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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  

The New Tradition

How the National Youth Folk Ensemble offers opportunities for young musicians

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

Watch this film to find out more: 

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

National Youth Folk Ensemble playing instruments

Elye Cuthbertson, aged 14, melodeon: 

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

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

National Youth Folk Ensemble on stage

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

Sean Spicer, aged 16, harmonica:

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

National Youth Folk Ensemble on stage

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

Rowan Collinson, aged 17, 5-string fiddle 

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

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

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

Young musician with five string fiddle

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

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

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


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

Kubrick and the Timelessness of Classical Music

2018 is the 50th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking science fiction film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The narrative follows a voyage to Jupiter with a sentient computer called HAL. It explores themes of human evolution, technology, existentialism, artificial intelligence and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. The film features scientifically accurate depictions of spaceflight, ambitious imagery and groundbreaking special effects.

However, the aspect that arguably makes the film so memorable is the use of sound. Dialogue is sparse – there are only 40 minutes of it in a two and a half hour movie – and rather than the constant underscoring to which film audiences have become accustomed, almost no music is used in scenes with dialogue.

When there is music, the choice and use of music is significant. Whilst two composers, first Frank Cordell, then leading Hollywood professional Alex North were engaged to score the film, Cordell never got off the starting blocks, and Kubrick abandoned North’s score, deciding instead to use a selection of pieces of classical music – pieces that have now become synonymous with the film – marrying music from an age with which we might feel detached with an exploration of an age we have not yet lived.

In 1968 the use of classical music in films was not new (for example, David Lean used Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto to great effect in his film Brief Encounter in 1945) it had been standard practice since the dawn of the ‘talkies’ to score music directly for each film. In fact, a major part of the appeal for movie audiences was the chance to hear new, original music.

And film music had been as original as it comes from the start. For the 1951 film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Bernard Herrmann pioneered an early form of multi-track recording, laying down the sound of two Hammond organs, a vibraphone, an electrically-amplified violin and a pair of Theremins. ‘

Seven years later, in 1958, Louis and Bebe Barron generated the world’s first all-electronic film score for Forbidden Planet. The score was so modernist that the studio billed them as creators of “electronic tonalities” rather than as musicians.

Despite his very different approach, Kubrick’s use of music was breathtakingly innovative, both in the illustrative power of music to support visual effects and in the way he managed to create such originality with pre-existing music.

Take the “stargate” sequence near the end of the film. It’s nothing more than a mosaic of brilliant colours rushing past and would have been completely ineffective without the music of György Ligeti, yet the scene was not conceived around the music any more than the music was written for the scene.

In this scene, the vast loneliness of space is wonderfully expressed in Khachaturian’s Adagio from the Gayane Ballet Suite.

Ligeti was understandably shocked on attending the Vienna premiere of the film to discover that four of his compositions had been used without permission. He was later to receive a modest payment from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM) and substantial royalties. However, by acknowledging Ligeti’s work in the final credits, Kubrick made the composer world famous and the two became friends over subsequent collaborations. Alex North was equally shocked to discover that his score had been totally dropped.

Although MGM Studios were not advocates of the ‘unoriginal’ soundtrack, they were perhaps instrumental in its existence. In March 1966, the studio had become concerned about the progress of the film. Kubrick put together a show reel of footage to an ad hoc soundtrack of classical recordings. The studio bosses were delighted with the results, and Kubrick abandoned North’s score in favour of his ‘guide pieces’. 

Kubrick explained his reasoning in an interview with Michel Ciment:

However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time? When you are editing a film, it’s very helpful to be able to try out different pieces of music to see how they work with the scene…Well, with a little more care and thought, these temporary tracks can become the final score.

The most easily recognised piece and the one perhaps most associated with 2001 is the opening theme from the Richard Strauss tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra(Usually translated as “Thus Spake Zarathustra” or “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”.

The theme is used both at the start and the conclusion of the film.

