A review of ‘Verdi’s Requiem’ in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 4th May 2019

May 5, 2019

It is no wonder that this was a popular event and that this Requiem is performed so often. This night’s performance of Verdi’s Requiem given by Ely Sinfonia, the King’s Lynn Festival Chorus and soloists was magnificent. We were treated to all the emotionally-packed aria-like melodic material that we know and love from Verdi’s operas, while at the same time, these amazing musicians drew every ounce of religious fervour, excitement and reverence from the score.

Conducted by Steve Bingham, this fine choir and orchestra were able to present incredible contrasts in expression and volume. The extremely soft moments, especially in the strings, were amazing. Contrasting this, were phenomenal moments of great excitement and climax with the cathedral vaults positively resounding with fantastic voluminous sounds.

There were some particularly effective instants and these included thoughtful reverence in the Introit, spine-chilling, frenetic agony in the recurring Dies Irae (Day of wrath), eerie mystery with the words ‘Liber scriptus proferetur’ and a delightful sense of light permeating ‘Lux aeterna’.

The soloists were Aoife O’Connell (soprano), Freya Jacklin (mezzo soprano), Michael Solomon Williams (tenor) and Laurence Williams (bass). They were wonderful and balanced perfectly, enhancing the score with passionate depth and beauty.

This was a wonderful evening’s concert that brought home how important such heightened music is in our lives and how it creates episodes that reach far beyond reality. Sounds such as these take us away from ordinary humdrum problems that plague our lives at ground level. Everyone should be able to experience such sublime realms of musical genius.

The next event to look forward to is on Saturday 21st September in Ely Cathedral at 7.30 p.m. which will be Ely Sinfonia’s Twentieth Anniversary Concert featuring Martin Roscoe playing Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 2, Beethoven’s Symphony no. 78 and Mozart’s Symphony no. 29. For more information contact http://www.elysinfonia.co.uk or box.office@elycathedral.org.

 

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Comment: A little success can go a long way.

April 7, 2019

Achieving a little success, no matter how small, makes one feel good and encourages us to maintain our interest.  Recently I gave a presentation at a teachers’ conference. I was not holding out much hope that many people would attend and I offered to do it just to keep my hand in and to keep in touch. I decided to draught a mere skeleton of a plan and just be myself, warts and all. To my delight, the room was packed and a couple of people made a point of thanking me profusely for giving them some useful ideas to try in the classroom. This gave me new hope, and I am moved offer to give another presentation next year.

However, it is so easy to take this at face value. This was just one small moment of success which is tiny when compared to the whole scheme of things. There are too many people who have enjoyed a little success like this and have let it go to their heads. Their words are littered with self-praise and there is nothing worse. It will more than likely put us off the person for life. My little effort, I realize, was full of errors. I have many criticisms I can make about my presentation and these I will endeavour to address next time, if I my application is accepted. I realize that most people are kind and sympathetic and thus let my errors go by without a fuss.

The praise I received, however, was enough to remind me how rewarding it is and how I should give much more positive feedback to the students I teach. There is nothing more gratifying than the smile on the face of a student who has succeeded. Again, it may be one small step, for example, simply remembering some vocabulary from a previous English Lesson, but no matter how insignificant it is, success should be congratulated as such.

False praise, on the other hand, achieves little. Both you and the receiver of the erroneous praise know it is false. We all know how even the youngest of children are not stupid and can often see through falsehood. When trying to apply reverse psychology to a four-year -old once, it failed miserably. Telling her she couldn’t do something in the hope that she would rise up and prove she could, failed. She let it be known in no uncertain terms she was not to be manipulated like that.

It seems clear to me that we should praise other people more and ourselves less.

 

 

Comment: The value of music should never be underestimated.

April 2, 2019

Throughout the centuries, music has been an important part of people’s lives. There are few of us who would declare that it is completely unimportant and unnecessary.  Scores of research cases have indicated that music has an important influence on the way we think and feel, yet it is usually at the bottom of our list of priorities, be it a school curriculum or our own everyday lives.

An incident recently brought it home to me how effective music can be when all other means of communication fail. I run a weekly ‘choir practice’ for the residents in my husband’s care home. I ask that he attends even though he has long lost the power of speech. I knew, and know, that he has always liked music. As the weeks passed, I introduced new songs for us all to sing. I often try to communicate with my husband but it is usually not successful. I am not even sure he knows who I am anymore for he has suffered from dementia for over 20 years.

