SUPERBRASS

 

lines_spaces_coverAt the end of 2013, after the release of “ Brass Taps” which was the second CD that Superbrass issued, Roger Argente encountered familiar difficulties concerning the finance and management of the group. The recording had been financed, in part by “crowdfunding” which was a new internet based method of sponsorship that had proven successes in arts and other projects in Europe and America, but the continuing fragility of the domestic economy and the imbalance in the market for recorded music that had been created by free downloads and online music services, affected sales despite the exceptional quality of the recording and the acclaim it received from the critics and the brass community.

 

Waterfront Ave,

19 Nov 2013

Dear Roger,

Thank you for your e-mail. After five years of working on a computer here at home, I still marvel at the wonders of digital life, and discover new developments daily, with the thought that I’m able to keep touch with the world from my desk, and to follow the RPO’s frenetic itinerary with breathless admiration. I’m sure you will be grateful to be at home for Christmas!

It was so good to see the reaction and the press comments about the “Superbrass” recording.

The success of the group, in the face of the many difficulties that are now confronting orchestras and ensembles worldwide is astonishing, and your present problems are temporary I’m sure.

I think your new proposals regarding the publishing of the “Superbrass” commissions will be a great thing for everyone concerned, and your plans for more concerts are exactly right, given the present circumstances.

Everyone should hear “Superbrass”! And in these modern times we are able to reach a greater audience than ever before

I played with Philip Jones and with the Nash ensemble in their very early days, but of course their difficulties were different from yours. Their audience numbers were often disappointing at first. Publishing of the repertoire, which was at that time largely made up of arrangements, was possible only with one of a few houses and was difficult to establish, and recording contracts, which rarely included any commitment to new music were a long time coming. Superbrass hasn’t experienced these problems, and you are able to set your own agenda for the most part. But by far the most gratifying thing about it, is that the players and composers enjoy it so much and there’s a mutual trust within the group, and an unique feeling of joy and a lack of inhibition in the performances, that comes, largely from their not being involved with resident conductors, or record companies, who in my experience bring with them too many restrictions and boundaries, ( see under “raisons d’etre”) and on the business side, will often aggravate everyday difficulties, (see under “self justification”) often generating misinformation and dissent as their stock in trade. Please don’t suffer discouragement even for a second. The group has all the necessary spirit, self-confidence and dedicated irreverence required for the journey.

I was waylaid regularly in my early days, by well-meaning relatives, and local academics (most of whom, of course had “proper jobs”), with warnings of difficulties that could hinder my progress to becoming a professional player, that included almost everything from malnutrition to dental disfigurement. By contrast, the old colliers in Tower band encouraged me without reservation. Their lives having been been spent in darkness for the most part, in the bowels of the earth, surrounded by explosions, rats and poison gas, they assured me, with authority and optimism, that professional music would be a liberating and worthwhile occupation.

I still think of them when my spirits become depressed by modern life.

Thank you too, for the clarification of the financial position.

As far as money is concerned – I have been chiseled out of a great deal of it over the years (we regarded the “crooked fixer” as an occupational hazard in the old days.) So by contrast, the twin privileges of being consulted and of someone acting in my interests relieve my occasional feelings of isolation and lift the winter blues.

While you are being jet- propelled across the globe between the continents, and concert halls of the world, I spend most mornings at the piano, sometimes taking a walk in the afternoon, to listen to my thoughts and the sounds of the sea, giving thanks for my good fortune.

Close to our house, which stands between the city and the Forth estuary, Edinburgh council have transformed some waste ground into a park and a tranquil landscape of grassland and young trees, with a reed pond for the water birds. Yesterday some gulls and kittiwakes were roosting on the handrail of the bridge, their cries mingling with those of the children going home for tea. These sounds, drifting through the darkening, winter afternoon, were like an echo from pre-history; some universal force of gratitude that brings the need to sing. Loitering there in the park, in the grip of winter, I felt it strongly, and I found myself looking forward to Cardiff in March when I shall be singing “Cwm Rhondda” with forty thousand Welshmen at the Millennium stadium.

“Feed me till I want no more”

Your venture is brave and essential, and forged as it is in brass and nourished with such good fellowship and impertinence, I’m certain it will prevail.

Yours Ever Drac

 

 

RITE – RIGHT – WRITE

 

lines_spaces_coverRichard Chenoweth is professor of music at the University of Dayton Ohio, and the

 

pioneer and developer of RRW, the university based movement for the development and involvement of the arts in contemporary social issues.

 

 

 

Dear Richard,

 

Greetings from Edinburgh!