While the end music credits do not list a conductor and orchestra for Also Sprach Zarathustra, Kubrick wanted the Herbert von Karajan/Vienna Philharmonic version. Decca executives did not want their recording ‘cheapened’ by association with the movie, and so gave permission for its use on the condition that the conductor and orchestra were not named. When the movie was a massive success, the label tried to rectify its blunder by re-releasing the recording with an “As Heard in 2001” flag printed on the album cover…

The full track listing comprises only six pieces of music:

  1. Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss         
  2. Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, 2 Mixed Choirs and Orchestra by György Ligeti
  3. Lux Aeterna by György Ligeti
  4. The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II
  5. Gayane Ballet Suite (Adagio) by Aram Khachaturian
  6. Atmosphères by György Ligeti
  7. The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II
  8. Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss

It’s notable that Kubrick’s spaceships waltzed to the Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II while NASA was girding its technological loins to put the first man on the moon.

2001: A Space Odysseyis widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. In 1991, the United States Library of Congress deemed it to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry. Sight & Soundmagazine ranked 2001: A Space Odysseysixth in the top ten films of all time in its 2002 and 2012 critics’ polls editions. It also won joint second place in the magazine’s 2012 directors’ poll. In 2010, it was named the greatest film of all time by The Moving Arts Film Journal (source Wikipedia).

Women’s Hour Music Power List 2018

Friday 28th September was BBC Music Day. Women’s Hour celebrated by revealing their list of the 40 most influential women in music.

Three out of the top five women are top selling artists, with Adele at #4, Taylor Swift at #2 and Beyonce at #1, but the list also celebrates the contributions of women who work behind the scenes.

Adele (Image: Christopher Macsurak)

At #3 is Vanessa Reed, Chief Executive of the PRS Foundation. This year, Reed has targeted a total of 100 festivals to sign up to PRS’s Keychange initiative, aiming to create a 50:50 gender balance at music festivals and conferences by 2022.

Stacey Tang, Managing Director of RCA UK, is at #5. In 2017 she oversaw six UK #1 albums. Tang is also a founding member of The Digital Future Council, an organisation set up to bridge the gap between media, advertising and technology.

Numbers six to 10 feature a mix of well known names, including some perhaps only known in the musical world. Prominent women include conductor Marin Alsop at #8. Alsop is the only woman to have conducted the Last Night of the Proms – a role she has undertaken on two occasions.

Chi-chi Nwanoku, Double Bassist and Founder of the Chineke! Foundation is at #9. Read more about the Foundation in our blog, Chineke! Leading by Example.

At #6, 7 and 9 are women who are leaders behind the scenes. At #6 is Gillian Moore, Director of Music at Southbank Centre. Gillian has previously been head of Contemporary Culture and Classical Music at Southbank Centre, and her current role to brings these areas together. She is known for championing women musicians.

At #7 is Rebecca Allen, President of Decca Records. She is one of a very few female presidents at major record labels in this country and has overseen the signing of successful artists such as Alfie Boe Ennio Morricone and Sheku Kanneh-Mason.

Success in music events was celebrated at #10 with Maggie Crowe, Director of Events and Charities at the British Phonographic Industry, who oversees the BRIT awards and The Mercury Prize. Crowe is also Administrator of the BRIT Trust and a member of the board at the BRIT school.

Nicola Benedetti (Image: Allanbeavis)

The world of music education was championed in the list with Nicola Benedetti, violinist and educationalist at #18. Benedetti was recognised for her passion for music education and the work she has done to support young talent nationally, regionally and internationally.

At #21, is Kathryn McDowell, Managing Director at the London Symphony Orchestra who, alongside her work on the Artistic Programming of the orchestra, has developed the LSO Live label, as well as extending the orchestra’s well known and respected education and community work.

The ISM’s Chief Executive, Deborah Annetts is at #33. Annetts’ campaigning includes promoting the importance of music through education through the EBacc campaign. Read more about the ISM EBacc campaign in our blog post.

(Image: Knight Foundation)

Composer and Educator Issie Barratt is at #38, celebrating her commitment to music education. Barratt founded, and is a Fellow of, the Jazz faculty at Trinity Laban and performs, composes and has created a record label, as well as being a trustee for the Women’s Jazz Archive.

The music world is traditionally seen as male dominated, with men often predominantly taking the roles of top-selling artist, composer, conductor and executive. But the landscape is changing.  It’s important to celebrate the work of these inspirational women in order to encourage future generations of young women to see how they can play a vital role as performers, conductors, educators and managers.

