Musical Mysteries

Last year I took part in one of Sally Cronin’s author interviews on Smorgasbord.  We could choose five questions from many and looking back I seem to have given rather long answers. As I am having a musical theme this month I thought I would revisit two of my chosen questions.

What is your favourite music genre and why?

If you were granted three wishes what would they be?

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People who know me, or have to put up with me, would say Classical is my genre, but like my novels I don’t stick to genres. The narrowest definition of Classical is music written in the European tradition, approximately 1750 to 1830, when the symphony was standardized. Yes I do like music from that period and the symphony orchestra is an amazing creation to listen to and watch, but most people think of the bigger picture. According to taste, classical music could be any music you find boring, anything they play on BBC Radio Three and Classic FM, or works performed at The Proms. Perhaps all music that has stood the test of time is the best definition.

Two easier questions to answer…

‘Can you live without music?’

No.

‘What music don’t you like?’

Anything involving Pan Pipes, Sondheim or the Eurovision Song Contest… plus a collection of pieces and songs from all genres that make me lose the will to live. For example, ever since I was a child, I could not stand Moon River.

But I do love all sorts of music, whether it’s on the radio livening up cooking and housework through to the ultimate, live performances.

I have sat wanting Riverdance to never end, seen Phantom of the Opera four times, been taken totally out of the dreary surroundings of a school hall when a Bhangra band burst onto the stage and been blasted out of this world by Verdi’s Requiem.

If the symphony orchestra is at the heart of classical music the concert hall is pure theatre; from the moment you trip over feet finding your seat, watching the orchestra tune up, the ritual of the leader coming on, applause, the conductor coming on, even more applause and no one’s done anything yet. If there is not a great choral work being presented then some audience members sit in the choir seats behind the orchestra, looking down upon the percussion section. Plenty of composers have written BIG symphonies and how happy the percussion players look as they get a chance to strike the timpani and clash the huge cymbals; we wait with bated breath to see if the cymbals will fly out of their hands back into the audience in the choir seats. There is drama at the front of the stage also. The development of the iron frame piano in the 1800s was the best thing to happen to keyboards, gone were the long dreary evenings of harpsichord. Beethoven led the way to testosterone fuelled concertos, Rachmaninov, with his famously long fingers, stretched them beyond imagination. Sitting in row C gazing up at the shiny grand piano played by an international soloist beats seeing a tiny figure in the distance at a pop concert.

Meanwhile back in the kitchen what do I recommend for dancing round doing the dishes? The original recording of Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall in 1938, ‘Sing Sing, Sing’; twelve minutes of Swing heaven and heart stopping drums. I guess ‘you had to be there’, but for those of us that weren’t you can get the double CD. ‘Forty Second Street’ is one of my favourite musical numbers and a playing of the original film at our little local Art Decor cinema remains a highlight of my cinema experiences. Or how about a waltz? The waltzes from Carousel the musical and Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite are both life affirming and energising.

On Saturday evenings BBC Radio Three often broadcasts Live From The Met. While audiences in New York are enjoying a matinee opera, I am cooking dinner. I enjoy the presenters with their mellifluous voices telling us the story, talking about the scenery and costumes; then when the opera actually starts I’m usually bored after fifteen minutes! Sometimes it’s better just to hear the best bits.

We all have rhythm, we all have a heart beat. Babies like simple tunes, our ancestors sung round the fire outside their caves when there was little else to do. But music evolved, chords and harmony appeared, musicians started writing it down. You don’t need to be a music expert to enjoy listening, all you need to know is that music is an amazing combination of pure mathematics and mystery. Who can analyse why certain music sends shivers down our spine?

Those of us who tried and failed to learn any instrument properly will have been left with great admiration for real musicians, who have reached their pinnacle with hard work as well as talent. But in my novel, Brief Encounters of the Third Kind, a very ordinary couple, who know nothing about the musical world, find themselves with a child genius. And Emma’s mother has good reason to fear that her daughter is not an ordinary human, not even human at all… which led me to the first of my three wishes.