 

Our Scottish days are getting shorter now, and the sharp evening breeze carries a few dry leaves and the whisperings of autumn.

 

Long hot summers disable me somewhat but I slowly find my feet and some appetite for work as the leaves start to fall. This summer has been exceptional, not only for its unusual warmth and dryness, but also for the variety of events that have occurred.

 

The month of June contained the date of our 40th wedding anniversary, which we celebrated with a visit to the Bolshoi Ballet at Covent Garden, and we went on the next day to Amsterdam for cool canal cruising, art and Indonesian food. A few days after our return to Edinburgh, Kay’s mother was taken ill suddenly and died a few hours later, in the hospital that is just a mile from her house. She was a grand old Edinburgh lady of 94 who had enjoyed a full and healthy life in business and the community and the very large attendance at her funeral certainly reflected that. Shortly after that sad day our daughter Sally announced that she is expecting another baby early next year so the mixture of feelings, emotions and exhaustion was a strange experience indeed.

 

“For each is a dream that is dying,

 

Or one that is coming to birth”

 

Thank you for your kind invitation!

 

The RRW (Rite, Right, Write) project excites me a great deal. I have visited your marvellous website and my head is already racing with thoughts and ideas. The connection between music and social issues being something, which has been a subject of interior debate for me, for most of my professional life.

 

I think you know that I learned to play in the brass band at Tower Colliery in South Wales, that practiced in an old engine shed, and that was supported, both by our own contributions and those of the miners, who each donated a penny a week from their wages. I can remember two old colliers in that band who could only read and write English with difficulty, but who could play their instruments with ease, and read the thousands of notes found in brass band transcriptions of Rossini and Verdi. So making music and social struggle were already synonymous to me, and when I finished my musical education at the Royal Academy, which was paid for by a scholarship sponsored by the county of Glamorgan, I found myself, as a very young man, embroiled in the famous battle for the survival of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

 

In 1965, when I joined the orchestra, it was besieged by its many detractors and malefactors in the Arts Council and the musical establishment, and had been so since the death of its founder Sir Thomas Beecham in 1961. The Royal Philharmonic Society and its allies had decided that the orchestral players should hold no rights to Beecham’s musical legacy and that the orchestra must not continue to perform without its founder at the helm. The players having rejected that proposition and in order to ensure the orchestra’s future, formed themselves into a company of which we were all shareholders, and we were obliged to play, sometimes for months without wages in order to pay the fees of international conductors, which in many cases were extortionate. Very few of them showed the slightest interest in our predicament, and their agents who worked as a sort of European cartel, displayed a similar indifference, while collecting their percentages and expecting prompt payment and first class hotel accommodation for their clients.

 

These were the difficult circumstances that formed the backdrop to my early life in music.

 

During the following decade, my father as a member of the National Union of Mineworkers was locked in a bitter struggle with the British Tory government, which was to result in the almost total destruction of the British mining industry, and surrounded by hostile, mainly conservative opinion I played in the London Symphony Orchestra under the guest conductorship of Edward Heath who was a patron of that orchestra and the prime minister of the day. There were bitter social and political divisions in Britain at that time, and my background and experience helped me to accept ideological isolation with resolve.

 

When I was twelve or so, my music master had given me a recording of  “The Rite of Spring” that shattered the fragile preconceptions of music that I had formed up to that time and prompted me to read Robert Craft’s book on Stravinsky.

 

I learned that in 1913 when “Le Sacre” was first performed, it had shocked European music to its foundations, punctuating world history as the incidental music for a Europe that was careering towards war: the dance of death, the barbaric sacrifice of feminine beauty and innocence that prefigured three decades of the worst violence and inhumanity the world has ever seen, and saw the birth of the chimera that is modern mechanized warfare.

 

My Grammar School education and the wonderful teachers I had, several of whom had survived the European conflict, gave me the belief I have held ever since, that after the fields of Flanders, the human disgrace of Auschwitz and the nuclear horror of Hiroshima, our new generation had a right to expect better things from the politicians and world leaders.

 

When I joined the Royal Philharmonic many of the men I met and played with had served in the forces in the European and the North African wars. There were many Jews also in all the London orchestras, who had suffered unspeakable persecution and deprivation, and I met some who had survived the Nazi death camps.

 

All these men had survived the conflict, only to enter yet another fight against their own benefactors, for their livelihood and the life of their orchestra.

 

In our modern war torn and anxiety ridden world, and beset with the worst economic crisis so far, it should be evident that the politicians and economists are still failing us all with depressing and familiar regularity, and it is only politicians or those of such persuasions, that would argue with that fact.

