Wednesday, 9 July 2014

HAS ANYBODY SEEN THIS BEFORE?

I think it’s rather good – and the last two verses certainly have a message for today’s world!

The Devil Rejoices
(A Satanic Soliloquy)

When God ordained the sacrifice
Of His own Son on Calvary
To save mankind, it seemed the price
Might very well be paid to me.

But I survived. For man was base
And was, it seemed, so far depraved
That often he rejected Grace
And was not eager to be saved.

I worked on this, with willing aid
From Emperors and barbarians too,
I thought the onslaughts which we made
Would soon kill off that Christian crew.

We failed. I tried a subtler plan
And, saving monstrous doubts, I lied
That either Christ was just a man
Or else, being God, He had not died.

I split the Church, time and again
And, Hell’s below! It did me good
As block or noose or stake and flame
Helped Christians shed each others’ blood.

Yes even this did not provoke
The failure of my Enemy
And so I planned my master stroke –
Devilish good, even for me!

Each Christian talent, thought, idea,
God meant to make a harmony
I have distorted year by year
Into a fiend’s cacophony.

Forgetting they’re an orchestra,
Each played for self and, very soon
Some said that they alone should play
And all the rest were out of tune.

So, arguing round formality,
Preoccupied defining “We”,
They cannot see they all agree
On quite enough to ruin me!


(I discovered this poem recently, hand-written on a scrap of paper inserted in a old book.  I would love to know who wrote it – anybody know?)

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE SCOTTISH "NATIONALISTS"?

What is wrong with these Scottish “Nationalists”?

Is your “Nationality” an important part of your personal identity?  Does it really matter?  For some, obviously, the answer is “Yes”.

I’m only partly Scottish. (A pretty small part at that but I’m told I can trace my ancestry directly back to Mary Queen of Scots, the Colquhoun Clan and the Bell’s Whisky family!)  The rest of me is a mixture of Greek, a bit of French and a fair amount of Viking. I consider myself a Yorkshire man – although, by a twist of circumstance, I was actually born in Lancashire.  If that is ever held against me, I point out that I was conceived in Ross & Cromarty, so my heart is in Scotland!  I would certainly never describe myself as English but I am quite happy to be British.

What has this to do with anything? Well, there must be countless millions of people, all over the world, who don’t actually live in Scotland but who genuinely consider themselves to be Scottish.  If the so-called Scottish “Nationalists” succeed in their barmy and selfish campaign for an independent Scotland, do they realise that they will actually be depriving all their compatriots (and many of we British) of their true nationality and identity?

Why?  Well, if Scotland becomes an independent state (i.e. nation) then it will have to issue new Scottish passports to all its citizens. (What a waste of time and money!) Not only that – but the existing UK/British passport will also become defunct, because there will no longer be a UK or a “Britain”.  I have nothing against the Welsh or Northern Irish but there is nothing of those nations in my ancestry – and I’m certainly not prepared to be called English!

The “Yes” campaign will say that this is not really a problem.  They will say that there is no reason why all these millions of ex-pat Scottish folk shouldn’t be able to apply for Scottish “Nationality” and thus acquire their new Scottish passports.  If that is the case (and this is the crux of the matter) then why not let all these non-resident but truly “Scottish” people establish their Scottish nationality before the referendum, so that they can also cast their votes?  The answer to that is simple: if Alex Salmond and his so-called “Nationalists” did that, they know they would lose, by miles!

And what about the rest of we British?  We are also being threatened with a significant change to our own nationality – why do we not have any say in the matter?

The whole referendum is an ill-considered, immoral, unconstitutional and undemocratic farce!  Cameron should never have agreed to it and it should never be allowed to happen in this shape or form.  This is not Ukraine!  Anyone with any common sense will vote to keep the UK together!

Having said all that, there is, perhaps, an even more important point to make . . .

I was brought up to believe that Racism is wrong.  In fact I think most people would now agree that Racism is wrong.  If it is wrong to discriminate against people because of their race, why is it OK to discriminate against people because of their Nationality?  I think "Nationalism" is every bit as bad as "Racism" - and it probably causes even more wars than religion!

