the Children Well
Tuesday May 9, 2000 - The Guardian
Carpenter - composer in the July
18 Prom, and one of the judges in the young composers' competition
- reflects on one of his musical influences
Carney introduced me to the Proms when I was about nine. I was a
pupil at Henry Maynard Junior School in Walthamstow, East London,
and a trip to the Proms was the first prize in a little music competition
Mr Carney - the school music teacher - had organised. Shura Cherkassky
played Rachmaninov's 3rd Piano Concerto and Sir Malcolm Sargent
Mr Carney - Dennis - also taught the recorder. After the first lesson
I had a repertoire of five notes (left hand only) and could play
a German folk song called Little Bird and the opening bit of Robin
Hood. Lying in bed practising, I got bored and started changing
the order of the notes. Next lesson: more notes, more re-ordering.
Within a month I wanted to spend the rest of my life re-ordering
notes and, what's more, I have done!
I studied composition and piano with Dennis until I went to college
at 18. Dennis had, and has, conservative musical instincts. He had
little time for any music later than Elgar. Schönberg, his
disciples and the post-war avant garde (not to mention anything
popular - "that Cliff Richard, he won't last") were anathema
to him. But he was rigorous in his teaching, avoided cant, loved
music with a passion and taught me to endeavour to seek and destroy
anything in my work that wasn't fresh, new or honest.
Dennis also generated enthusiasm for "serious" music throughout
the whole school. The Music Club had 80% of the school as members.
This was largely "music appreciation" but on a highly
imaginative level. Quizzes, prizes, competitions and concert trips
were interwoven with hard-core analysis of big pieces (no Classic
FM relax-after-a-hard-day-at-the-office prissiness for us). Hardly
a kid walked out of Henry Maynard without a working knowledge of
The Prom Concert prize was hyped to the skies. Everyone wanted to
go. The anticipation was huge; the journey from the East End, getting
to hear some of the music in advance (on scratchy old mono LPs)
and going into the cavernous Albert Hall space and hearing the orchestra
tune up was magic. Then hearing nigh-on 90 musicians playing, in
front of your very eyes... well, it beat the scratchy old mono LPs,
and actually, beats bright, shiny new CDs also!
Incidentally, everyone will tell you that buildings you revisit
when grown up that you knew from your childhood seem to shrink.
The Albert Hall is exempt from this.
If you, the reader, are coming to the Prom on July 18, the second
half contains music you may, and probably have, heard before: Leonard
Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (one part of which,
the Mambo, is the music for the current GAP advertisement) with
its staggering percussion display and brain exploding trumpet solos,
Copland's El Salón México - a sort of Tequila-fuelled
knees-up (brain surgeon on standby for the trumpet player again)
and Ravel's jazz-inflected Piano Concerto which, for those of you
with a taste for these things, is about the only piece of music
to begin with a whip solo.
The first half you will have not heard before. This is the world
premiere of a piece called Scry involving three young people's ensembles,
the virtuoso pianist Joanna MacGregor (who also plays the Ravel
Concerto) and the dynamic percussion group, Ensemble Bash - around
200 performers in all.
Peter McGarr, Alec Roth and Nitin Sawhney have each been invited
to write a piece for and work with The New Century Strings (Bolton),
the Finchley Children's Music Group (London) and the Junior Guildhall
School Of Music Ensemble (London) respectively. Joanna and Ensemble
Bash will also play with each group.
My job is that of a kind of sonic DJ, writing the Prelude, the Interludes
that in effect introduce each "item" and the Finale -
so I'm the only one that gets to play with all the toys at the same
time. The global idea behind the project is "the future":
to scry is to gaze into a crystal ball.
The "theme" of this year's BBC Prom season is youth. This
concert is one in the series that puts its money where its mouth
is. Each of us four composers lives and works away from the ivory
tower; winning South Bank Show awards for innovative CDs or arranging
for Damon Albarn or teaching in primary schools or exploring the
world of the Indonesian Gamelan orchestra and much more.
All of us endeavour to write music that communicates and excites;
challenges and innovates; whether it be through, say, Nitin's sample-based
political explorations or Peter's phantasmagorical aural dream worlds.
All of us believe in the power of the young, their "sod it,
let's go for it" approach as performers, and their openness
and perception as auditors. The future, for us, is you.
A thought to take away with you - and one for Dennis, if he's reading
this: 40 years ago at the age of nine, experiencing as I hope you
all will be, the first Prom, I wanted more than anything else to
be down there myself as either composer or conductor or, even better,
both. And guess what...?
Copyright Guardian Media Group plc. 2000