 

Preoccupied as they are with media management and presentation, as individuals they invariably and conveniently deny responsibility for our economic woes whilst many of them preside over the various ministries of science, technology transport and energy in most cases without holding the slightest qualification to do so. This shameful deception and posturing to the world gallery mirrors the antics of our conductors and critics, many of them millionaires that have never composed a note, nor are able to play an instrument to any accepted standard: posture and commentary being their own all but worthless currency.

 

Advancing years have brought me a freedom to speak the truth and a greater desire for it. A long life in an orchestra, spent as it is in providing conductors with their “raisons d’etre” inflated fees and adoration from concert- goers, can leave us with the dangerous illusion that listening to ourselves is in some way unwise, or, in the midst of the worst of our neuroses, even unthinkable. This is a similar psychic paralysis to the one that develops in the minds of the general public, enslaved by the economic system, and beset as they are by the continuous stream of unanswered questions, broken promises and half-truths from politicians, that actually persuade people that voting is futile, stifles sensible debate and inhibits sane and balanced thinking.

 

Can we provide hope to the young musicians in our care by advocating proper conditions of employment as some basis for optimism, not only for the security of their own future, but also for the future of the profession, and its duty to its audience. Their remuneration must be at least sufficient to sustain a new generation of players and commensurate with their value to the community. But how are we to do this when nurses and ancillary staff in our hospitals and other public services are being made to accept cuts in their wages by a government that is privatizing public services in order to provide tax cuts for the rich, whilst aided and abetted by a press owned by billionaires that conspires to confuse the printing of lies and the tapping of people’s telephones with “ press freedom”.

 

There is much to be done!

 

The “Great War,” far from being the “war to end all wars,” marked the beginning of a new age of conflict that has continued to the present day, and warmongering and the threatening of invasion are still familiar weapons in the armory of our “leaders” seeking to plunder the resources of other countries or to shore up their counterfeit political reputations as they stand pleading and posturing in their Armani suits amidst the wreckage of the economic system. Are we to be left with a similar cadre of critics and conductors, crying for their past “glories” and denying their responsibilities among the ruins of a profession who can no longer afford to devote their lives to music or to play on a decent instrument. The Royal Philharmonic has survived to this day as an example of what is possible when we return to the inestimable gift that was entrusted to us from childhood. Then music and the human spirit become once more synonymous. In the face of this, the whims and wilful miscalculations of the representatives of bankrupt companies become at once irrelevant.

 

Financiers and politicians have all but destroyed great orchestras in America in the recent past, while trying to shift the blame on to orchestral players and their “excessive” salaries which are held up to constant public scrutiny, while the huge fees and bonuses of conductors and CEOs are made to represent some certification of their artistic excellence and nobility of purpose. – Like the politicians, most of them are simply the commentators that witness and feed on our decline with the language of market forces, while WE, as performers, teachers and custodians, must FACE the threat of the two contemporary chimera — The great lie that is the media and the awful truth that is the crippled, fraudulent and outdated economic system.

 

Pontius Pilate, despite his politically typical efforts to avoid responsibility, eventually took one of the most momentous decisions in history, but at least he admitted when confronted with the word “truth” out of the mouth of Christ Himself, to not knowing the meaning of the word. If only our present day politicians could summon such honesty we could perhaps start afresh!

 

Please don’t confuse my feelings and observations with pessimism.

 

Nothing is wasted – “Our echoes roll from soul to soul,

 

And grow for ever and for ever.”

 

I wish you and your colleagues the best possible fortune in your efforts.

 

Best wishes.

 

Terry

SCANDAL AT THE COOP! – BULLINGDON CLUB TO THE RESCUE !!!

lines_spaces_coverIn November 2013 a scandal at the COOP bank revealed that the Rev. Paul Flowers had resigned his post as chairman, and the Prime Minister had called for an independent inquiry into the activities of the bank and its appointment of a chairman who offered no appropriate qualifications for the post.

 

 

The Editor,

The Times

3 Thomas More Square,

London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sir,

Was the COOP bank unique, in having a person in charge who was technically unqualified for the task with which he was entrusted.

I ask this because I have no experience of banking, other than that of having to deal with inappropriate and hidden charges on my account, the gradual withdrawal of any personal service and the consequent increase in the amount of nuisance telephone calls, all of which leads me to a strong suspicion that a career in banking must demand some facility in fraud and deception.

My own life’s experience has been as a musician, playing mainly in symphony orchestras, and I speak from experience when I say that a great many conductors with whom I shared a concert platform, had never to my knowledge written a note of music, nor could they play an instrument of any kind. There is another parallel here in that most “international” conductors command fees that are the equivalent of more than treble the SUM total of the fees of the people that actually PLAY in a concert.