So - come on you Scottish "Nationalists"! Think again - all you are doing is losing friends and making enemies!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

SPECIAL CHRISTMAS ITEM FOR STRING PLAYERS!

A bit of Christmas jollity for string players – “EINE KLEINE CHRISTMAS MUSIK” – four fun-packed movements for String Quartet (or String Orchestra).  Click on the icon to the right of this blog to view the full score.

Do have a look at this piece of Christmas frivolity!  It's ideal for busking, or for light hearted Christmas concerts – you could even use a movement as an amusing encore during the festive season.  Even the page turns are fun!  Email me if you would like the parts – I can either send them to you by email or post you a full, printed set (with score).  All I ask in return is a small donation to the “Andante Project” (supporting musical charities and promoting music education in the UK).

I hardly need to explain that this is based on Mozart’s original, with countless subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to carols and Christmas music.  I arranged the first 3 movements years ago but only recently did I figure out a way to make the last movement work!

So – the complete 4 movement piece is finally published and available either in print - all four parts and full score for only £15 + £1.50 p&p (UK only) - or as pdf files by email for as little as £10 (or a bit more if you like!).  Please order by email – xen@xenmus.net

Happy Christmas one and all - have FUN!!!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

THE UK ECONOMY - A CASE FOR CHARITY?!


Amongst the hottest topics of the day are, undoubtedly, unemployment, economic growth and the welfare bill.  There might be at least a grain of truth in Ed Milliband’s latest pronouncements on these issues but, so far, all we have heard from both sides is, as usual, a lot of political posturing aimed, primarily, at attracting voters.

One of the charities I work for recently submitted an application for government funding for a project that would have created five new jobs – at a cost to the taxpayer of well below the minimum wage for each job.  We were refused on the grounds that our project wasn't of “high enough priority”.

Now, here’s a thought!  Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to devise a scheme whereby money is made available to registered charities to enable them to employ people who are on benefits.  Why give money to people for doing nothing, even when they want to work, when that same money could be paid to those same people for doing useful work for good causes and for public benefit?

We keep hearing that it is the private sector that must create all the new jobs that we've lost in the public sector and that we now so desperately need.  What about the third sector, the Charitable sector?  Without a doubt there is plenty of useful and beneficial work that needs to be done, throughout the country – and such a scheme could result in a massive reduction of unemployment.  Pay these new charity employees a “living wage”, incorporate strong elements of training into the scheme – we’re onto a real winner here!

Come on all you politicians, just think about it!  There is more to life (and more to the economy) than just business and growth.  Charities contribute immensely to the quality of all our lives and, in many cases, they are now being expected to do the government’s job.

It wouldn't cost the taxpayer a penny more to introduce such a scheme. It could actually save money – and all our lives, especially those of the poorest, would be so much the better for it.

Friday, 19 April 2013

YOU WON'T BELIEVE THIS!

I hesitate to admit it, I hardly dare say it – but I actually agree with Michael Gove!

The trouble is that, even though his latest proposal might be a good idea, the reasons he gives for it and the spin he puts on it are spurious and illogical and the way he announces it is inflammatory and divisive.  Politics being what they are, the other side has to object and oppose; so they do so on the basis of the reasons, not the substance of the proposal.  Then the media get hold of it and also make an issue out of the reasons, not the substance – and then the teachers themselves and their unions do likewise – and all we get is pointless arguments based on misinformation, false premises, anecdotal evidence and distorted statistics.

There is absolutely no reason why the school day should not be extended – nor why holidays should not be reduced.  There is, self-evidently, absolutely no doubt that this would enable children to learn more and to achieve more.  That doesn't mean that all teachers would have to work longer hours (but they could if they wanted) and it doesn't mean that every child would have to spend more time in school (but they could if they wanted).

When I was at secondary school, I can hardly remember ever leaving school before 5.00 pm.  I was involved in sports, choirs, orchestras, plays, cadets, debating society and various other clubs or after-school activities pretty well every day of the week – and, if I wasn't,  I usually did my homework in the school library, with access to all the books and other resources.

Yes, that was quite a while ago, but I don’t remember any law being passed or any directive from the ministry stating the schools must close at any particular time.  Many schools do open in the evening for community and other activities and many schoolchildren do attend these evening activities.  Where does this daft idea come from – that children’s education can only happen during “school hours”?

