Category Archives: Music and Wellbeing

A musical tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth II: Farewell to Stromness

As a reflective tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth II, Head of Music Performance, Dan Harding, plays the gently meditative Farewell to Stromness, written by a former Master of the Queen’s Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

The piece was written by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies CH CBE (1934 – 2016), who from 2004 to 2014 was Master of the Queen’s Music, a position previously held by composers including Sir Edward Elgar and Arnold Bax, and most recently by Dame Judith Weir. The piece was premiered in 1980, and rose to particular popularity after being performed at the marriage of the then Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall in 2005 in an arrangement for strings.

The village of Stromness lies on the largest of the Orkney Islands, off the coast of Scotland, where the composer lived and worked.The piece was also performed at the service of thanksgiving for the life of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 12 September, 2022 at St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh.

Filmed in the Colyer-Fergusson Building on the University of Kent’s Canterbury campus.

Tears at breakfast: leaving yourself emotionally susceptible to music

I heard a piece of music on  BBC Radio 3 Breakfast this morning and instantly burst into tears. (And no, I’m not going to tell you what it was.)* It was one of those unexpected moments when music reaches out and gets under your skin, and from nowhere there’s an immediate emotional response for which you’re wholly unprepared. It’s what music does best, one of its greatest powers: to move you when you least expect it.

Image: Jeremy Bishop / Unsplash

It made me reflect on why the music had affected me so much; I’d heard other pieces throughout the morning, but nothing had struck me quite so forcefully until that moment. The piece was a wonderfully intimate song – just voice and piano – small-scale, but operating with an emotional weight far greater than chamber music from two performers might suggest. And I realised it was because, at this moment, I have two huge pieces whirling around in my head – Haydn’s Nelson Mass and Fauré’s Requiem – that we’re preparing for forthcoming concerts here in the Music department, and which I’m in the midst of rehearsing.

Image: Varun Gaba / Unsplash

The way my brain operates is that, as we gradually draw closer to a performance (the Haydn is in three weeks’ time), it starts to bring the repertoire to the surface and keep it moving through my inner ear, often to the point where the relevant pieces are all I can think about during the whole day. It’s a way, I suppose, of my working through to check that I really do know them before stepping out to conduct them; but it’s also a way of really ensuring I’ve understood the emotional landscape of the music, expressed in its harmonic language. Have I really grasped the import of that diminished chord ? Why is the movement in the cellos and basses at that bar so important ? What’s the effect of that interrupted cadence there ? Why are the second violins playing that particular note when the firsts are playing THAT one ? What does it all mean ?

I think it was Britten who observed that musicians have a thinner layer of skin, so that they can experience the emotion of music more readily (or something like that). For me, this is definitely the case the nearer I get to a performance, as the music continues to sound throughout my imagination each day as the concert draws closer. If the music is to have any chance of operating successfully, then you have to have fully explored its emotional ebb and flow throughout the rehearsal process; you have to have opened yourself up to the harmonic implications in the score, to the emotional terrain it is exploring, in order to bring that out during rehearsals. The musicians have to know why that note, that chord, even that beat’s rest, is important; to understand where their contribution fits into the larger whole, and what effect that should have on the listener. And you can only do that if you’ve made yourself readily accessible to the music’s demands, in order to share them with the musicians and then (hopefully) to the listener. It’s about creating space for emotional honesty – for you as the conductor, for the performers, and for the audience – for which the music is asking; making yourself emotionally susceptible, able to be alive to all the harmonic / emotional nuance in the music to be able to draw it from the performers.

Image: David Clode / Unsplash

So it seems that those unexpected tears provoked by the piece on the radio came because of the emotional terrain to which I’m opening my ears at the moment ahead of performing the Haydn and the Fauré – two contrasting pieces rich in emotional expression, particularly the latter – and that means I’m obviously in a heightened state of susceptibility towards other music at this point too. It will become increasingly heightened the nearer we get to the concert (aided in no small way, I am sure, by pre-concert nerves…), but it should hopefully mean that, when we come to the performance, we will be taking the listener through the emotional odyssey the composer has asked us to realise in the white-heat of performance.