Links:

The top 10 women in music:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/entertainment-arts-45677295/bbc-woman-s-hour-publishes-music-power-list

Woman’s Hour (playback): https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b39v9r


The Inspirational Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died in August 2018 at the age of 76. With her death, among the musical tributes, came a rush of tabloid-style headlines about the notoriously private singer.

Franklin was a phenomenal artist with an unquestionable place in music history. The first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in 1987), ranked number 1 on VH1’s Greatest Women of Rock N Roll, she sang at a memorial service for Martin Luther King Jr. (1968), at pre-inauguration concerts for Presidents Jimmy Carter (1977) and Bill Clinton (1993), and the inauguration of America’s first black President, Barak Obama (in 2009). In 1986, her voice was designated a “Natural Resource” by the State of Michigan. In 2008, she was voted the greatest singer of the rock era in a Rolling Stone magazine poll. During the 1988 Grammy Awards show, she stepped in for Luciano Pavarotti who was unable to appear due to ill health, performing the aria Nessun Dorma in his place. She went on to perform this aria several more times, the last of which was in Philadelphia for Pope Francis.

In a career spanning six and a half decades she placed more than 100 singles in the billboard charts, including 17 top 10 pop singles and 20 no. 1 hits on the R&B chart, a number matched only by Stevie Wonder and not yet bettered by any artist. Already a successful R&B/Soul singer in the 1960s, her 1967 recording of Otis Redding’s song RESPECT from the album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, which spent 2 weeks at number 1 in the billboard chart, won her international acclaim and mainstream recognition.

She received 18 competitive Grammy awards, has five recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame (Respect, Amazing Grace, Chain Of Fools, A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like), and I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You) and was given a lifetime achievement award in 1994.

One remarkable aspect of Franklin’s career was the turbulent life that prompted the probing headlines. She wasn’t a textbook success story or a kid with all the opportunities. Born in Memphis, Tennessee and brought up in Detroit, Michigan, her childhood was full of challenges. Her parents separated when she was just 6 and her mother (who was a gospel singer and pianist) died at the age of just 34 of a heart attack when Franklin was only 10 years old. Her first marriage was abusive and her life was plagued by rumours of addiction – to alcohol (which Franklin denied) and cannabis – and by health problems associated with her weight.

In many ways, her upbringing and aspirations were reflective of the times. Part of a generation of black baby boomers who were still very church-orientated, she was brought up by her father, a minister of national influence who presided over New Bethel Baptist Church. Although she never learned to read music, as a young teenager, Franklin performed with her father on his gospel programmes in major cities and was recognised as a vocal prodigy.

On June 10, 1979, her father was shot at home at point blank range by a burglar when she was on stage in Las Vegas. For the five years until his death, he required 24-hour care.

Franklin made the move to secular music at the age of 18. With the support of her father, to whom she confided she wanted to follow in the footsteps of Sam Cooke and record pop songs, she moved to New York City, where she was signed by Colombia Records executive John Hammond. Hammond had previously signed Billie Holiday and Count Basie. She released her first single under Colombia at the age of 18, and although it reached number 10 on the Hot Rhythm and Blues Sellers chart and was met with critical acclaim, a lack of focus in her output at meant she initially struggled to find the success for which she was destined.

However, in 1966 when her contract with Colombia expired, she switched to Atlantic Records where, rather than determining her artistic direction, her producer Jerry Wexler gave her the freedom to explore her own musical identity.

Franklin returned to her gospel roots, exemplified by constantly improvisatory, airborne vocals, and I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (Atlantic, 1967) was her first million-seller. Her first single with Atlantic, RESPECT, became an anthem for personal, racial and sexual freedom in line with her own values.

Franklin was immersed throughout her life in the struggle for civil rights and women’s rights. She provided money for civil rights groups and performed at benefits and protests. In 1970, when political activist, author and academic, Angel Davis was jailed, Franklin told Jet:

Angela Davis must go free, … Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people.

Franklin was a strong advocate for Native American rights. Quietly and without publicity, she supported the struggles of indigenous people worldwide and numerous movements that supported Native American and First Nation cultural rights. She also donated heavily to churches and food banks in the Detroit area.

[Photo by Pete Souza]

Franklin gave her last full concert at the Ravinia Festival on September 3, 2017, and her final performance was at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City during Elton John’s 25th anniversary gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation on November 7, 2017. She died of advanced pancreatic cancer.

