boom, but then people changed. The music changes, people’s appetites change, and it’s gone on to Afrobeats and UK rap and drill now, and grime has gone back to the back burner.””Those same artists, and new artists as well, are doing their thing right now. The only difference is that it’s not in public spaces. It’s no longer the backdrop for TV programmes and you’re no longer hearing it on radio often.

“But everywhere else where grime existed before, it’s still there. 

“People are saying it’s dead because it was commercialised and it was accessible for more of the country. You didn’t have to search for grime. Grime was just there.”

“But,” he stresses, “only for the people who look for music in the commercial spaces.”  

“Grime isn’t dead. It’s just gone back underground.”

With one of Grime’s biggest Artists headling Glastonbury, just a year later, it could be argued that Grime is back in the mainstream.

Interview sources:

 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-45017057 and https://www.nme.com/news/music/santan-dave-grime-rap-difference-video-2027048  

Clara Schumann – prodigy, performer, proponent and pioneer

Clara Wieck was born in Leipzig in September 1819. Although for decades she has been predominantly known as the ‘wife of Robert Schumann,’ her contribution to music as a performer, composer and inspiration was immense.

As a woman in a male-dominated world, she gives us a fascinating glimpse into creative relationships, and perhaps a sense of what other women could and did achieve, despite the familiar list of traditionally male historic composers.

She is to be celebrated for her own achievements, for the support she gave to Schumann and Brahms amongst others, and for the lost voices of many other women who were unable to achieve the same level of emancipation. Notably, while Clara’s work has often been marginalised by claims that her husband was the ‘real’ composer behind her work, she earned most of the money in the Schumann household, which was extremely unusual for the time, and her pieces were more popular than his.

Clara Schumann was a child prodigy. As Schumann’s wife she juggled an international solo career with motherhood to eight children, seven of whom survived infancy. She composed, promoted and inspired a vast amount of music, shaping the 19th century in a way few other artists could. 

Daughter of the ambitions piano teacher and instrument dealer, Friedrich Wieck, Clara Schumann spent the first 25 years of her life in Leipzig. Before her birth, her father had resolved that she would be a great musician. She made her concert debut in Leipzig’s Gewandhaus at the age of nine, her first complete piano recital was in 1830 (age 11) and her first extended tour to cities including Paris, Vienna, Copenhagen and St. Petersburg, was in 1831.

In 1830, Robert Schumann came to live and study with Weick. Seven years later, when Clara was 18, he asked permission to marry her. Weick objected and did all he could to prevent the wedding, but Robert and Clara went ahead, marrying the day before her 21st birthday, on September 12th 1840. 

From a modern perspective the image of the pushy father who had already decided his daughter’s career path and a man of 20 moving to live in a household where he subsequently married the daughter who had been 11 on first meeting doesn’t scream emancipation. But Clara was ambitious, and within the framework of society at the time, this path allowed her familial and creative happiness.

Her playing was said to be characterised by technical mastery, poetic spirit, thoughtful interpretation, a singing, tone, depth of feeling and strict observance of the composer’s markings. At the age of 13, she was one of the first pianists to perform from memory – standard practice amongst concert pianists today.

It was expected in the 1830s for performers to play their own compositions in recitals and Clara’s early compositions were written to show off her skills as a pianist, including writing for wide stretches up to tenths, due to her large hands.

Clara was just 13 when she began working on her Piano Concerto Op 7 and she performed it just after her 16th birthday at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. The work showcased Clara’s skill on the piano and gives the impression of improvisation. 

The work is being performance at the BBC Proms on Sunday 18thAugust at 7:30pm and will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

One reviewer commented, “If the name of a female composer were not on the title one would never think it was written by a women.” However not all reviews were positive and one critic took issue with the unconventional key changes between movements. His only explanation for this was that, “Women are moody.” Comments such as these may help to explain Clara’s insecurities about her compositions.

While Clara’s ambitions as a concert pianist and composer were naturally hindered by the responsibilities of family life (though she still managed a career total of 38 concert tours outside of Germany), Robert encouraged her to compose. Their musical discourse was intense, and they studies scores, performances and literature together. They would write diary entries to each other, chronicling a significant and intimate narrative of the lives of two artists.

In 1853, composer Johannes Brahms met the Schumanns. Brahms remained a close friend of both until their deaths, despite the fact that he was in love with Clara.