I’ll just have to be wary of listening to the radio until then…


* (If you’ve read thus far, then perhaps you deserve to know; it was Mel Tormé and George Shearing in a live performance of It Might As Well Be Spring, alright ?! Thanks, Petroc Trelawny…!)

Hold Your Heart: live webchat with alumna and musician Lena Younes

One of the pleasures of engaging digitally with people this past year has been catching up with various alumni and finding out how they have been creatively active at a time when creativity and the arts has been facing real challenges.

My guest earlier is no exception – former Music Scholar Lena Younes, who graduated in 2011 having read Drama and Theatre Studies and History at Kent, singing with the Chamber Choir and at the Jazz @ 5 sessions on the old Gulbenkian cafe stage.

Lena releases her first single, Hold Your Heart, at midnight tonight (or will have done, depending on when you read this…), and I took the opportunity to chat to her about her writing process, the challenges of remaining creative during the past year, and the influences on her music. Watch it online here – my thanks to Lena for taking part.

Zoom For Thought: an interview with Radio Lento

This week’s episode in our podcast series is the first of several featuring Hugh Huddy, who, with his wife Madeleine, is the creative force behind Radio Lento, a podcast series presenting wonderfully evocative soundscapes recorded in the natural environment. From dawn chorus in the Forest of Dean to shingle beaches at Folkestone, each Radio Lento episode presents an immersive listening experience, offering, in Hugh’s own words, ‘weekly sound postcards from beautiful places.’

In this first episode, Hugh reflects on the challenges of recording the natural world; the concept of authenticity and being true to the practice of capturing the environment in sound, in single, unedited takes; and similarities between listening to soundscapes and to music, and the idea of defeating time.

Listen on Spotify here, or on Anchor here.

https://radiolento.podbean.com/

Take a trip down Memory Lane in Nostalgia Night

Next week, the Music department teams up with Dr Chris Deacy, Reader in Theology and Religious Studies at the University, for a special event exploring nostalgia and how it shapes us as human beings, as Nostalgia Night unfolds on Friday 22 November.

Nostalgia Night: what do YOU remember ?!
Dr Chris Deacy

The event is part of the national Being Human Festival, the UK’s only nation-wide festival of the Humanities, and brings together live music, audio clips, interviews and an interactive quiz, as Chris investigates the idea of nostalgia through words and music. Chris’ series of podcasts explores the theme with interviews as part of his research, and the event next week will see contributions from some of those interviewed as well as performances from the University Chamber and Cecilian Choirs, the 1940’s dance orchestra General Harding’s Tomfoolery, and instrumentalists. Music includes Moonlight Serenade, When I Fall In Love, The Pink Panther and other corner-stones of memory throughout the generations.

Tickets are free (reserved in advance here),  bring your dancing-shoes and join us as we take a trip down memory lane for what promises to be a night to, er, remember!

Filling the concert-hall with birdsong: Thurs 10 October

I’ve just come from a trial session in the concert-hall in preparation for a unique event as part of University activities for World Mental Health Day 2019.

At lunchtime on Thursday 10 October, we’ll be turning the concert-hall into a tranquil forest environment, bathing the hall in birdsong and the sounds of a natural forest alongside beautiful photographic images of forest views.

Image: Johannes Plenio via Unsplash

Sitting in the midst of Colyer-Fergusson Hall, it was possible to lose yourself in the audio and visual environment to the point where it almost felt as though you were actually outside; the dimly-lit hall was transformed into a haven of tranquility, a welcome respite from the frantic activity and the demands of the Digital World at the start of a new academic year.

Next Thursday, we’ll open the doors of the concert-hall and people are invited simply to come for as long or as short a time as they wish, to sit in stillness and enjoy a meditative environment which (if the trial session proves anything to go by) promises to be a wonderfully relaxing experience.

The event starts at 1.10pm and admission is free; the doors will be left open for visitors to come and go whenever the wish. Come and experience the outdoors indoors…