As George Osborne has so strongly and properly condemned this disgraceful deception at the COOP, will someone tell me in plain language, what qualifications are required for the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer and the stewardship of one of the largest economies in the world. In the absence of a response I will assume that Mr. Osborne’s degree in modern history is considered adequate for the purpose.

Yours Sincerely

Terry Johns ARAM

 

 

 

 

PAOLOZZI’S WINDOWS

lines_spaces_coverSir Eduardo Paolozzi was born in 1924 in Leith, Edinburgh and was imprisoned in Saughton prison when Italy declared war on Britain in 1940. He became Her majesty’s Sculptor in Ordinary for Scotland in 1986.

 

 

Dear Roger,

Thank you!

The “Superbrass” CD had arrived today when we returned from Holland. We played it after dinner, filling the house with a blaze of brass. It sounds even better than I expected, and reaffirms all my thoughts and feelings about British brass playing.

I am following (through the miraculous processes of the internet), your orchestral odyssey through Europe and the Far East and the latest chapters in the life of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. My observations, despite involving only a few clicks of a mouse, leave me exhausted and dumbfounded, but as I follow your itinerary I have to remember that my own life was, at one time, lived at such high velocity and in very similar environs, though I cannot imagine how my mind and body withstood such a test of endurance.

Free now from such duties and disciplines, I indulge myself by writing music (mainly for brass) and I find myself, as I get older, becoming more interested in the patterns of other people’s lives: obituaries being a favorite part of my daily readings. This morning, there was an item on television, about a Frenchman who, having been a prisoner of war in 1940, had escaped and returned immediately to serve in the French resistance. Having reached the age of a hundred he was being honoured appropriately by the French government.

The heroism of such people is remembered mostly through the annals of civil and military history but there are many artists whose wartime trials have received no such official recognition.  Eduardo Paolozzi was one such, who was interned at Saughton prison in Edinburgh in 1940 when Italy declared war on Britain, and while he was a prisoner, his father, his grandfather and his uncle lost their lives when the Arandora Star was sunk, on its voyage to Canada, by a German U boat in the Atlantic.

The Paolozzi family were ice cream makers and owned a fish and chip shop in Leith and in that sense were members of a close community, as were the Italians in Wales as you know, and I can remember my father telling me that the Italians were totally accepted by the people in the valleys and that they were left in peace, by and large, by the Welsh police at the declaration of war, who simply ignored orders and refused to arrest people who were in many cases family friends, or even relatives by marriage. Despite his humble origins and the effects of this enormous family tragedy, Paolozzi became greatly honoured in his lifetime, having been Her Majesty’s Sculptor in Ordinary for Scotland from 1986 until his death in 2005. His work now decorates the walls of Tottenham Court road underground station, the forecourt of Euston Station in London, and the piazza at the British library.

Here in Edinburgh, the Millennium Window in St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Palmerston Place is a truly glittering example of his genius, and his only work in stained glass. It illuminates the south transept from the south wall.

Having taken part in several concerts at St Mary’s in the light of those magnificent windows, it occurred to me on one such occasion, that it would be good to have a specially written piece of music that could be played there in that unique light, and I talked to Alba Brass about it, and began work.

I felt that the sound of brass would be suitably majestic for the subject, and for the acoustics of the building. I thought also, that a solo piano could bring some extra colour and fluidity to the music. Margaret Wakeford will play the solo part, and the concert will take place at 11 am on the 31st of August.

At the end of the concert the cathedral bells will ring to call the congregation to a wedding, the Edinburgh Festival 2013 will be nearly at its end, and the bride and groom will begin their new life together in the light of heaven as seen through the genius of Paolozzi.

“The symmetry acts as counterpoint to the movement of the Creation” Paolozzi wrote about the windows in 1999.

I’ll continue to watch your global peregrinations on the computer in my music room while you are no doubt planning the next ‘Superbrass” recording from a hotel room somewhere.

“Superbrass” is astonishing and simple in concept.

Like Paolozzi’s windows it sheds a different light on things ancient and familiar.

I’ll be in Wales in the New Year for rugby. I know you will be too if you can be.

Yours Ever

Drac

 

SUPERBRASS 2013

 

lines_spaces_coverOn the 26th of March 2013 “Superbrass” started the recording of their CD “Brass Taps” at the Henry Wood Hall in London.

 

The country was struggling to get free from the grip of winter, and our train traveled south from Edinburgh, through mile after mile of snow-covered fields.

 

(Michael Doran is the head of percussion at Trinity College of music.)