She is known for significant contributions to African-American pride and ‘female self-assertion,’ and reached the pinnacle of her profession at a time when black women were fighting to be seen and heard on their own terms.

It is impossible to give a true representation of such an expansive life and career in such a short space – she made hit after hit, possessed a phenomenal voice, presence and ability to persevere and excel against the odds. She remains quite simply a consummate artist: Both iconic – in black American culture, in mainstream culture and in music worldwide – and deeply human.

Music for Peace

21st September is World Peace Day, or the International Day of Peace. It was established in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly, and, in 2001, the General Assembly designated the Day as a period of non-violence and cease-fire.

This year’s Peace Day celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the theme is The Right to Peace.

Peace Day is celebrated in a range of different ways across the world, for example: Minute of silence at 12 noon (all timezones), peace education events, Intercultural and interfaith dialogues, community gatherings , concerts and festivals, marches, parades and flag ceremonies and engaging youth in peace-building activities.

Paper Cranes, Children’s Peace Memorial, Hiroshima

There are lots of ways to get involved with Peace Day.

Peace One Day is a charity that aims to institutionalise Peace Day 21 September, making it a day that is self-sustaining, an annual day of global unity and a day of intercultural cooperation on a scale that humanity has never known.

One of their global initiatives is “Set for Peace”, a call to action to DJs and musicians worldwide. The action is simple: Dedicate a set of music to Peace Day – September 18-21:

One Day One Choir is a global peace initiative which uses the power of singing together to unite people around the world on Peace Day. It was launched in 2014 as a response to growing unrest and conflict in the world. Since then, more than a million people from all walks of life and a wide range of different singing groups have joined in to sing in more than 50 countries. One Day One Choir are keen for people to get involved, you can register at http://www.onedayonechoir.org/singing-for-schools

One Day One Choir also offers a list of recommended resources on their website. These include, Out of Ark’s free song, Sing a Song in Unison.

http://www.outoftheark.co.uk/resources/one-day-one-choir/

Sing Up have put together resources as well, available at https://www.singup.org/world-peace-day/

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before

– Leonard Bernstein

Here are some of our recommendations for songs for Peace Day:

Imagine by John Lennon:

Give Peace a Chance also by John Lennon:

Shalom Chaverim, a Traditional Jewish Song:

Let there be Peace on Earth, Jill Jackson Miller:

Venus, Bringer of Peace from the Planets Suite by Gustav Holst:

Peace, Horace Silver:

War Requiem, Benjamin Britten. Commissioned to inaugurate the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral in 1962, the soloists in the ‘Libera Me’ were intended to be a Russian soprano, an English tenor and a German baritone:

We Shall Overcome, Pete Seeger:

Blowin’ in the Wind, Bob Dylan:

Adagio for Strings, Samuel Barber (from the String Quartet Op. 11, now integrated as an expression of grief in times of conflict, synonymous with incidents including September 11, the death of John F Kennedy, the Manchester Arena bombing and many others):

And in its original version:

War and Peace, Sergey Prokofiev:

The Etiquette of Applause

It’s a question that comes up seemingly annually, often around the BBC Proms Season, it’s confusing and even controversial in classical music: when it the “correct” time to clap? The Music Workshop Company’s Founder and Artistic Director, Maria Thomas, shares her feelings about applause and its impact on the concert experience.

“Different styles of music each have their own traditions about when clapping is appropriate. In Latin American music clapping along to the music is often encouraged. In jazz is it usual to clap immediately after a solo and then again at the end of piece. In classical music, recent tradition suggests audiences should refrain from clapping until the end of the piece, signified by the conductor placing the baton down on the music stand, rather than at the end of each movement. The etiquette of clapping in opera seems to be particularly nuanced depending on programming and venue.

The topic of concert etiquette is so challenging it even has its own Wikipedia page.

Note that I mentioned “recent tradition” with reference to Classical Music above. In the past it was usual for audiences to applaud between the movements of symphonies, and if enough enthusiasm was shown, a movement would be repeated before the next movement was played. The response of audiences indicated to composers and performers the views of those listening.

