17 May 2021

 

Further comments on the arts education cuts

 

From The Stage, 4 May:


Actor Samuel West, who is chair of the National Campaign for the Arts, branded the cuts "horrific" on social media.

  He told The Stage: "The arts are now shouting from so many barricades: Covid, education, Brexit, funding, local government.

  ‘We are spread thinly and getting hoarse. But even among the government’s recent proposals, this one is particularly ill-thought-out and must be opposed.

  ‘Art is not a hobby and talent can come from anywhere. Affordable music, drama and design courses fund a profitable world-class industry that keeps us sane and civilised.’

  West said the cuts would ‘narrow and eventually choke’ the talent pipeline in the industry.

  ‘How can you think that [our] industry is not “a priority”, unless through some twisted world view that believes turning out empathetic people who work collectively and are skilled in critical thinking is inimical to your vision? That punitive, philistine agenda is now the only explanation I can think of,’ he added.

  The Musicians’ Union warned that the cuts would be ‘catastrophic’ for music provision at HE level and said they would affect its members’ work, the financial viability of music courses as well as training for the next generation of musicians and music professionals.

  According to the MU, the notice given of the cut is ‘far too short to enable HE institutions to plan for September’ and could result in the UK losing its ‘world-leading status’ for music provision.

  Meanwhile, BECTU head Philippa Childs said it was ‘extremely disappointing to see the arts devalued in this way’.

  She added: ‘The arts make a vital contribution to the economy and the social fabric of the country, and it’s high time this was recognised by the government.’

  Equity general secretary Paul W Fleming said the union also strongly opposed the cuts.

‘This is yet another government attack on arts education, following years of deprioritising drama and other creative subjects in our schools,’ he told The Stage.

  ‘What is most troubling about the proposal to cut 50% of funding for these HE courses is that it blocks a route into the creative industries for working-class and other marginalised groups.’

  National Drama, the professional association for drama teachers, said it was ‘appalled by and extremely critical’ of the government’s proposal.

  Writing on behalf of campaign group MusicHE, Graeme Du Fresne, who is head of music and singing at Italia Conti, said opportunities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds would be reduced by the funding cuts.

  Du Fresne said: ‘There’s a strong whiff of the government knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing in their thinking, which appears to be driven by the notion that graduate career income in performing arts subjects fares poorly with some other professions.

  ‘This analysis fails to consider a number of benefits arts performance delivers to communities and the country as a whole. For example, during the pandemic we have witnessed the arts’ ability to foster well- being, helping to heal and nourish the nation in lockdown.’

  Others who have spoken in opposition of the cuts include director Gemma Bodinetz and set and costume designer Vicki Mortimer.

  Mortimer argued that the funding cut would ‘threaten the financial viability of training courses in creative and performing arts, and reduce the opportunities for the next generation of creative-sector professionals’.

  A spokesman for the Office for Statistics said: ‘We are currently consulting on proposals and we will take account of responses from universities, students, and others before making any final decisions on our funding method.’

  The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

 

16 May 2021

 A devastating blow to the arts.


The philistinism of politicians knows no bounds. Gavin Williamson, M.P. (he of the GCSE algorithms fiasco) has proposed cuts of fifty per cent to arts education budgets - for subjects not counted as ‘strategic priorities’ – with potential  ‘further reductions’ to central funding for such courses in future years, once again reflecting the lack of respect our government holds for culture.

    I thought the Secretary of State for Education was supposed to be on the side of education, not determined to decimate it? A ridiculously short deadline was offered for responses to a public consultation.

    Life is not simply making money. We need spiritual nourishment, such as the creative and performing arts provide; and to continue to provide this essential service, new blood needs to be trained and encouraged through education. The hunger for culture has been particularly pronounced during the pandemic. Who are Gavin Williamson, and the government, to say what subjects are 'important' (important to whom?) or not?

    If money is the primary consideration, which of course it is, look at what the arts earn for Great Britain every year, in addition to the worldwide reputation the arts bring to this country, and the reason why many tourists come here. The Society of London Theatres reports that more people go to the theatre each year than attend all annual UK League football matches

    Many educational establishments will close: the London College of Fashion has already said it will have to close if these proposals come to fruition. The fashion industry is surely a major earner of income for this country? £26 billion and 800,000 jobs according to the British Council - the country's largest creative industry, apparently. Under the new plans this will simply fade away because the supply of trained expertise will dry up. The arts and culture industry in general, according to the Arts Council, contributes £10.8 billion to the U.K. economy - more than agriculture - and generates £5 in taxes for every £1 of funding! Clearly not for much longer.

