Ten Pieces Prom

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

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As Pure as Driven Snow

Shakespeare used snow as a symbol of purity many times in his plays.  Hamlet says to Ophelia,

Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow

my summerhouse

This week I have chosen a photo I took some years ago in my garden.  There is nothing so pure as a fresh fall of snow, and when it surrounds my sanctuary it is perfect.  This is a place where I found pure peace, in which to rest, reflect and recuperate.  You can find the story behind it, and more photos here… http://wp.me/p2gGsd-eV

Musicians,  poets and artists have often taken inspiration from snow.  To commemorate the centenary of WW1 there was an original play titled Will Harvey’s War performed at our local theatre.  I was lucky enough to play a singing farm-worker in that play.  We sang some beautiful songs reminiscent of the times. One of them was “Oh Snow”, with music by Edward Elgar and words by his wife, Alice Elgar.  It was exquisite to sing.   The music is absolutely beautiful and, with complex harmonies (I sang the Alto part) arranged by Caroline Edwards, our rendition was very moving.  The purity of the music perfectly captures a fall of fresh snow drifting and whirling in the wind.

O snow, which sinks so light,

Brown earth is hid from sight,

O soul, be thou as white

Be thou as white as snow


Then as the snow all pure,

O heart be, but endure

Through all the years full sure

Not as the snow, not as the snow.

The Spanish City

The inspiration for my blog this week is the Haiku Heights prompt word “Sugar”.    My readers know that my mind moves in mysterious ways so please bear with me on these haiku ~ they truly are connected to sugar!

Memories caught in

spun sugar clouds, on sticks

At the Spanish City

When I was a little girl I lived in the North of England.  Holidays were unheard of, but days out were de rigeur.  As we had no car we used to catch the train from Newcastle to the coast, usually South Shields or Whitley Bay.  They were equally wonderful.  South Shields had sand dunes and miles of white beaches while Whitley Bay had the “Spanish City”.  It was actually named the “Whitley Bay Pleasure Gardens”, but to us and everyone else who went there, it was the “Spanish City”.  It was the most exotic and exciting place in the world with carousels, coconut shies, waltzers, ghost trains, magic mirrors, and any number of other ways to lose what little money we had.

Spanish City with Dome restored

Spanish City with Dome restored

I was obviously not the only person bewitched by the Spanish City as Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits had a hit record called “Tunnel of Love” in 1980 which is all about the place.   They too had their origins in Newcastle.   If you listen carefully you will hear it mentioned many times.  This is the chorus

And now I’m searching through these Carousels and the carnival arcades

Searching everywhere from steeplechase to palisades

In any shooting gallery where promises are made

To rockaway, rockaway…. Rockaway, rockaway

From Cullercoats and Whitley Bay out to rockaway

And girl it looks so pretty to me just like it always did

Like the Spanish City to me when we were kids

And girl it looks so pretty to me just like it always did

Like the Spanish City to me when we were kids

Mark Knopfler with Dire Straits

Mark Knopfler with Dire Straits

The link with sugar comes from the Candy Floss which is forever in my memory.  Made of spun sugar, it was huge and soft and fluffy, like a cloud on a stick.  So here are my Haiku

Candy floss

Capturing childhood

In pink and white sugar, spun

Into candy floss

spanish city

Memories meld, of

Days by the coast, sea-mist and

Fairground fantasies

Sadly the Spanish City is no more. The last I heard the dome had been restored and there were plans for a four star boutique hotel,  a care home, new public spaces and an outdoor performance areas on the 7 acre seafront site.