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Roger,

 

I’m in Edinburgh again. At last the late March freeze has given way to sunshine and there are spring flowers on the meadows.

 

How good it was to see you, and to be in London again, although I had quite forgotten how to navigate its vastness.

 

On Monday in front of an invited audience, I gave a little interview to Michael Doran at Trinity College in the grand maritime environs of Greenwich, just a few yards from the naval college and the Cutty Sark.

 

It was intended to entertain and prepare the students in part for a life in music, but had extended itself to people who had read “Letters from Lines and Spaces” some of whom are now part of Trinity’s distinguished teaching staff, and were old friends and colleagues that I had not seen since my Royal Philharmonic days.

 

The event seemed to be filled with many such pleasant surprises that continued into the next day when we took the train to the city from Greenwich.

 

As we walked south to Henry Wood hall from London bridge, we were startled by the Shard, leaping suddenly into the brilliant blue sky in the unfamiliar sunshine, and the thrilling sight of it reminded me of days gone by, when discovering new towns and cities was a weekly event for a young man breathless at the beginning of musical life, and green as the Welsh hills.

 

Then in the peaceful symmetry of Trinity Square the rush hour rumblings of Borough high street softened and gave way to the sound of brass that came striding across from the church to meet us, and I could feel the first vibrations of the exhilarating day that was to come.

 

I believe that the technique and versatility of British brass players is something unique in music in the World.

 

The power and energy in what they do transforms everything in its path like a revolution, and insurgence can make strong medicine for composers and players alike.

 

In this familiar company, I always feel safe from my self-protecting inhibitions and the music can breathe easily, free from the authority of conductors, managers and musical moralizing.

 

Thank you and Superbrass and for making it all happen with such care and professionalism. The CD is certain to sound very special. The fabulous sounds rang in my ears for hours afterwards, and my ribs were aching from laughing about old times with old pals.

 

Yours ever

 

Drac

THE DEATH OF MUSIC ! FROM POEMS FROM LINES AND SPACES.

 

Drac-1

 

 THE DEATH OF MUSIC

 

(The March to the scaffold – Berlioz)

 

 

 

Maestro – “ This must be like sinking into hell!”

A smoldering sulphorous effect of sorts fills the room –.

1stst Trumpet –“We’re sunk!

 

A string touched in the silence-

Stirs the malice – The dagger in the eye!

.Pat O’Brian (Desk 4) Smiles comfort – indifference – -  contentment.

 

In the 18th century people used to go to

  Bedlam (not far from here) to stare at the

 Lunatics

 

  

 

 

We watch the clock – The chauffeur kicking the gravel on the drive –.

HE has felt the sting  – The Arcadians and their money

 

Manager –(circling)

 

.(Soon we’ll be free to think and feel – and breathe)

Maestro -

“He is going to die! – In terror – agony!”

 

 

 

1st Trumpet –“He’s lucky!

Maestro -

                         “You sound like the most awful café band.

 

                         Don’t you care what happens to him?”

 

( Dramatic monologue, rehearsed on an airplane methinks, at great expense to us!, and while we wait )

 

 

 

 “For a penny one could peer into their cells, view

The freaks of the ‘show of Bethlehem’ and laugh

  at their antics.”

 

 

 

.Manager –“Maestro, it’s past one o’clock I’m afraid- lunchtime you see”

 

Seething, phosphorescent malice of a lifetime bubbling to the surface –

 

Reek of soup from the cafeteria.

 

Maestro – (Piano -adagio accelerando e crescendo) –

“You are afraid?  –You are not afraid evidently, to sound like circus orchestra or to be laughing stock of Europe – (Poco forte) – only 

 

 

 

 

afraid for  lunch. Fear no more my friends (Fortissimo) You will not see ME again!

“Entry was free on the first Tuesday

 of the month. In 1814 alone, there were 96,000

such visits.”

Pat O’Brian –“I’ll miss our little chats”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                             

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RETURN OF THE JEDI 30TH ANNIVERSARY TODAY ! INDUSTRIAL WRECKAGE !!

lines_spaces_cover

In 1983 the LSO recorded the soundtrack for the “Return of the Jedi” which was the third of the Star Wars films to be made.

 

 

 

Dear Martin,

 

I passed through Newcastle on the train last month while listening to Radio 3. Naturally, I was wondering how you were, when quite coincidentally, a broadcast from Newcastle started, just as the train pulled out of the station, – E.J. Moeran’s music it was, from the Sinfonia centre. Despite the inadequacy of my little Walkman, headphones, and the noise of the train, I really enjoyed it, and the horns sounded great! I always admired his music, It’s just beautiful, and I’ve never played a note of it in all these years.!

