Friday, April 08, 2011

Friday Historical: Music of the Spheres

Apparently NASA has released the information, and sounds to back it up, that the stars sing. And I don't mean Domingo. No, way out in the back of beyond the solar system, the actual, physical, blazing stars are making a right old noise. And we can learn a lot about them from the type of sounds they make. The big ones rumble. The small ones are higher pitched. BBC Breakfast news didn't actually tell us how these sounds are produced. But it's not April 1 any more, and it's a wonderful excuse to run a Friday Historical of the Vienna Philharmonic playing Josef Strauss's gorgeous waltz, The Music of the Spheres, conducted by the mesmerising Carlos Kleiber. I wonder what scientists on other planets might learn about ours from listening to this? Enjoy. (More Shout Out! later on...)

Thursday, April 07, 2011


Did you know that the deadline for the decision on whether music should be included as a subject for the English Baccalaureate is 14 April? Nor did I, until this info appeared on Facebook in the group called ADD MUSIC TO THE ENGLISH BACC. The ISM website has some template letters for you to download & write to the powers that be PDQ:
Apparently the Times educational supplement has reported that only one in 10 Labour MPs think music should be included, and no (0) Tory MPs do at all. If it were to be excluded, it's anybody's guess as to how any gifted young musicians hoping to study music at any institution - here or abroad - would be able to support their aptitude with an academic qualification.

For today's SHOUT OUT! it's over to two wonderful British pianists: Leon McCawley and Margaret Fingerhut. And keep scrolling down to today's previous post to see Daniel Barenboim's words on how music can bring people together...

Catch up at the following links with SHOUT OUT 1 (Tasmin Little, Barry Douglas and Julian Lloyd Webber), SHOUT OUT 2 (James Rhodes, Errollyn Wallen and Nick van Bloss) and SHOUT OUT 3 (Paul Lewis, Nick Daniel and Eos Chater)


One school that I visit is facing huge hikes in the cost of music lessons from its local authority. It is set to rise astronomically, apparently by over £10 per hour.  This will obviously put instrumental lessons beyond the reach of less well-off students. Furthermore parents will also have to commit their child to a full year’s tuition, so if young Fred takes up the oboe but decides he doesn’t like it after one term, the parents still have to pay for his lessons for the rest of the year.  Evidently that’s likely to discourage kids from taking up a musical instrument in the first place.

A propos what can be achieved if children are encouraged rather than dumbed-down to, I am reminded of the indefatigable and much-missed Maureen Lehane Wishart.  She had an almost missionary zeal to enrich the lives of youngsters in her locality of Somerset. She once had 40 12-year-olds from all ethnic backgrounds from a deprived area in Bristol camping in her garden at Jackdaws for nine days while they worked at the choruses from Monteverdi’s Vespers.  They then gave an hour long performance from memory - in Latin, if you please - at a local church, attended by their families and friends. Apparently everyone was in tears afterwards.  Just imagine a world where this sort of thing could happen as a matter of course in our schools, for ALL children.

I don’t come from a musical background.  However, my parents made a fortunate decision to buy a piano for me and my siblings to play on and had a small collection of classical music records in the house. In my childhood spent in a small village in Cheshire, my only real exposure to music was in my local primary school and having paid lessons with a local teacher. Fortunately, I had schoolteachers who understood the value of music. There were musical productions, carol concerts and peripatetic teachers coming into the school to introduce and teach a variety of instruments to the class. All these things were part and parcel of a school education. It is sad and incredulous to see that they are fast disappearing from the curriculum. Even though I eventually was able to go to a private specialist music school to pursue my dream of becoming a concert pianist, I owe a huge amount to my FREE primary school musical experience.

We can’t expect everyone to be converted to the great joys and riches of classical music, but if there is no basic introduction offered at a young age, we can expect very bleak times ahead.


Yes, you read right. At 9pm tomorrow evening, 8 April, the great Daniel Barenboim is indeed giving a surprise concert and talk in the rather astonishing setting of the Tate Modern, with members of his Berlin Staatskapelle, and admission is FREE. Everybody is invited to attend and see the event from the Turbine Hall Bridge or video relay in the Turbine Hall.

Why? It's an anniversary party with a difference: the "pianist, conductor and communicator" is marking the 60th anniversary of his performing debut and apparently also the release of his new recordings of the Chopin Piano Concertos, a solo Chopin recital from Warsaw, Tchaikovsky and Schoenberg with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and, later this year, the Liszt concertos - in a new affiliation with Decca and Deutsche Grammophon.

We don't get to hear Barenboim for free every day, so if you're in London then head down there PDQ. (But remember to register for tickets first... link is below & allocation will be done tonight and tomorrow.)

Please note his words below, especially if you have been enjoying the SHOUT OUT! MUSIC EDUCATION FOR ALL series here on JDCMB this week. Barenboim's statement is a very welcome surprise addition. Every day this week I have been running strong statements from some of Britain's leading musicians about the vital nature of making musical education available to all children, regardless of their family's ability to pay. Contributors include Tasmin Little, Julian Lloyd Webber, James Rhodes and many more. Catch up here, here, here and here.