    And why has archaeology been included? I can only think that a future shortage (owing to the closure of archaeology courses) may mean not enough archaeologists to investigate historic building sites, to the advantage of greedy developers more interested in lining their own pockets as quickly as possible, rather than respecting our culture and heritage.

    If the government is short of money, save the estimated £100 billion for HS2 - a scandalous waste considering that the result is to get businessmen to Birmingham a mere 20 minutes faster!

    As Richard Jordan writes in The Stage (13 May): ‘It will take time to comprehend the emotional and economic impact of the pandemic, but the arts will clearly play a vital role in this recovery and the rebuilding of communities and lives, which is why I am gravely concerned about Williamson’s announcement.’

23 April 2021

Duke of Edinburgh's funeral music

I wrote a review for the Church Times of the music at the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral, but made the mistake of drawing the editor's attention to John Rutter's blog on the same subject (see previous post), with the result that today's Church Times printed only a fraction of my piece, but appended extracts from Rutter's blog as if they were part of it! Therefore, in order not to waste what I actually wrote, I'm publishing my original submission here, and hope you will enjoy it:

SERVICE MUSIC AT THE FUNERAL OF HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS THE PRINCE PHILIP, DUKE OF EDINBURGH: St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle; Saturday 17 April 2021, 3.00 p.m.

Any fear that the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral would be diminished by the imposition of Covid restrictions was quickly dispelled as the day began to unfold and it now seems generally to be agreed that these restrictions gave an added poignancy and emotional power to the proceedings.

The service music was no exception and was performed, not by the full St George’s Chapel choir of men and boys, but by just three of the lay clerks (alto Tom Lilburn, tenor Nicholas Madden and bass Simon Whiteley) with the soprano Miriam Allan taking the treble line. (Ms Allen is married to another lay clerk at Windsor, so all the singers live within the Castle walls.)

This proved to be highly successful, not least in several familiar hymns which – in this guise, and because no congregational singing was allowed – were sung very beautifully and musically. The four singers, organist Luke Bond and director of music James Vivian will not fail to have impressed and moved many millions of viewers and listeners who may not have thought themselves susceptible to Anglican church music.

So many aspects of the day were said to have been planned by the Duke himself, including the music, and it is good to remember that two of the pieces, Benjamin Britten’s Jubilate and the guitarist and composer William Lovelady’s setting of Psalm 104, were actually commissioned by him: the Britten in 1961, written for St George’s Chapel, and the Lovelady, originally a three-movement cantata in honour of the Duke’s 75th birthday in 1996, adapted for the funeral by James Vivian.

The singers perhaps relished the acoustics of the empty chapel and there was particularly fine singing from the soprano and tenor, for whom the music provided many opportunities.

In addition to the major pieces by Britten and Lovelady there was familiar music on a more intimate scale: William Croft’s setting of the Funeral Sentences, William Smith’s Lesser Litany and Robert Stone’s setting of The Lord’s Prayer. As well as James Vivian, former organists of St George’s Chapel were recalled: Roger Judd (assistant organist, 1985-2008 and acting organist, 2002-04) adapted the Smith Litany, the service ended with the Russian Kontakion of the Departed, arranged by Sir Walter Parratt (organist, 1882-1924), and the organ music before and after the service, in addition to pieces by Bach, Vierne, Whitlock and Vaughan Williams, included the Adagio espressivo movement from the Sonata in A minor by Sir William Harris (organist, 1933-61).

The intimacy of this otherwise very public occasion was enhanced, in the BBC Television transmission, by the complete absence of commentary during and immediately before the ceremony, thus allowing viewers to focus completely and without distraction on the liturgy and, especially, the music. A very special experience indeed.

GARRY HUMPHREYS

21 April 2021

 

Reprinted, without permission, from John Rutter's website:

Did they mention the music?