A famous British composer, a living one, excited to find a novel about musicians, reads Brief Encounters of the Third Kind. He or she is overwhelmed and inspired to write what I cannot; the music Emma Dexter has composed. I don’t know how Emma’s music sounds, I do know it is deep and moving and full of melodies: that is why she and her cellist husband are so popular with the general public. The music is received rapturously, some of the works are premiered at The Proms and the great composer is inspired to write the entire opera that takes place at the end of the novel.

Actually I would settle for a totally unknown poverty stricken composer, who becomes famous after being inspired by my novel and writing the opera.

My wish hasn’t come true yet…

Visit last year’s blog to see what my other two wishes were.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2018/08/05/smorgasbord-blog-magazine-getting-to-know-you-sunday-interview-author-janet-gogerty/

 

 

 

Impossibly Positive

One of my favourite parts of summer is the world’s greatest music festival, the BBC Proms.

It didn’t always belong to the BBC and it wasn’t always held in the Royal Albert Hall. The first Proms concert took place on 10 August 1895 in the newly built Queen’s Hall in London. The aim was to reach a wider audience by offering more popular programmes, adopting a less formal promenade arrangement and keeping ticket prices low.

The first radio broadcast of a promenade concert by the BBC was in 1927 and every prom is now broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and repeated, so there is plenty of chance to listen at home.

The Queen’s Hall was destroyed by bombs in 1941, during WW2.

The Royal Albert Hall was opened by Queen Victoria in 1871 and is inextricably linked with The Proms. Even if you have never been to South Kensington you may recognise the famous round building and the warm red interior. Some of the prom concerts are broadcast on television and always of course the Last Night. When a camera pans down the height of the hall you feel dizzy and the top seats and gallery are very high. We once had cheap seats near the top for a concert with a famous pianist; we looked down as a tiny puppet tip toed over to a toy piano. The year we booked lots of concerts, so we could qualify for last night seats, we planned with care; big symphonies sit anywhere, but if you want to see your favourite soloist get the best seats you can afford nearer the stage. Live concerts are always different from listening to recorded music and The Proms have extra atmosphere; everyone is there to enjoy themselves and because they love music. At the end you emerge into a summer night and surge with the happy throng walking down Exhibition Road to South Kensington tube station.

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But there is a lot to be said for watching on television. As happens every year, with life getting in the way, I have recorded more proms than I have watched since they started on July 19th, but I have enjoyed several very different concerts so far. What struck me this year was how wonderful it is to have two hours of positive thoughts and enthusiasm with no mention of Brexit, world leaders or general doom. Music is a universal language that brings us together.

The advantage of television is having presenters to tell you about the music and chat to musicians during the interval. Our presenters are impossibly positive; after all they are listening to the best musicians from around the world and being paid to share their love of music. One of them is so enthusiastic he talks at twice the normal speed, if he was a piece of music he would be ‘Flight of the Bumblebee.’ Often presenters get so excited they nearly topple off their high balcony.

If we are not musicians we may not always understand what presenters and musical guests are talking about, perhaps they don’t either, but that’s all part of the fun. They may spend longer talking about a new piece of music having its world premiere than the piece actually lasts. If you hear the words this wonderful sound picture it probably means there is no tune, but hearing pieces of music you don’t know is all part of the experience.

When the music actually starts, there is more entertainment. The camera pans over members of the orchestra, to the happy prommers standing in the arena, then round to the huge choir. We can wonder why the biggest bloke in the choir has been put next to the skinniest, we can make comments on the dresses of the soloists and we can marvel at the blur of bows in the string sections. It’s all very different from 125 years ago.

Read more about The Proms

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1sgMxZvFzHQG3Y1HktMfg6w/history-of-the-proms

Have you been to The Proms? Are you a musician or a listener?

My novel Brief Encounters of the Third Kind follows the story of a golden couple of music. The Royal Albert Hall has a walk on part.