Barenboim says: ‘Engaging with music and the arts is one of the most important things we have in life. Performing a piece of music and listening to it with an open mind can tell us many things about the world and ourselves. If people can reach mutual understanding and even harmony over a work of art in this world of conflict and despair, this gives me hope and encouragement that we reach with the arts where we can’t get with words alone.’

All tickets to his performance at Tate Modern are free, with limited capacity. Please register here for tickets:

PS - You read it here first. xj

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


And now that we've just about recovered from yesterday's #conductormovies madness, (catch up via the post below if you missed it), here are my next three musical luminaries speaking up on why a musical education is not just valuable but invaluable, and should never be barred to children whose families are unable to pay for it. Please welcome: the great British pianist Paul Lewis, ace oboist and conductor Nicholas Daniel and violinist Eos Chater from Bond!

"When the wide ranging benefits of music education have been staring us right in the face for so long, it's little short of depressing that as soon as budget cuts are mentioned, music remains a soft target. Growing up on Merseyside in the 1980s, I was lucky enough to have benefitted from a primary school which took its music seriously, the gift of state funded peripatetic instrumental tuition, and a selection of local youth orchestras and children's music groups, all provided by the local council. 

"This kind of set-up has of course long disappeared, and the prospect of further brutal cuts sends out a disheartening message to anybody for whom music is an important part of life. Those of us who value it have a responsibility to do whatever it takes to ensure that music - undeniably an essential part of a broad and inclusive education - occupies a prominent place in our education system. To deny the next generation the means to discover something so life enriching, and to which we ourselves had free access, is a thoughtless and selfish strategy."

My profound concerns over local and county council cuts in the highly productive and cost-effective music services are based on personal experience. 
My teenage sons have benefitted greatly from the legendary music service in Bedfordshire, through the County Youth Orchestra and Chamber Music courses. I would go so far as to say they were central to their enjoying music as much as they do now. The future there is still uncertain, I'm told, but looking bleak. 

I have heard about many areas facing drastic cuts, but Arts in Education in Leicester have been completely cut. Completely. 100%. This is the county that has in recent years seen thousands of children involved in dance projects and performing real, serious dance, and where Sir Michael Tippett used to conduct the Youth Orchestra. The big picture is terribly worrying nationwide, and the ignorance of the need for the arts among our local elected representatives seems truly shocking.

I protest here, I will protest where I can. However I will not be protesting in London after the horrendous experience my 16-year-old son Alastair had with 'Kettling' while protesting against education cuts last year. It makes the suspicious side of my nature wonder whether there is an overall plan.

I was brought up through the British music education system, so the issue of cuts is something that is very close to my heart. It seems that music is seen as a luxury, but what is often overlooked is the additional learning that takes place in musical environments. 

When I was a kid, all the county orchestras and school instrument lessons were government funded and therefore free to pupils and their parents. That meant that anybody and everybody could learn to play an instrument, and be a part of a brass band, choir or orchestra regardless of their financial or social background. The following is a list of social development benefits that come through music:

1/ Building confidence
Being a part of a large group of like-minded people and working together and achieving  a common goal is hugely beneficial for young people. I have life-long friends from my youth orchestra days.

2/ The value of  cooperation.
In an orchestra everyone needs to be cooperative and to play together for the performance to be any good. The whole orchestra could be made up of virtuoso players but if they don't play together  the orchestra will  sound awful.

3/ Speaking and Listening
Being aware of when it's your time come to the fore and when to let someone else be heard.

4/ Sharing leadership
an orchestral soloist and conductor mutually follow one another in a (for want of a better word) dance.

5/ Punctuality.
Nothing makes you more punctual than having 70 people turning round tutting at you as you arrive late...even if it's done in good spirit.

6/ Pulling your weight and having pride in your work
People who join and are 'passengers' rarely stay so for long as everybody knows everybody else in an orchestra so people tend to make an effort.

In case you missed #conductormovies yesterday...

Think classical music and its admirers are a rarified world, out of touch with popular culture? Think again! Though maybe we do have odd ways of letting off steam...

The Twitterverse went bananas yesterday playing #conductormovies. It was all the fault of @tommyrpearson who started it with one inspired tweet carrying the fatal hashtag: Herbert von Carry On. I was out doing interviews and got back to discover my twitterfeed full of stuff like The Curious Case of Benjamin Britten, Get Solti, Dudamel, Where's My Car? (which turned up about 100 times)... you get the idea. My own contributions were somewhat late in the game but I can offer When Harry Met Solti, The Fischer King, Fanny and Alexander Gibson, and Alex Prior Doesn't Live Here Any More. You can find the rest by going on to Twitter and searching the hashtag #conductormovies...

Meanwhile The New Classical 963FM, a Canadian radio station based in Toronto, and with considerable expertise in Photoshop, took things a stage further and produced the posters. Here's the link. And here's our LPO favourite:

Back to soberer matters in a minute.... and apologies to New Classical 963FM for mistakenly identifying it as American this morning, which unfortunately is what comes of blogging before one's had one's second cup of coffee.