[Image: Domdomegg]

However, in the 19th and 20th Century there was a move to restrict clapping so audiences would only applaud at the end of a piece. Mahler apparently specified in the score of his Kindertotenlieder that its movements should not be punctuated by applause.

The debate on clapping in classical music has been raging for decades. Arthur Rubinstein, the pianist, said in a 1966 interview, “It’s barbaric to tell people it is uncivilized to applaud something you like.” Alex Ross’s discussion in The Rest Is Noise gives a variety of examples of the debate.

Back in 2016, the Telegraph discussed the response to clapping in between movements at the Proms and reported that many regular ‘prommers’ dislike the habit, whereas Proms Director David Pickard believes it is a good thing:

If you’re listening to something and you think it’s exciting you applaud it.

This year the question was raised again by Chi Chi Nwanoku, double bass player and Founder of the Chineke! Orchestra. In an article in the Guardian, Nwanoku states:

I despair when anyone is reprimanded for showing their spontaneous response at the end of a movement, particularly a heady one that ends on a high… It’s absolutely fantastic to be on the receiving end of rapturous and spontaneous applause.

The Guardian’s letters page featured a number of responses to this comment, some agreeing with Nwanoku’s opinion:

It is intellectual snobbery at its worst to maintain that one must listen to the entire work in silence.

And some disagreeing:

The silence at the end was a profoundly emotional one. And it was into that silence that a small amount of applause broke the spell.

Those who support the idea of clapping in between the movements of a classical work seem to come both from both sides of the performance; auditorium and the stage.

As Nwanoku discussed, reasons for accepting that people will clap in between movements include cultural differences and the possibility that people might be put off attending concerts because they don’t understand the etiquette or are worried about getting something wrong.

As both a performer and concert-goer (including regularly as a ‘prommer’), I know what I prefer in the concert hall, and that is saving the clapping until the end. As noted by the Guardian letter-writer above, there is often a magical moment at the end of a movement, a short pause before moving into the next.

In a similar way, I find it frustrating when a classical radio station plays individual movements of symphonies. The end of the movement is reached, and if I know the work I am mentally preparing for the opening of the next movement when the presenter speaks…

I also find it frustrating in jazz gigs when audiences clap over the music to acknowledge a solo.

As one of the Guardian letter-writers acknowledged:

I would never be so rude as shushing those who clap between movements, but that doesn’t mean that I like it.

So is there an alternative way for audiences to show their appreciation? Orchestral musicians shuffle their feet when a colleague has performed particularly well. It can only be heard by those nearby and is designed to be a subtle movement and sound, but large audiences doing this would still break that magical silence.

How about adopting an alternative way of showing appreciation that is in use by many people already – the gesture of waving both hands in the air, sometimes called ‘jazz hands’ that is used by the deaf community and others such as those with autism. It allows people to ‘applaud’ without breaking the peace, and for those who do not want to be disturbed between movements, they can shut their eyes and enjoy the silence.”

How do you feel about concert etiquette and applause? Does clapping between movements bother you, or would you prefer to be able to spontaneously express your appreciation of a particularly fine performance? Is it elitist or respectful to follow tradition? Would worries about correct etiquette put you off attending concerts? Let us know what you think!

[Image: Niccolò Caranti]

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


 

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

Otis Redding – A Career Cut Short

December 10th 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of soul singer Otis Redding’s death in a plane crash at the age of just 26.

Just three days earlier, Redding had recorded what was to become his biggest hit. He knew the song would be huge – he remarked to his manager,

I got it. This is my first million seller.

He was right. The song (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay, was released in January 1968, shortly after Redding’s death. It shot to number one on the R&B charts in early 1968 and, from March of that year, topped the pop charts for four weeks. Dock of the Bay became Redding’s most popular record, selling more than four million copies worldwide. It went on to win two Grammy Awards: Best R&B Song and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

Otis Redding wrote the first verse of the song while he was on tour with the Bar-Kays in August 1967. At the time, he was staying on a houseboat at Waldo Point in Sausalito, California. Just weeks earlier, he had played the Monterey Pop Festival – a performance that was to go down in history. As the tour continued, he would scribble lyrics and ideas on napkins and hotel paper. In November 1967, Redding joined producer and guitarist Steve Cropper at the Stax recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee, to record the song.