As the first in a trilogy you can download for just 99 pence.

sunshine-blogger

 

 

Sunday Salon – Views and Reviews

Three books, a BBC television comedy and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra rounds off the season with two very different concerts.

Kill Joys by Martin Stratford

Twelfth in the  Havenchester Crime series

Private detectives Alec and Julie Tanner have a good team and their colleagues’ skills are vital in solving cases and saving their lives. There is more going on than anybody on either side of the law realises in delightfully dark plots at odds with a respectable hotel, a pleasant village and a museum that should only be of interest to lovers of literature. Can a feud between two families be resolved by two young lovers or are they putting themselves in danger? The action increases in pace and an innocent woman finds herself in a nightmare situation. Events move rapidly to the denouement in a deliciously complex plot spiced with the author’s usual dark humour.

 

Fancy Meeting You Here  by Jim Webster

A relaxing book to dip into, with tales and thoughts of Jim Webster who has farmed all his life near the Cumbrian coast. Poignantly we gather that for a farmer governments come and go, Brexit or no Brexit, people with little idea about real farming or local conditions can come along with new regulations and policies. For a sheep dog there are no worries about politics, but Sal has set views about what the sheep should be doing and what humans should be doing and when. There are pleasant walks and even a recipe for no cooking apple chutney. Whether you live in the countryside or have never set foot in a field, you will enjoy this book.

 

More Glimpses by Hugh W. Roberts

I enjoyed the first book and this is another great selection of stories. Topically the last story is about plastics, has a solution been found? Yes, but only at a terrible cost. Each story is delightfully unique; a new slant on fairies at the bottom of the garden, a wedding bouquet like no other, royal shopping and some very tiny dark tales.

I read these three books as e books downloaded onto my Kindle. I posted the reviews on Goodreads, but they have all been rejected by Amazon. Two of the authors I have reviewed before with no problems; but out of all the long list of guidelines to adhere to could this be the one I am breaking?

To contribute to … Customer Reviews…  you must have spent at least £40 on Amazon.co.uk using a valid payment card in the past 12 months.

As Amazon allows us to buy books for as little as 99 pence this seems unfair to authors and readers.

Now for some comedy. I love a good half hour television comedy and there have been some very different series, gentle, dark, clever that we have enjoyed or are enjoying at Chez Beachwriter. Just finished last week was ‘Don’t Forget The Driver’ co written and starring Toby Jones. An exquisite six episodes of dark and gentle humour about Peter, a coach driver, who lives in Bognor Regis with his daughter and nearby his elderly mother. The first episode opens with Peter on his mobile phone to his identical twin in Australia; he stands on the beach in front of the webcam – Facetime the hard way – the Australian family spot something on the beach, which turns out to be a dead body…

Every character is subtly created and each episode takes us on a different outing, with the first a trip to France, returning with an extra passenger…

Another trip full of Japanese passengers interested in culture finds a very serious gentleman asking Peter to help him understand Shakespeare and iambic pentameters. The confused conversation ends with Peter saying ‘Okay Mr. Pentameter’.

The last episode finishes poignantly with Peter diverting his coachload of school band pupils to the cemetery.

https://www.comedy.co.uk/tv/dont_forget_the_driver/

 

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Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is Classsic FM’s Orchestra in the South of England. Classic FM is a commercial radio station which is often good except for irritating advertisements. Over the autumn, summer and spring the BSO play a few Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees at the Bournemouth Pavilion. A Classic FM presenter introduces popular pieces, with of course some jokes, mention of the weather, the seaside and interesting tit bits about the composers. The last concert on Saturday 11th May was ‘Hall of Fame’ with four pieces guaranteed to be enjoyed by various ages. The theatre was packed. William Tell Overture was followed by that great tradition of half the orchestra retreating while the men (and a woman ) in black stack chairs, manoeuvre the grand piano onto the stage and hopefully remember to lock the wheels in place. The chairs and music stands are repositioned and I always wonder if the musicians will end up with their right parts of music.