Reflections on a royal funeral

I have borrowed my main title from Henry Mancini’s autobiography. He was, among other musical accomplishments, the composer of many Hollywood film scores, notably the Pink Panther series and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In studio-era Hollywood, composers always worked under great pressure and often bearing heavy responsibility for the success or otherwise of a film, but by custom were excluded from its private pre-release screening attended by the studio moguls and their acolytes. As the composer, all you could do was to ask someone who had been privy to the post-screening discussions whether anyone had mentioned the music (generally not, it seems), and if so, whether the verdict was favourable.

I was reminded of this telling insight as I channel-hopped around the post-funeral TV coverage following the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. Amid all the torrents of expert or would-be expert verbiage about the service and those attending it, I heard not one word of comment about the music which had formed such a crucial part of the funeral service, much less any commendation of the musicians who had planned and executed it with such flawless professionalism and unstinting commitment.

Was I surprised? Not really. I learned a bitter lesson as a young organist sometimes drafted in to play at weddings: not everyone loves and cares about music as you do. Being accustomed to respectful and attentive concert audiences, I was shocked at what seemed to me the rudeness and indifference of wedding congregations who fidgeted in the pews, brought howling infants with them, coughed and rustled their Orders of Service, and chattered during our lovingly rehearsed anthem accompanying the signing of the register.

But let’s return to films. If you doubt the importance of music in film, try watching the desert scenes in Lawrence of Arabia with the sound turned off, or (sorry if you’re reading this over breakfast) the shower scene in Psycho – where what is actually a rather tame piece of cinematography is made terrifying by Bernard Herrmann’s music with its much-imitated shrieking violins.

There are parallels with church music here. As with a film, music in a church service is there not for its own sake but to form part of a tapestry of words, music, action, costume, and (if you’re in St George’s Windsor or somewhere like it) scenic splendour. It’s called liturgy, and if music plays its part properly, the event is lifted heavenward, and if it does not, the whole thing can fall flat.

Unlike in a film, the music at a church service is generally not the work of a single composer, and the task of whoever plans the service – in this case with some required inclusions of music chosen by the Duke – is to make it all fit together and flow smoothly, which was triumphantly achieved at Windsor, working with the Covid constraints allowing only a solo quartet of voices rather than the full choir. If you have studied (say) the structure of a Beethoven symphony, you will know how important the key structure is in binding a whole work together. And at the funeral there was similarly meticulous planning of keys. (Skip the next bit if it doesn’t interest you.) It was all built around G, minor and major, which we were prepared for by the final pre-service organ voluntary, Vaughan Williams’s Rhosymedre Prelude in the major, leading into a subdued improvisation in the minor. William Croft’s timeless Burial Sentences followed (G minor) . . . and after the Bidding Prayer, Dykes’s beloved Eternal Father (in the related key of the subdominant major, C) – in James Vivian’s arrangement boldly leaving the first verse to an unaccompanied solo voice, rather like the lone trumpet at the start of The Godfather which makes you pay attention and listen. We stay in C major for Britten’s Jubilate written at the Duke’s request in 1961, brisk, concise and no-nonsense (qualities he would have encouraged, no doubt) . . . a return to G minor for William Lovelady’s Psalm 104 setting, its key and ground-bass structure echoing one of the greatest of all laments, Dido’s from Purcell’s opera . . . William Smith’s Responses from the early 17th century bringing a shaft of sunlight in G major, then the Russian Kontakion returning to sombre G minor, a sidestep to G minor’s relative major for the Last Post in B flat, its subdominant E flat for Reveille, and a sense of return and release with the National Anthem in G major. Beethoven couldn’t have planned it better. Non-musicians will not have been consciously aware of all this thread of careful planning, but, trust me, the funeral service wouldn’t have felt the same without it.

There were other threads of connection skilfully woven into the fabric of the service – royal, historical, and local. William Croft (1678–1727) shared the same teacher, John Blow, as his older contemporary Henry Purcell (to whom Lovelady’s Psalm 104 setting pays homage), and like him he was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal and Organist of Westminster Abbey. Most of Croft’s music is forgotten, but his hymn tune to O God, our help in ages past is still a firm favourite and his Burial Sentences which opened the service have been sung at the funeral of every British sovereign since George II. The Russian Kontakion – brought into the Anglican repertoire in its arrangement by St George’s organist Sir Walter Parratt over a hundred years ago – reminded us of the Duke’s background in the Orthodox Church. Another St George’s organist, Sir William Harris – piano teacher to the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret – composed one of the organ preludes before the service. His friend and Windsor colleague Canon Edmund Fellowes was the first to edit William Smith’s Responses from the early seventeenth century which we heard skilfully arranged for four voices (there were five in the original) by former St George’s Assistant Organist Roger Judd.

