I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed today having listened to the Ten Pieces Prom on BBC Radio 3. If you have any spare time it really is worth clicking on the link to listen to bits of the programme
I was already rather pensive as a friend and former work colleague died this week unexpectedly. I was very close to her for many years, and she lived quite near to me. Yet, I had not seen her in months. Life, with all its routines and demands, gets in the way of the people who should matter sometimes. Of course, I make as much time as I can for family; but friends, neighbours and acquaintances are too easily neglected.
This all came home forcefully while listening to one of the ten pieces referred to in the title of the above radio programme ~ Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony. Dvorak, a Czech, wrote the New World Symphony while he was working in America in the 1890s. It is incredibly moving and reflects the homesickness he felt. Dvorak understood the anguish of the African Americans which came through in their spiritual songs. He was also influenced by the native Americans’ music as well as by the beautiful poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called, The Song of Hiawatha. I won’t reproduce the poem as it is very long, but I would recommend that you click on the link and read it yourself as it is incredibly beautiful.
The Ten Pieces project is a wonderful initiative designed to introduce classical music to school children aged 7 to 14. Working in their own schools they were inspired to produce creative responses to one of ten much loved pieces of classical music. The results were impressive.
I have always felt a total ignoramus when it comes to Classical music in general, and opera in particular. The infant phase of my education just after the war, was missed altogether due to illness. Then, the Junior phase was spent in an almost Victorian school, which was a converted chemical works by the banks of the river Tyne. We literally used to play on hills of smouldering sulphurous waste from the chemical factory or along the, then thriving, dockyards of the Tyne. I do remember going to an amateur performance of the Mikado in the church hall once as a very young child. I was mesmerised by the costumes and the Gilbert and Sullivan song of Three Little Maids!
My next experience of classical music was watching the Sadler’s Wells Production of The Magic Flute at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon in 1963 on my very first date! But, by the time I left secondary school, Bob Dylan was ‘Freewheelin’ and Joan Baez was performing ‘We Shall Overcome’, which awakened a social conscience in me. I was also totally obsessed with theatre, particularly Shakespeare’s plays, once again classical music passed me by. So, I wish there had been something like the Ten Pieces Proms when I was at school. It is absolutely brilliant at introducing children to the range of classical music and making it relevant to them.
One of the most moving parts of the programme in response to the New World Symphony, was a poem created and read by Brave New Voices ~ young refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from across London. These children, many from Syria, have had to leave their own homes in traumatic conditions and have found a home in the UK. Listening to them describe the sights, sounds and smells of their homeland as well as the people they have left behind was heart-breaking.
And, I wonder, can we truly appreciate our own homeland wherever that may be before we leave it? And, can we truly appreciate the people we love ~ and show it ~ before we lose them. My friend and long-time colleague lived for her family and her faith. So I am sure her soul is now at rest in Heaven.
Rest in Peace my dear friend