The second piece was Beethoven’s Fifth Piano concerto. After the interval the stage was reorganised again while the audience went out for an ice cream. In the second half the Carmen Suite was followed by the 1812 Overture as finale, a Classic FM favourite for finishing concerts and loud enough for someone near us to open their bag of Malteasers.

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Wednesday 15th was very different; the end of the main season at the Lighthouse Poole, being broadcast live on BBC Radio Three with chief conductor Kiril Karabits. Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, a great choral drama with the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and three top soloists. Elgar was a Roman Catholic and based the work on Cardinal Newman’s poem of the same name ( no, I haven’t read it ). One hundred minutes which seemed to go by quickly. Part one finds Gerontius, American tenor Paul Appleby, on his death bed and the priest sends him on his journey. In part two his guardian angel, mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, appears and eventually he sees God for the briefest moment with the chorus building up to the famous climax ‘Praise to the Holiest in the Height’. His guardian angel then gently leads him off to rest in purgatory, which doesn’t sound too bad.The whole work is a great drama with plenty of spine tingling moments, obviously a piece still popular with modern audiences whatever their beliefs. Kiril Karabits allowed a long moment of silence after the final chords of ‘Amen’ before lowering his baton.

https://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/17644256.review-bso-the-dream-of-gerontius-by-elgar

https://www.facebook.com/Bournemouth-Symphony-Chorus-252826548066372

 

Wagner, Elgar and All Star Superslam Wrestling

The Pavilion is one of my favourite buildings in Bournemouth, an Art Deco theatre and ballroom built nearly a hundred years ago, a Grade Two listed building  that has outlasted two Winter Gardens. The ballroom has wonderful views of Poole Bay and The Purbecks.  If you go to the theatre, don’t be late getting to your seat if you are in the middle of the row; they are narrow with very little leg room, a timely reminder of how slim our recent forebears were. But outside the auditorium there is plenty of space. If you are going to the theatre, explore the rest of the building, saunter down (literally ) the sloping corridors on either side and look out on the Lower Gardens. Then if you need to go before the show, don’t want to queue to use the loo, descend the stairs to the ballroom toilets, more spacious than those at the front of house, with the original ashtrays still in the cubicles.

https://www.list.co.uk/place/50527-pavilion-theatre-bournemouth

On Sunday there was a matinee concert with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. The whole Pavilion was abuzz so there was obviously another event going on in the ballroom, which could have been anything from a wedding fair to an antiques show. But what no one, sauntering down the corridor in the depths of the building to the ballroom toilets, expected to see were large bare chested men wandering around, wearing what appeared to be ladies see through panties. A shock for elderly ladies on a respectable Sunday afternoon outing and for mothers who had brought their young daughters for some culture. All through Wagner’s serene Siegfried Idyll I was wondering if the chaps had come from some Netflix fantasy drama. I was relieved the young man playing Elgar’s Cello Concerto had his normal concert gear on, as my seat was only a few feet away.

In the interval we discovered from the ushers guarding the ballroom doors that it was All Star Superslam Wrestling. Unfortunately the wrestlers were not seen again so I didn’t get a chance to have another look. But I’m sure Dvorak’s New World Symphony was more exciting.

Alas, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, one of the country’s leading orchestras              a Cultural Beacon for the South and South West of England, only play seven or eight concerts a year in Bournemouth. They do not live here, but down the road in Poole at The Lighthouse Centre for the Arts. A bit annoying, as when we moved here I thought I had steered us to heaven, a seaside town with its own orchestra. The orchestra is older than either building, founded in 1893. They are also Classic FM’s Orchestra in the South of England. At The Pavilion Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon concerts we get a jolly Classic FM presenter, who has stories to tell, just like the radio only thankfully without the advertisements.

https://www.bsolive.com/

At The Lighthouse things are more serious, except at Christmas. Here the audience have been praised by conductor Kirill Karabits for trying lesser know pieces every season. BBC Radio Three broadcasts live concerts regularly; occasions when you certainly don’t want to be late getting to your seat or forget to turn your mobile off.

Music is one of the themes of my Brief Encounters trilogy; download the first book for only 99 pence.