Then one week I decided to assume that I would get through to him. I went up close to him and stood so that he could see and hear me clearly and I sang with the residents, song after song. It was not long before his eyes met mine and they focused so that I knew he knew who I was. He grinned to show that he was really enjoying the music. Not only that, his facial expression changed to show that he was reacting emotionally to the event and to the music in a positive way. To me, this is proof indeed that music is one of the most powerful communicators.

Music has always been important in my life. As a child of non-musical parents it seemed a fluke that I was even interested. Fortunately I was allowed to follow my interest and even make it a career, even though many people thought that there is no future in it. In my case, I turned to teaching and although it had its moments, it certainly gave me a career, and helped to pay a mortgage and bring up a young family.

From personal experience I can testify that as a child learning the piano it not only gave me an outlet for my music, it taught me discipline (when I had to get up at 630 every morning to get my practice in before school), it gave me focus when I had to remember the notes, the fingering and the musical form of the pieces I played while it also gave me a very powerful means of expression to alleviate the teenage angst that I suffered as most people do. It taught me develop stamina and to relax for these are important parts of the technique. Finally, the concerts, performances and choirs I have been involved with provided a social life I would otherwise never have experienced.

So the next time you think music may be a waste of time, I urge you to think again.

 

Review of ‘Witchford’s Got Talent’ in Witchford Village College on Saturday 30th March 2019

March 31, 2019

Witchford Amateur Dramatic Society (WADS) put on a fantastic show in Witchford Village College on Saturday. ‘Witchford’s Got Talent’ was very aptly named for indeed, the show included an amazing array of highly talented people of all ages.

In particular, there were many excellent singers: solos, duets and ensembles. They were often accompanied live by talented guitarists or pianist Greg Lowes . These amazing performers gave us popular songs many of which came from the shows such as ‘Hamilton’, ‘Mary Poppins Returns’, ‘The Little Mermaid’, and ‘Les Miserables’. There were comedy sketches too and a delightful  demonstration of batton twirling by Aaliyah Scrine.

Highlights for me included singers Sammy Webb, Charlie-May  and Zak Wymer, and ‘The Invisible Car’ sketch by Alex Lee, Jack Dyson and Josh Andrews. Q from James Bond films was wonderful as he lost his cool after being fed up with being taken for granted.

The whole show was enhanced by the highly entertaining repartee from the wonderful WADS Witchfords got Talent 30.03.2019 Sarah Boor and Steve Barkercompères Sarah Boor and Steve Barker.

 

comment: It is so easy to knock something down.

March 24, 2019

It is much easier to knock something down than to build it. Every toddler knows this. Some concentration and effort is needed to build a tower of bricks. One quick movement of the hand and the tower will come tumbling down.
This applies to a lot that is happening today. It is so easy to find fault with people and what they do. More often than not, such negative words spring from misunderstandings,wrong assumptions or a hidden agenda.
People from all our different political parties are dismayed at the negative back-biting that has been happening in our parliament recently. It is so easy to simply reject a proposition. It is not so easy to create a reasonable one. When there are two sides to a problem it seems logical that some kind of compromise is required. A compromise only comes from both parties communicating with each other, not from one side summarily dismissing the other. While this may be an over-simplification of the situation, I maintain that it has a valid point.
Email is a medium that can easily lead to misunderstanding. Some time ago, I had written to a friend who had suggested making changes to an arrangement we had made. I had written ‘You can do whatever you like’. I was astonished at the reply which was: ‘There is no need to take that tone with me!’. This was a complete misunderstanding and it certainly tested our friendship.
Criticising others by presenting only one side of the situation can also be misleading. We all must agree that people not attending appointments at the doctor’s, for example, is not right and anyone missing an appointment unnecessarily should be criticised. However when we are greeted with a bold statement that 195 appointments were missed, it does not tell the whole story. How many of these appointments included people who were too ill to phone in to cancel or to make the appointment? How many were the result of patients not being told they actually had these appointments?
One local saw that she could access her medical records online. She made enquiries and was asked to bring her passport and a utility bill showing her address so that the right form could be filled in to be given this access. She went to some trouble to make a special visit to the surgery for this purpose. Sometime later the local received a letter saying that she could not access her medical notes after all. This waste of time was clearly NOT the fault of the patient!
People should get their own act together before passing judgement on others.

Comment: How to win friends and influence people?

March 17, 2019

‘How to win friends and influence people’ is a well-known book by Dale Carnegie. It is so well-known that it has become a catch phrase in our language. In the book, he  spells out basic common-sense ways to get on in life, whether socially or financially.