 

I was travelling up north on a “Shell-LSO” concert tour, and as part of our family plan to relocate and recalibrate ourselves, I broke off to view a couple of hotels that were for sale, and once or twice, I thought we might get to be neighbours again but I wasn’t moved to make any decisions by what I saw.

 

This is all proving to be more difficult than I imagined it would be, because a lot of the businesses are for sale on account of trading difficulties, and touring the north of England I’ve been shocked at the state of the country and the boarded-up shops and industrial wreckage. It’s obvious to me now that we haven’t felt the impact of the downturn so much in London, even though the LSO did hit another financial crisis, shortly after we opened the Barbican hall and called on Raymond Gubbay to help out.

 

Anyhow, we’re still in business and last week we recorded the sound track for  “Return of the Jedi”, but we had to go to Abbey Road to do it, Denham having being finally closed.

 

I will miss going there. What a film history it had! A draughty old aircraft hangar, where you could break your neck in the dark with all those cables lying about, and Oliver, Fiddler on the roof, Dracula, Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones, all recorded there. What an inventory! Not to mention the dramas that were enacted off the screen.

 

Getting the sack from “Battle of Britain” along with Walton and Malcolm Arnold was one such, followed by Gilbey’s gin and bitter recrimination at the village pub.

 

“The Return of the Jedi” was done in the usual congenial atmosphere, and all great fun. Darth Vader was Wagnerially incinerated at the end, accompanied by a horn solo from yours truly, and the great delight of Pat Vermont who always refers to him as “that horrid asthmatic man!”

 

“Oh mercy! Why does the vilest person in the universe have to be black?” he has been pleading since 1977.

 

He told me discreetly, to avoid offending the delicate sensibilities of the trombones, that he always dreaded Darth’s appearance on the screen because it involved more loud trombone music. He’s wearied by sitting in front of them for thirty years I think, but his going back to Jamaica to live with his auntie is scheduled definitely for next year, he says.

 

It did seem strange doing a film session in that studio. I can only associate it with those formal introductions, foreign accents and photographers from the “Gramophone”, but we’re still laughing here as you can tell.

 

I hope you still do lots of laughing in the Sinfonia. Give my love to the family. I wonder, do the children have a Geordie accent? Ours are learning “Saaarf” London.

 

Luv Drac

THE ARTS BRING TOURISM AND REVENUE TO BRITAIN, BUT THERE’S MORE!

 

 

 

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Dear Pat,

 

When I see Belfast on the television news, plagued by disputes about the flying of flags or the sporadic violence that erupts in the streets, while Dublin grapples with problems of the Euro and the unimaginable numbers that represent the nation’s debt, I think of you in old Ireland, and smile to myself, knowing how unaffected you are by the antics of politicians and financiers, and that you are always at ease in the certain knowledge that with the help of music we can save every day, and fend off every disaster.

 

I have envied your calm and resolve in the face of these matters for years. This morning, therefore, I resolved to ignore the coalition’s minister of culture and the depressing and disingenuous content of her recent speech on the relationship of the funding of the arts to the economy, and to give my full attention and adoration to this glorious day!

 

The world is born again, and as I watch the wind whipping the white horses across to Fife in the sunshine, the seabirds fill the skies with their cries of joy, and the Forth stretches open mouthed and amazed across to the open sea.

 

The grandeur of nature astounds me, and this bright spring weather after a long wet summer and a cold winter is such a joy, but try as I might, thoughts of the asinine artlessness of the minister for culture drag me away from this beautiful morning and back to the past. How many such experiences have we known?

 

Politicians, concerned continually for their media image and anxious to avoid exposure to real truths that are superfluous to statistics, become lost in their obfuscations, chicanery and feasibility studies, and are simply baffled when they come across serious matters that concern the role of music, or art of any kind in the human community. And they clutch desperately at the term, “market forces” like a disturbed child cowering in the corner with a broken toy.

 

We, who REALLY answer to the public and make our living providing the arts to the people, know that they are precious gifts to the senses that are indivisible from life itself. A brass band or a youth orchestra could be a gift to a young boy that could save him from the misery of the dole, and the evident and ancient power of music has relieved the immense pain and personal loss that has been caused by politicians in the darkest days the world has ever seen.

 

Our monumental “Pathetique” symphony with Kempe in 1972 at the Festival Hall was a performance that those who were present have never forgotten. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on that day, acclaimed as it was throughout Europe and America, stood destitute and ostracized in its own land, at the edge of oblivion, the politicians and critics baying for its blood and the press loitering at the stage door before searching the pubs and gutters for our casualties. There was no post performance conversation or bonhomie that night, only sighs of relief, zips and breathlessness but with that concert and the intensity of the performance, the orchestra had asked a poignant question.

