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A school story

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Author Topic: A school story  (Read 501 times)
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« on: December 09, 2017, 10:51:13 am »

The school I went to was built in 1894, and its main building boasts a huge central hall in fine Victorian red-brick, with a grand arch over the end platform. A gallery runs around three sides of the hall, with classrooms off on both levels. One day, it what was probably about 1968, I happened to be standing at the end of gallery after lessons had finished. The hall was deserted; it was about 6 p.m. and the hall was in semi-darkness. The arch at the far end was hidden by a thick purple curtain.

Suddenly something blazed out from behind the curtain - some unseen person was practising on the school organ. What I heard was this:

I was transfixed. I stood there rapt until the piece ended.

I had no idea what I had just heard, but it made such an impact that I could still hum the fugue subject years later. So ... about six years later I visited the organ scholar Evan John and asked if he could identify the work from my feeble humming. Oh yes he could - BWV 543, he said at once. And indeed it proved to be so, once I tracked down a record of it. It still thrills me today.

I do think many organists get the registration wrong, with far too light a palette. It needs to thunder out grandly as it did from behind that curtain all those years ago. The above link is the best performance I have found so far, and not surprisingly, is from a concert.
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #1 on: December 09, 2017, 03:45:25 pm »

Thank you for sharing that charming story :-)

I wonder if other members have similar accounts of early encounters with music which left a lasting effect on them?

My own school was a musical wasteland, so I didn't have any eventful musical awakenings there*.

If I had a school-years moment which 'turned me on' to classical music...   we had a next-door neighbour who was a memberships secretary for the Bach Choir. I think she had given me up as a lost cause, but one day she had a spare ticket for an Albert Hall recital by Shura Cherkassky.  I don't think I'd ever been to a professional piano recital before (not counting my piano-teacher's bumbling attempts). Cherkassky was already getting on in years by then, but it was an astounding concert, which inspired me to save my pocket-money for more concert tickets of my own. One of these was a Dufay concert by the Early Music Consort of London (David Munrow), and from there, there was no looking back   Smiley

[Although being made to belt-out the top lines of Handel choruses during class music lessons instilled a firm dislike for English oratorios which has lasted my whole life through. I was only decades later that I began to enjoy Handel's operas... but the oratorios remain embedded in a world of school bells and carbolic soap which I've not been able to dislodge]
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« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2017, 03:51:28 pm »

This reminds of when my holy-roller brother was showing me around the religious college he worked at and when we came to the chapel someone was playing one of the Mendelssohn organ sonatas. The organist didn't know we were there and I don't remember how I knew it was a Mendelssohn sonata, but the sound in the otherwise empty chapel was huge and I got a lump in my throat and good old heathen me turned to my brother and said "Now that is my religion!" Is that a sappy enough memory? Not ashamed of it, and still love solo organ music. Wish it was me playing sitting in the middle of all that sound (says he of 20 fingers and four feet)!!!!!
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« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2017, 04:47:41 pm »

I was so fortunate to grow up in a house surrounded by music. My grandfather had been a church organist although he had retired by that time. My father had been the timpanist in an amateur orchestra set up during World War Two. He had been taught by the timpanist of the Reid Orchestra (the University of Edinburgh orchestra). Our house was full of 78s (several of which I broke accidentally) with music by Beethoven. Brahams, Wagner, Gilbert and Sullivan etc etc. My father took me to my first orchestral concert when I was nine. We sat in the organ gallery of the Usher Hall in Edinburgh to see the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Malcolm Sargent play "The Planets". When I got to around 13-14 my father started buying me LPs: Mahler's Symphony No.1, a lot of Sibelius.

....but school? The Head of Music had no interest in anybody who did not have a good enough voice to join the elite school choir- it was invited to sing at the wedding of the Prime Minister's daughter (the PM was Sir Alec Douglas-Home). One of the choir's leading lights was Ian Charleson, who went on to star in "Chariots of Fire" and died tragically of AIDS.  So I spent my time endlessly listening to and discussing music with my great friend Malcolm MacDonald. We took over the school's Music Society and used it as a means of playing our favourite records to ourselves and a very small group of reasonably like-minded friends. So there was a lot of Sibelius, Vaughan Williams, William Walton......

Malcolm of course went on to be the great authority on Havergal Brian but another friend has conducted on cd (the John Blackwood McEwen Solway Symphony and other works by that Scottish composer).

However, continuing the organ theme. One of my friends then (and still today) played the organ in a local church. One day I sat beside him as he played a piece I had never heard but which was so astonishingly virtuosic, exciting, grand.....

Olivier Messiaen's "Dieu parmi nous" from "La Nativite du Seigneur":
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