And what of our superb quartet of voices? Tom Lilburn, Nicholas Madden, and Simon Whiteley, lay clerks in St George’s Choir, were joined by another member of the St George’s community, Miriam Allan (married to their colleague Richard Bannan, I directed the choir at their wedding) . . . Luke Bond was the impeccable organist who knew just how to match his instrument to the four voices . . . James Vivian,  St George’s Organist and Choirmaster, directed the music but did far more than that, in drawing together the threads of the tapestry to make the funeral, planned in the midst of a pandemic, the ‘austere yet eloquent’ tribute to the Duke that it was recognised to be by the Sunday Times music critic Hugh Canning. In The Spectator the eminent composer Sir James MacMillan described it as having ‘a gentle but huge impact’ on those who witnessed it.

Others better qualified than I am will, I hope, have commented on the splendid contribution to the day made by the military contingents in the Castle precincts and the two eminent clergymen leading the service, but I have given you my musician’s-eye view. So I, at least, have mentioned the music.

John

11 January 2021

Visas or no visas?


It has recently been reported that 'the UK [has] rejected an offer of visa-free tours by musicians to EU countries, despite [previously] blaming Brussels for what the industry is calling the devastating blow of them requiring permits. The composer Michael Berkeley proposes to raise this in the House of Lords.

'A “standard” proposal to exempt performers from the huge cost and bureaucracy for 90 days was turned down, The Independent has been told – because the government is insisting on denying that to EU artists visiting this country.

'“It is usually in our agreements with third countries, that [work] visas are not required for musicians. We tried to include it, but the UK said no,” an EU source close to the negotiations said.'

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (of which I am a member) comments:

‘If these reports are true then we are looking at a serious breach of trust after the Government provided multiple assurances throughout 2020 that they understood the importance of frictionless travel for UK musicians and would be negotiating an ambitious agreement to achieve this objective.

‘We join the call with leading UK businesses that trade negotiations with Brussels should restart to address the serious regulatory challenges facing many industries, and a better deal for UK musicians should be included in those talks. We need complete transparency on what was discussed during the negotiations and an urgent statement in the House of Commons outlining what steps the Government are taking to protect our world leading performing arts sector.’

On the classical music blog SlippeDDisc, Robert King writes:

'Thank you so much to Michael Berkeley: behind the scenes (and in this case, in front of them) he and a handful of other members of the House of Lords continue to try to hold the UK government to account.

'All power to Michael’s elbow (and to that of the ISM, MU, ABO, IAMA and all the other major representative bodies fighting for UK performers to continue to be able to make a living), because the cost of a visa for (say) a member of a chamber orchestra heading off for a day to perform at a European concert hall is now all but prohibitive. As example, a visa to perform for one night in Germany will cost €80 per person, plus attendance at the embassy to get this visa assigned (so that’s another half day – more if you live outside London: a half day during which you can’t earn or work). If a tour covers more than one country, each country has a different set of criteria: apparently a visa for Spain currently has a waiting list of many months. So a four concert tour across four countries (a typical scenario) could see several days in advance spent queuing for visas (no earnings for those days), plus hundreds of pounds of cost for each performer.

'“Oh, they can afford it”. No: most of them can’t! For a section violinist or chamber choir singer whose daily touring fee may be around £150, to have to add another unpaid half day (to queue up) plus €80 for the visa – multiply that for each separate country – makes such dates and tours, which are the lifeblood of many a freelance orchestral player or choral singer, all but impossible.

'Across the UK classical music sector, with dozens of symphony and chamber orchestras, chamber choirs and instrumental ensembles doing such dates, in a typical year we are talking many millions of pounds of income which used to come into the UK economy. All these dates are now at serious risk. Whatever people may feel about the UK “taking back control”, there are no winners here.'

 

Using the statements from the ISM (of which I am a member) and Robert King as a basis, I have written to my MP. Others may wish to do likewise.