 

“Our tormentors demanded songs of joy. – How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

 

Perhaps you will remember those words that you spoke that brought us all back to reality and the masculine malodour of that dressing room.

 

I have never forgotten them.

 

Our land and the behaviour of its representatives seems as strange as ever it was to those of us that just want to make music and enough money with which to do it.

 

I know you will remember the tone the critics took on the day after that concert, when even the nastiest of them was forced to relent with a condescending nod to our “virtuosity”, and to put aside the instruments of torture for a day, before normal malice was resumed, and we were once more thrown at the familiar mercy of the Arts council and the Treasury.

 

We were, of course, exactly where we were meant to be, where we always had been, and where we are today.

 

I shall now follow your example while the day is still rejoicing, and the television screen stares blankly at the wall!

 

“O men it must ever be

 

That we dwell, in our dreaming and singing,

 

A little apart from ye.”

 

 

 

Yours Ever

 

Drac

BRASS TAPS AT HENRY WOOD

 

DSC_0029On the 26th of March 2013 “Superbrass” started the recording of their CD “Brass Taps” at the Henry Wood Hall in London.

The country was struggling to get free from the grip of winter, and our train traveled south from Edinburgh, through mile after mile of snow covered fields.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Roger,

 

I’m in Edinburgh again. At last the late March freeze has given way to sunshine and there are Spring flowers on the meadows.

How good it was to see you, and to be in London again, although I had quite forgotten how to navigate its vastness.

On Monday I gave a little interview to Michael Doran at Trinity College in the grand maritime environs of Greenwich, just a few yards from the naval college and the Cutty Sark.

 

It was intended to entertain and prepare the students in part for a life in music, but had extended itself to people who had read “Letters from Lines and Spaces” some of whom are now part of Trinity’s distinguished teaching staff, and were old friends and colleagues that I hadn’t seen since my Royal Philharmonic days. The event seemed to be filled with such pleasant surprises that continued into the next day when we took the train to the city from Greenwich.

As we walked south to Henry Wood hall from London bridge, we were startled by the Shard, leaping suddenly into the brilliant blue sky in the unfamiliar sunshine, and the thrilling sight of it reminded me of days gone by, when discovering new towns and cities was a weekly event for a young man breathless at the beginning of musical life, and green as the Welsh hills.Then in the peaceful symmetry of Trinity Square the rush hour rumblings of Borough high street softened and gave way to the sound of brass that came striding across from the church to meet us, and I could feel the first vibrations of the exhilarating day that was to come.

I believe that the technique and versatility of British brass players is something unique in music in the World.

The power and energy in what they do transforms everything in its path like a revolution, and insurgence can make strong medicine for composers and players alike.

In this familiar company, I always feel safe from my self-protecting inhibitions and the music can breathe easily, free from the authority of conductors, managers and musical moralizing.

Thank you and Superbrass and for making it all happen with such care and professionalism. The CD is certain to sound very special. The fabulous sounds rang in my ears for hours afterwards, and my ribs were aching from laughing about old times with old pals.

 

Yours ever

Drac

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHINESE CHRISTMAS 2000 and PEKING PENTECOST !!

 

John Green, author of ‘The Stone Frigate” and “ Reunion” is my old friend and customer from our days at the “Bull’s Head”.

 

Waterfront Ave

 

February 2013

 

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Dear John,

 

Although I have heard you complain albeit gently and occasionally about the steepness of Mount Street, and its effects on your now historic and war torn body, having watched the television news and the dismal pictures of the streets in the towns of mid Wales running like rivers under the relentless rain, I know you will be thankful today to have your house on the hillside.

I wasn’t able to come and see you in November. I’m sorry for that, and although I considered it, I eventually decided against inviting you to the British Horn Society’s annual festival in Cardiff, in order to save you from spending the day with a hundred and fifty french horn players.

Your time was evidently more pleasantly spent in writing to me about your Christmas in Brecon, and your letter took me right back to the old town and our Christmases past in the “Bull’s Head.”

 Our family was all together here in Edinburgh for the festivities last year, with the exception of Dylan who spent his Christmas day in a diving bell at a depth of 150 metres under the North Sea off Shetland. However, the telephone and computer in the bell enabled him to call us after lunch, and the first words that emerged from the telephone as a consequence of his breathing helium gas, sounded like a disembodied Donald duck from the deep.

The words “Merry Christmas” squeezing through the speakerphone, direct from Davy Jones’ locker, to a dinner table in Edinburgh is a situation comedy beyond description.