Some of the suggested ways of behaving include: become genuinely interested in other people; think less of self and more of others; be happy and pleasant to be with and listen and try to see things from the other person’s point of view.

It is amazing that he has had to tell us this. It is common sense isn’t it?

So why do so many people ignore these principles and even though they may be in business, show complete disinterest in us and what we want? It is no wonder so many businesses fail.

Recently, I needed and engineer to come to fix the TV. The business employing him would not make an appointment. I had to wait for a phone call from the engineer the following morning and he required me to stay in ALL day so that he could pick and choose when to come. How helpful is that? Is he not aware that I have other things to do with my life than sit and home and wait for him ALL DAY? Needless to say I won’t be rushing back for his services in the future if I can help it.

There are so many businesses that are trying to get rid of the human element and become almost completely automated. In the supermarkets we are encouraged to do absolutely everything ourselves. So far there are usually some assistants who can come to the rescue when machinery fails, but I often wonder how long this will this last. No matter how well automated machinery is designed and maintained, it is a common fact that machines often fail. It is very hard to argue with a machine. If a mistake is made, there seems no way for us as individuals to rectify the matter.

It is time for us to realize that machinery is there to serve us and not the other way round. We should acknowledge and have faith in the value of the human element. Shopping, for example, is much more that getting the goods we want, it is a social experience and there is no accounting for the value of having a good chat with a salesperson while we shop. Being able to discuss the product in detail and having an assistant who will make the effort to try to understand exactly what you want saves time and money and in the long run it usually leads to success.

Let us have fewer self-centred, grouchy and uncooperative people in business so that our society can thrive. This could well be relevant to our current political situation, but that is for another time.

Ely Consort’s concert in Ely Methodist Chapel on Saturday 16th March 2019

March 17, 2019

 

Ely Consort, directed by Matthew Rudd, is an excellent choir and obviously delighted the packed audience in Ely Methodist Chapel on Saturday. Their singing was a very high standard and as a choir it proved particularly competent at fusing complex chords into emotive, cohesive harmony.

Many of the pieces in the programme were new and those of us who are wary of contemporary composers were given a very pleasant surprise. Matthew obviously knows his music and the selection chosen for this programme, which included many modern-day composers, was particularly musical and delightful.

Pianist, Charlie Penn, and cellist Anna Jones also made and excellent contribution to this lovely programme. Charlie had some highly challenging material to play, and he managed it all with real panache. It was very pleasing to hear the rich tones of the cello. In ‘Serenity’ (‘O Magnum Mysterium’) by Ola Gjeilo, the cello was especially well integrated, making the piece meaningful, heartfelt and expressive.

Other highlights for me were ‘Time is Endless’ by Vytautas Miškinis, ‘Cantata Domino’ by Ko Matsushita, ‘The music of stillness’ by Elaine Hagenberg and the final ‘Polovtsian Dances’ by Alexander Borodin. ‘Time is Endless’ contained gorgeous, ethereal harmonies, ‘Cantata Domino’ was tuneful with a tinge of attractive melancholy, ‘The music of stillness’ had a beautiful, sustained texture with exquisite harmonic changes that were clearly expressed, and the excitement and exotic exuberance of the Polovtsian Dances ended the evening perfectly. None of this detail would have been possible to enjoy without the skill and sensitivity of this wonderful choir and its director.

Their next event will be John Rutter’s ‘Feel the Spirit’ in St. Mary’s Church, Burwell on the 29th June 2019 http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/elyconsort

Review of Viva’s ‘Chicago’ in the King’s Theatre Newmarket on Thursday 7th March 2019

March 10, 2019

Dan Schumann 19Wow! This production of ‘Chicago’ was amazing. The razzmatazz of Chicago in the bad old days permeated this wonderful production so that there was hardly a moment when we were not absolutely amazed. This large troupe of highly talented young people filled the stage with fantastically choreographed movements and tableaux while at the same time it delivered very powerful, toe-tapping and unforgettable music.

The singing, dancing and acting were spot on and we were very much aware of the sheer falseness of the flashy style of living in a criminally-driven society in which murder and corruption were the order of the day.

The actors were phenomenal and included murderess Velma Kelly (played by Kiera O’Reilly), the slippery lawyer, Billy Flynn (Olly Manley),brassy Roxey Hart (Riley Williams), a powerful Mamma Morton (Dresden Goodwin), and the splendid Amos (Joseph Hall), and Mary Sunshine (Katie Kirkpatrick). Other key contributors included the MC and Harry (Mark O’Reilly), Fred and Reporter (Jordan Thorpe), Fogerty and Reporter (Dyan Cardwell) and Judge (Sam Laws).