In 1854, Robert, who had various mental health problems, attempted suicide, and was, at his own request, placed in an asylum. Brahms, who at this point came to stay in their home to offer support, was allowed to visit, but Clara could not visit her husband. She did not see him again until two days before his death in 1856.

Clara was 36 when her husband died, and notably, given this personal tragedy and the loss of her creative champion, all of her compositions date from 1853 or before. She simply stopped composing.  

In later life she said:

I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose—there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?

In 1857, after her husband’s death, Clara moved to Berlin. Here, she taught, performed (she played regularly with the violinist Joseph Joachim and others) and edited Robert’s works and letters continuing to support her family.

Having had a direct influence on their compositions, she became known as both advocate and interpreter of the music of Brahms and Schumann. Brahms was always supportive of Clara’s professional career, and she was the first person to publicly perform any of his work (specifically the Andante and Scherzo from the Sonata in F minor, in Leipzig, 23 October 1854).

Clara continued to travel, whilst the children were looked after at home. In 1856 she first visited England, where critics received Robert’s music coolly. However she returned to London in 1865 and made regular appearances there in later years.

She became the authoritative editor of her husband’s compositions for Breitkopf & Härtel. It was speculated that she and Brahms destroyed many of Schumann’s late works which were tainted by his illness, but the Violin Concerto, the Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra and the Violin Sonata No. 3, all from 1853, have entered the repertoire, and only Five Pieces for Cello and Pianoare known to have been lost. She was instrumental in getting the works of Robert Schumann recognised, appreciated and added to the repertoire, promoting him tirelessly. Although when she began, his music was unknown or disliked, and the only other important figure in music to occasionally play Schumann was Liszt, she continued until the end of her long career. Those, therefore, who consider Schumann to have been influential on the 19thcentury must look to Clara for the fact that this influence has been realised. 

In 1878 Clara Schumann was honoured at a ceremony in Leipzig’s Gewandhaus to mark her 50th year as an artist.

She died on May 20th, 1896 (aged 76) in Frankfurt.

Her compositions include 29 songs, 3 partsongs, 4 pieces for piano and orchestra, 20 pieces for solo piano, and cadenzas for 3 piano concertos by Beethoven and Mozart; her works are numbered up to Op. 23, with 17 others without opus numbers. She set poetry by: Heine, Rückert, H. Rollet, E. Geibel, Kerner, F. Serre, Goethe, Lyser, and Burns (translated by Gerhard).

50 Years Since Woodstock

August 2019 marks 50 years since Woodstock ’69, the ‘most popular event in music history.’

Held between August 15 and 19 1969, Woodstock took place at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. The festival, which was billed as ‘An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music’ drew crowds of more than 400,000 people who heard 32 acts performing open-air gigs, sometimes playing through the rain.

Image: Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell

Described by singer songwriter, Joni Mitchell as, “A spark of beauty” where half-a-million kids “saw that they were part of a greater organism”, Woodstock has long been regarded as a pivotal movement in both popular music history and within the larger counterculture generation. Rolling Stone listed the festival as number 19 of ‘50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll,’ and in 2017, the festival site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While it wasn’t the first music festival, it was certainly the biggest of its time, and quickly assumed almost mythological status.

The event was recorded via the 1970 Academy Award-winning documentary film Woodstock (and its accompanying soundtrack album), and encapsulated in Joni Mitchell’s song of the same name which became a major hit for both Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Matthews Southern Comfort. 

Performers included Richie Havens, Ravi Shankar, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Santana, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Sly & the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix.

The Effect on Music and Musicians

Woodstock had a powerful impact on rock musicians, folk musicians and those invested in counterculture. This was a transformative time in music. The Beatles broke up in September 1969, though John Lennon’s departure from the group wasn’t announced until April 1970. Janis Joplin died in October 1970 of a heroin overdose, Hendrix in September of the same year of a barbiturate overdose – two of the most influential counterculture musicians gone shortly after the festival where perhaps their fame had peaked.  

The festival advanced the popularity of many budding musicians too, and helped solidify lasting careers. Carlos Santana, now considered to be one of the greatest guitar players alive, has released 25 studio albums since appearing at Woodstock.