As the laughter resounded, I remembered a similar combination of Christmas festivities and Pentecostal babbling that took place on a tour of China with the BBC Scottish in the year 2000.

I remembered as well, that I wrote to you later from Shanghai but this event was something I had forgotten.

I was in a “duck” restaurant in Beijing with some people from the BBC Scottish orchestra including my Welsh friend Elin Edwards.

 

One of the ways in which the Chinese cook duck, is to poach it in water and rice wine, the resultant liquid forming a disgusting, off white viscid soup, the drinking of which, we were told was to be the most nourishing and desirable part of the experience, second only to the eating of the brains of the unfortunate animal which are exposed by the waiters, who split the head lengthwise with a cleaver, thereby enabling the contents to be picked easily from the skull with chopsticks.

The seasonal accompaniment to this grisly gastronomic theatre was a sort of Sino Elizabethan musak version of “God rest ye Merry Gentlemen” which was being played at high speed, in adenoidal audio by what sounded like an ensemble of Zhonghus, Sanxians and some western digital contrivances.

A dozen or so Chinese were seated around a large circular banqueting table next to us, the men shouting simultaneously in a kind of quarrelsome Mandarin across a forest of wine bottles, empty rice bowls, and duck carcasses, whilst the women were giving their attention to their babies’ crying.

And to add a colorful commentary to all this, Elin was speaking in Welsh, on a mobile telephone to her sister, who was at a pre- Christmas party in Pontllanfraith, the volume of her voice having been adjusted so as to be heard above the party- goers in Wales, our Mandarin neighbours at the next table, and with a little additional volume which I presumed was to allow for the great distance between Beijing and Monmouthshire.

Donald duck quacking a Christmas greeting from the depths of the North Sea could not have sounded in any way inappropriate to all this.

Dozens of ducks, having been prepared in various ways, were being transported around the huge restaurant on trolleys, and our waiter, having been encouraged through the various phases of drunkenness by the cordiality of the people who occupied our adjoining table, had by now reached the final phase of the process, marking his achievement by dropping one of the birds, which bounced like a rugby ball leaving trails of grease on the vinyl floor that the trolley wheels could not avoid. The resulting drunken climax to this Chinese theatre of the absurd was provided by our waiter who, resolving to attempt the head splitting ceremony at our table, and with his cleaver perilously poised, was knocked off his feet by a wayward trolley.

 

This madness was ongoing and an hour or so later we were instrumental in the fraud and deception of a huge audience in the ”Great Hall of the People” by means of a very approximate performance of Beethoven’s fifth symphony which was “conducted” by an enormous Russian bear with a sore head, aggravated by over a week of touring in a country, the ancient and delicate cuisine of which was completely unsuited to his huge appetite and greediness.

 The final accelerando of the symphony was as hazardous and slippery as our “duck” experience, and our drunken waiter and his cleaver could not have made a worse job of conducting than did our malnourished Muscovite.

His arms appeared to be tiny and irrelevant in comparison to his enormity and fatness, and they assumed the awkward atrophic proportions of flippers on a walrus. Consequently, his attempts to provide rhythmic direction when things started to fall apart, only served to destabilize the younger and less worldly among the players in the orchestra, while the rest of us, by means of a disdainful indifference, remained true to our ancient traditions of orchestral playing.

The ‘maestro’ was seen in the hotel restaurant later that night, oblivious to the damage he had caused, piling a great number of carefully presented Chinese delicacies onto a heap of rice in the middle of his plate, prior to shoveling the whole sticky mixture into his mouth with a spoon, his chopsticks having been discarded in gleeful anticipation.

 

The sight of all this and the lingering memory of our shoddy concert only intensified my longing for home, and eventually after several equally threadbare performances in other Chinese and Taiwanese cities, we ended the tour in a confrontation with the customs at Taipei airport, whose officials, working on the assumption that all itinerant musicians are drug addicts, rifled all our luggage and having found nothing incriminating, instituted a special ‘musical instrument’ tax that delayed us for a few more hours, before we finally embarked on the twenty hour journey to Glasgow.

I don’t miss touring now and I have enjoyed relative sanity since I started to play the horn solely for the pleasure of it, and there was certainly no madness or drunkenness at our Christmas dinner of seafood and venison: just the gentility of Edinburgh, interrupted only by Donald Duck from the deep.

The weather is softening at last, and the floodwater is subsiding all over the country. Soon you’ll be walking along the riverbank in the afternoons again. I’ll join you in the spring and we can lean on the bar in the “Market Tavern” with the farmers.

 

Yours Ever

 

Terry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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