Cropper described the origins of Dock of the Bay in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air in September 1990:

Otis was the kind of guy who had 100 ideas. […] He had been in San Francisco doing The Fillmore. And the story that I got he was renting boathouse or stayed at a boathouse or something and that’s where he got the idea of the ships coming in the bay there. And that’s about all he had: “I watch the ships come in and I watch them roll away again.” I just took that… and I finished the lyrics. If you listen to the songs I collaborated with Otis, most of the lyrics are about him. […] Otis didn’t really write about himself but I did. Songs like Mr. Pitiful, Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song); they were about Otis and Otis’ life. Dock of the Bay was exactly that: “I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay” was all about him going out to San Francisco to perform. [Source: Wikipedia]

Sitting in the morning sun. I’ll be sitting when the evening comes. Watching the ships roll in. And then I watch ’em roll away again, yeah.

It was one of those rare moments when an artist knows immediately that he’s just created a masterpiece.

Together, Redding and Cropper finished the music and lyrics of (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, and the song was recorded on November 22nd 1967 with additional overdubs on December 7th. The emotive yet restrained vocals are backed by Cropper’s clean guitar playing – but the song was never finished. There’s a whistled tune heard before the song’s final fade. According to Cropper, Redding had “this little fadeout rap he was gonna do, an ad-lib. He forgot what it was so he started whistling.”

After the recording session, Redding’s tour continued. There was a television appearance to make in Cleveland, followed by a concert in Madison, Wisconsin.

But on its final approach to Madison on December 10th, 1967, the private plane carrying soul-music legend Otis Redding crashed into the frigid waters of a small lake three miles short of the runway, killing seven of the eight men on board, including Redding.

According to Ben Cauley, founding member of the Bar-Kays and the sole survivor of the crash, the band usually travelled “by station wagon and U-Haul”. If the distance to a gig and the dollars from it added up, they would load up the plane with Redding’s friend, pilot Dick Fraser.

In a 2007 interview in Memphis, Cauley says,

Something I’ll never forget about that plane… The first of the last three nights we were together, we got to the airport about 5:30 or 6, and we asked Dick if we could crank it up so we could get warm, but he said the battery was low.

Cauley said the band didn’t think too much of the comment, and the plane made the trip to Cleveland without incident. Next morning, they took off from Cleveland to get to their gig in Madison, Wisconsin. Redding sat beside Fraser in the cockpit. Cauley and Redding were back-to-back. Four other members of the Bar-Kays – guitarist Jimmy King, organist Ronnie Caldwell, drummer Carl Cunningham, all 18, and saxophonist Phalon Jones, 19 – squeezed into the plane with their 17-year-old valet Matthew Kelly. Bassist James Alexander and vocalist Carl Sims couldn’t fit in, and took alternate transportation.

“We just talked as we always did on the plane,” Cauley says, ” Otis was talking about how he’d just cut a record and said, ‘You’ll hear it when you get back. We need to put the horns on it, so you’ll do that. That was the first time we heard about Dock of the Bay. That’s the last thing he talked about — how much he loved that record and that it’s something he’d wanted to do for a long time.”

Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay was released in its unfinished form several weeks later. The sounds of seagulls and waves crashing in the background were added by Cropper, who mixed the song after Redding’s death. Redding had requested these sounds to mimic those he heard while he was staying on the houseboat. Redding’s whistled verse became an indelible part of the now-classic record. The song became the first posthumous number 1 hit in pop music history, and the biggest pop hit of Redding’s career.

In the six months before his death, Redding had gone from one success to another. Aretha Franklin took her cover version of his song Respect to number 1 in the pop charts. His performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival had transformed him into an icon of the late 60’s counterculture. He was already a giant in the world of soul music, and during an era when the Beatles and Motown ruled the charts, he was beginning to gain recognition on a huge scale within the largely white mainstream.

Redding’s death was announced in the New York Times with only four column inches at the bottom of page 19, in which the names of the other musicians were listed. He was not yet considered a superstar, although his reputation among black audiences was enormous.

According to an article of 1968, hardly any of even Redding’s greatest fans realised he was only 26. The tragedy of his death was compounded by the shock of the discovery of his youth, a fact that makes his talent so much more extraordinary.


 

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