The former promoter of Humphreys Concerts by the Bay, Kenny Weissberg, reflects in his 2013 memoir, Off My Rocker:

The music, the sharing, and the collective zeitgeist were all life-changing…Even though I was only 21, I came away from that weekend profoundly aware that anything was possible. From Woodstock on, I embraced the idea of taking chances and following all of my musical dreams. Three days at Woodstock crystallized my life’s path.

However, Pete Townshend of The Who presented an alternate opinion. Despite the fact his band played a career-changing performance at Woodstock, Townshend’s assessment was:

The dream and ideology of rock ’n’ roll was rooted in the idea that this generation, the ‘Woodstock generation,’ were super-luminaries, but I’ve never agreed with that. I always thought that was the biggest crock of s— America has ever come up with.

The Who’s set at Woodstock was interrupted by an anti-war activist, Abbie Hoffman, who grabbed a microphone and launched, mid-song, into a political rant. Townshend hit Hoffman with his electric guitar, pushing him off stage and dispelling any idea of ‘peace and love.’

While the spirit of the festival was very much anti-materialism, and due to ineptitude it took the promoters nearly a decade to recoup their losses, Woodstock was essentially created to make money for its promoters. In the aftermath, the success of Woodstock became a capitalist goldmine. It was immediately apparent to corporate America that this young audience represented a huge untapped market.

The music may have been seminal, and the event undoubtedly changed the way live music developed as an industry, but the overriding nostalgic image of peace, love and freely available drugs certainly wasn’t for everyone. Commenting on a 45thAnniversary feature in the San Diego Union Tribune, singer Billy Joel said:

I went to Woodstock and I hated it. I think a lot of that `community spirit’ was based on the fact that everybody was so wasted. Because everybody was stoned — everybody was passing around pot and acid — and I wasn’t into it… I was there for a night and a day, and then I left just before The Who went on. I really wanted to see them, but it was very hard to because everybody was hopping up and down and banging into you. So I walked out and hitched a ride home.

Woodstock’s place in culture

This was also a transformative time culturally. Barely four months after Woodstock, the utopian bubble burst at the Altamont free music festival near San Francisco. Fans arrived in their hundreds of thousands to hear the Rolling Stones and Woodstock veterans including Jefferson Airplane, Santana and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Things took a turn for the worse – the Stones had arranged security for themselves, provided by members of the Hells Angels, leading to some festival goers being beaten, and a young African-American man, Meredith Hunter, who waved a gun, was stabbed and beaten to death. While Woodstock attracted a peaceful, multiracial audience, Hunter’s death stood in stark contrast.

Woodstock presented a place for people who embraced hippie culture to find a sense of deeper community – in that sense the festival became a flagship for counterculture ideals such as equality of race and sex. It was also a place where LSD use peaked – drug taking was seen as a way to protest, to make a political and cultural statement against society, and to have fun whilst doing so.

Issues surrounding Vietnam were very present at the time, and Woodstock was followed in October 1969 by Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam – a massive demonstration and teach-in across the United States against the United States involvement in the Vietnam War.

Image: Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell

Woodstock 2019

Fifty years have passed since Woodstock, and society is still struggling with issues of equality, war and community. Under the banner of the utopian nostalgia around the festival, promoters were planning a huge Woodstock 50 event to commemorate.

One of the main investors was Japanese international advertising and public relations joint stock company Dentsu, the fifth largest advertising agency in the world in terms of worldwide revenues (932,680 yen in 2018).

Dentsu explained its involvement, underlining how commercial the music industry has become:

It’s a dream for agencies to work with iconic brands and to be associated with meaningful movements. We have a strong history of producing experiences that bring people together around common interests and causes which is why we chose to be a part of the Woodstock 50th Anniversary Festival.

However, Woodstock 50 has been cancelled because investors “don’t believe the production of the festival can be executed as an event worthy of the Woodstock Brand”. 

50 years on, what has been called a “spark of beauty” and remembered an iconic event that centred on community, social justice and love of music has been relegated to the status of ‘brand’.

Woodstock’s impact on live music has been phenomenal – in terms of musical influence and maybe even more so in terms of the money that non-musicians can now draw from the industry. But the music and political hope that this gathering promised live on.

As, perhaps, does the ideal described by Kenny Weissberg: That anything is possible when enough people believe.

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