They were supported by wonderful murderesses, dancers and members of the ensemble. Best moments for me included the hard-nosed, spine-chilling Cell Block Tango, the slick, sexy dancers, and when the hollowness of the razzmatazz was made clear with well-defined sarcasm and wit.

A highly accomplished orchestra led by Richard Hayward gave outstanding support and the choreography by Jess Clifford was second to none.

What a fantastic production this was! Congratulations to the Director Dan Schumann and his team for such an exciting evening’s entertainment.

The next Viva production to look forward to is ‘Brassed Off’ from the 17th to the 20th April in the ADC Theatre, Cambridge. To order tickets:

https://www.adctheatre.com/whats-on/musical/brassed-off/

Pictured is Dan Schumann

Comment: Saying so does not make it so.

March 9, 2019

Recently an individual called at my door and said that he had been contracted to work in the Main Street of our village and that I had spoken to him about three weeks about fixing the gable of my house. I had no recollection of this, sent the man on his way and, after seeing on social media that he had obviously been visiting other homes with the same lie, I reported him to the police. While there are some audacious people who will tell outright untruths like this, there are others who may make statements that they believe to be true, but which to others do not make sense. One person once said that if a barrier was taken away from a certain cycle path, children will never ride straight out into the road. How can he be so sure? He would not listen when I suggested that it could, in fact, happen.

Politicians are renowned for saying emphatically that something will or will not happen. They have often been proved to be incorrect, but at the time, they speak as though what they are saying is fact, absolute fact. One set of politicians say that Brexit will never happen, others that it will. They can’t all be right. Different people are adamant that we will be much better if we left Europe, others say that we will not. The fact is, that nobody really knows and saying so, does not make it so.

What is needed, is evidence. Someone needs to make comparative lists showing the economy now, the predicted economic situation after Brexit and the predicted economic situation should there be no Brexit. Evidence should be gathered and shown relating to all the other aspects of belonging to Europe or not.

Even with the evidence, nothing is absolutely clear. We all know that statistics can be twisted to match findings that we want rather than what they really say. If a study shows that a majority of people in the study like to read the newspaper, this does not prove that most people in the world like to read the newspaper especially when the group of people studied all turn out to be journalists.

We should all take care when making unequivocal statements and if we do make them, we should provide the supportive evidence. We should also realize that there are people out there who will blatantly lie and expect to bully others into beliefs that are not correct or not even common sense. We need to make sure that we study the evidence and make up our own minds no matter what others are saying.

Comment: Attack the ideas, not the person.

March 3, 2019

So many times people are attacked in a personal way for their ideas. While it is sometimes difficult to separate the two, it nevertheless can and should be done.

It is difficult, for example, to separate the character of Boris Johnson with his ideas. Sometime ago he set the cat among the pigeons by saying that our Prime Minister, Theresa May, had wrapped a suicide vest around the British Constitution in her Brexit plans. He was also quoted as saying that May’s Brexit plan last year was ‘deranged’,

While a person may be ‘deranged’ or wrapped in a suicide vest, ideas and plans, I argue may be unsound, unsupported by evidence or unwise. While the choice of metaphor is very effective in creating a picture in our minds so that we are likely to react strongly and agree or disagree with Boris, by choosing personal metaphors, he makes his criticism personal. It would be far fairer and better to spell out the specific reasons for his reaction.

Jeremy Corbyn was described by some of the press as ‘failing the Brexit test’. He apparently forgot the party position on Brexit at an interview. To my knowledge there is no particular ‘Brexit test’. No one can predict the future and no one can be said to know absolutely everything about what will happen after Brexit. People fail to understand and or remember many things; plans and negotiations are no more than that. A person may win or fail an argument; they, themselves may not be failing, they may be perfectly well and clear minded except at a particular time regarding a particular issue

Recently, closer to home, an inspector upset a council by criticising a plan and making suggested changes. The inspector, rather than the process, seems to be criticised for this. There are always two sides to a controversial situation and an inspector doing his or her job, is doing just that. He or she is not being personal when they make criticisms. It is the process, the decisions and the plans that should be criticised, not the person or people involved.

It would be so much better if a simple statement was made that a named person has said or done something and the following language continued in a calm and reasoned manner with addressing the problems with what the person said or did.  It would be so much better if there was less personal attack on people as they try to do their jobs.