I’ve got a confession to make. Star Wars was the piece of music that first alerted me to the spectacular sound of the London Symphony Orchestra when I was a kid. The fact that I play in that orchestra and played in the soundtrack for the last two films still brings makes me smile.
That’s not my confession.
The orchestra that first stopped me in my tracks when I was a child was the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The piece that got me hooked was the final movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony. I know a lot of people love the famous slow movement, but it was those powerful brass melodies from the finale that made we want to listen to more - that and the disco drumbeat of course…
Yep. The first time I heard the ninth symphony (at least before it segued seamlessly into Tchaik 6) was on a Hooked on Classics album. For what it’s worth, my earliest exposure to the foundations of the Baroque flute repertoire was from Hooked on Bach.
Fast forward, a couple of decades. Whilst the Mozart documentary was on, the one I mentioned in my last blog, parts of his Requiem began to play. My 10 year old daughter began to hum along and then sing along, in Latin. I did a bit of a double take. Now, I went through a phase as a teenager where I wore black and listened only to requiems by Mozart and Verdi; but not Faure as it was too nice. I have long since grow out of that and, so I was surprised that she seemed to have such a thorough knowledge of the music and text. She’d not heard it at home and the state education sector (it’s only conductors that get paid the big bucks) seemed unlikely to have used it as a learning tool. Anyway, the documentary moved on, she went to bed as she had a big day ahead and I just forgot to ask.
Fast forward...er...until the next evening and Mrs Davies and I found ourselves sitting in the O2 in London waiting for our daughter to start singing. Before you start imagining I’m some kind of musical Svengali, she was taking part in a Young Voices concert. If you don’t have regular contact with middle school aged kids, then you’ll probably have no idea what this is. It’s billed as the biggest young choir for young people in the world. I’ve no idea if that’s true, but it’s massive. Half the arena was filled with parents/grandparents/groupies and the other half was filled with the choir. I’m pretty sure that the announcer said that there were over 7000 of them - whatever, the placed was crammed full of them and the volume levels they produced when they switched the lights out at the start of the show would have sent the Musicians Union Noise Team into meltdown.
All the kids involved had been learning a huge number of songs for weeks, and memorised them all with accompanying actions for a one night only performance. Now, there was little part singing, it was all unison apart from the backing singers, and the selection of pieces varied from contemporary pop to Lionel Bart via a Nelson Mandela tribute. It would be easy to dismiss the whole thing of being a bit low brow etc etc, but I loved it. 7000 kids singing their hearts out, what’s not to love? The announcer came back on and announced,
“And now it’s the part you’ve all been waiting for! It’s the teachers choir!”
“They’re going to sing for you some AMAZING music based on the words of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart…”
Eh, I thought? The words of Mozart? Another parent I knew turned and smiled at me and said something which I couldn’t decipher because of the noise. It was either,
“You’re a classical musician - you’re going to LOVE this!”
“You’re a classical musician - you’re going to HATE this!”
The announcer continued.
“They’ve been working really hard and I know you’re going to help them. Please welcome the teachers choir to sing Mozart’s ROCK-quiem!”
I died a little bit inside.
It began, appropriately enough, with the Dies Irae. Or rather, the Dies Irae began with the drums and electric guitar. They went through most of the sections of the work and interestingly stopped short of Sussmayr’s completion, presumably on musicological grounds. As they continued, the kids joined in and then something weird happened; it was 1984 and I was listening to Hooked on Classics. Not literally obviously. I quite enjoyed it after the initial shock.
Of course, someone said to me later in that conspiratorial way supercilious people do, “Wasn’t that Mozart simply dreadful?!”
I found myself responding that I actually quite enjoyed it. They looked disgusted and let down. I’m sure they hissed, JUDAS at me as I walked off.
The thing is, it shows that really great works of art can put up with an awful lot before they become invalid. I’m positive that worse crimes against Mozart have been committed in concert halls around the world. The teachers showed the youngsters that they care about music too (and sang in parts!). My daughter has already heard many concerts unlike many kids her age, but she’s still picky. When I asked her if she had enjoyed Mahler 5 in an LSO concert, she said that she had. I asked what her favourite bit was, she said, “The end.” True story. But this Rock-quiem was very similar to the Hooked on Classics experience of my childhood. It opened up a door for me. I looked through my dads LP’s and found a recording New World symphony by the LSO (without drums) and never looked back.
Since the evening this week, my daughter has asked to listen to the real Mozart’s Requiem. She knows the words and I’ll encourage her to sing along. The door is now open. Who knows where it will lead?
This is my personal blog. All views are my own and are not endorsed by any of the organisations I work for.