Extending the school year?  Well, first of all, our ridiculous system of public examinations already means that those pupils sitting GCSE or A level exams spend most of the first half of the year swotting (i.e. re-learning stuff they should have learnt the first time), then missing several weeks of school whilst the exams take place, then having an early holiday once the exams have finished.  Even if it is beyond the capacity of our educational experts to invent an exam system that is meaningful and fit-for-purpose, we could at least let candidates sit their exams during holidays or at week-ends, so that they could actually get on with learning something during normal school hours!

The problem that really needs to be addressed is that far too few schoolchildren really want to learn!  Funnily enough, most teachers do actually want to teach.  Why not let them get on with it?  Why not let (and encourage, and help) teachers and schools to find and develop ways of stimulating children so that they want to be in school?

I know this sounds barmy (and I’m not really recommending it) – but why not simply allow every child to attend school as and when they want – and then base school league tables on the number of hours that the pupils actually attend?  Now that really would sort out the good schools from the bad!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

PHILANTHROPY and the ARTS

Ever since the recession set in (and possibly before), we've heard numerous suggestions that we should move towards the American model, whereby the arts are funded through philanthropy, rather than by the state.  Could it work in the UK?

We've just spent a week in Santa Barbara, California, where there is a very vibrant and high-quality arts scene, funded almost entirely by sponsorship, donations, patrons and subscriptions. It certainly works here - but this is one of the most affluent communities in the whole USA!  I'd be interested to see how well it works in Harlem, or in Hicksville!

The concerts here are very well supported too - but I don't get the impression that audiences are any younger than those in the UK - and I don't get the impression that young people are any more engaged with quality music or that they consider it any more relevant to them.  As the audience for good music gets ever older and smaller, one wonders if the level of philanthropy will decrease accordingly.

In the UK?  Well, of course, any funding for the arts is always welcome, from anywhere - but, as far as philanthropy goes, we're starting from a pretty low base. Yes, it would be very good if the government and the Arts Council did all they could to encourage philanthropic contributions - but it might help if they actually set a good example!  We are seeing more and more examples of Councils cutting their expenditure on the arts, central government has cut arts funding, the arts are becoming ever more sidelined in education and, as a result of years of neglect, fewer people in all walks of life have any real interest, knowledge, appreciation or understanding of music and the arts.

In these circumstances, simply cutting funding for the arts and hoping that "philanthropy" will take up the slack is utter nonsense!  We have to start by educating people properly - and then, when they actually understand the importance of the arts, maybe we can hope they will be more inclined to make a contribution!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

WHAT?! MORE CUTS to ARTS & EDUCATION?!

Who will be next?  How many more?  Newcastle, Gwent, now Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan - these people are insane!

However, I don't want to depress you!  I had a very nice day last Wednesday, travelling to London, walking from Kings X to the Oval and then spending a delightful few hours at a meeting of the Musicians' Union Teachers' Committee, talking about the Andante Report.  A very positive and constructive session it was too.

And one really good thing that came out of it was that we all agreed that we all have to work together to fight these philistines who think that the arts and education don't matter and that they can conveniently be cut because other things are more important. (Or will attract more votes!)

One problem is that teaching unions are so fragmented - and there are loads of different organisations and associations representing music and the arts - but they don't work together enough.  MU, ISM, ESTA, EPTA, ECMTA, FMS, NCA, etc. etc. - it goes on and on!  We have to speak with one voice if we are really going to be heard.

When it comes to music and music education, those responsible for its delivery (DfE, DCMS, ACE and Ofsted) either don't know what they are doing or simply won't tell anybody.  The Music Hubs project is a shambles and nobody knows what is going on.  There seems to be no clear vision, no strategy, no leadership and precious little understanding.  Everyone seems to be taking a "suck-it-and-see" approach and just waiting for one or two examples of good practice to emerge so that everyone else can copy them.

Education is our future - and our children's future - and education without music and the arts is an oxymoron!  Please join the battle, sign the petitions, keep the pressure on - and, even if you don't agree with everything in it, help to circulate the Andante Report, promote the debate and keep pushing this issue up the agenda!