Tuesday, April 21, 2009


"Where's the wacky quote, you know – the one that doesn't make sense until the end?"
A picture is worth a thousand words, friend.
"Well, guess that's better than reading three pages."
Ah, gentle reader. That is a good starting point.

Recently, whilst looking sideways at our topsy-turvy world of curricula, standards and rubrics, I found myself wandering in a HMV shop in sunny Staines. It could have been anywhere in the UK or possibly in the world. "How long will all of this last?", I thought to myself. I wandered the aisles through bins and racks labelled R & B, Urban, Metal, Classical, Feature Films, Televison Series, Box Sets and looking aimlessly at the row upon row of shiny and colourful compact discs and DVDs when my eye was caught by the bin labelled "Specialist Music".

I was struck by the irony. Each of the genres listed above could easily be thought of as specialist music. As soon as we divide music we create a speciality category don't we? Think of some of the the grand divisions; vocal-instrumental, orchestra-band, brass-woodwind. Each has its own sets of standards, techniques and qualities that are create the unique sound and appeal of that music. Compositional techniques differ. Ranges and articulations differ. As a composer and arranger I always try to look for tips from the music I perform - how did that composer or arranger solve their problems? I also get some great chuckles from editors (I hope) who persist in putting a crescendo over a whole note chord in a piano staff. I dutifully press harder as I hold the keys down, but it never gets any louder.

It was the Ps that got to me. The juxtaposition of Charlie Parker and Dolly Parton piqued my notoriously quirky sense of humour. It comes from the same place as the chuckle over the crescendo. In a world that categorises and subdivides music into ever smaller niches, who would have ever thought to look for Dolly and Bird in the same grouping? I didn't take the photo, but the sight in the Ds was also amusing - Miles Davis Kind of Blue next to John Denver's Greatest Hits - if only it had been his Christmas With The Muppets it would have been the perfect picture.

But as I sit writing, something troubles me about this. It could be argued that there was a more subtle grouping going on that would be worthy of a Dan Brown book. In the words of the immortal Rolf Harris, "Can you tell what it is yet?"

Of course you can. Our specialists were all masters of their art who found a way to express through vibrating air, feelings and emotions that were otherwise inexpressible. The common thread that they as well as every other artist in the shop possess is that whatever the style or genre, their music connects to peoples lives and touches them in some ineffable way. The sounds that they make accompany the lives of the listeners and make moments special. We celebrate life at every stage with music. Whether it is a baptism hymn, the music playing during that first kiss or the hymn sung at graveside, music shapes and colours our lives.

As we edge closer to the end of this school year, relish the special moments that will be marking mileposts in the lives of you, your students and their families.