In a child’s mind

Thanks from schoolchildren after an early music workshop.

Thanks from schoolchildren to David and Gill Munrow after an early music workshop.

The BBC over the last few years has tried to get children to become more involved in classical music. November 2014 saw the introduction of Ten Pieces, an initiative aimed initially at children of primary school age. There was a “Ten Pieces” prom in August 2015. With the success of the primary school programme the initiative was expanded in 2015 to include children of secondary school age; and culminated in another Prom (Ten Pieces II) in July 2016.

Among the more unexpected items that we have in the Music Department of the University Library are children’s responses to classical music. Specifically their response to Sir Arthur Bliss‘s Colour Symphony, and to medieval music as performed by David and Gill Munrow.

Gill and David Munrow with a musical workshop of instruments. Photographer unknown, please contact if you have further information.

Gill and David Munrow with a musical workshop of instruments.
Photographer unknown, please contact if you have further information.

During the 1960s, the musician, David Munrow, and his wife, Gill, ran workshops in schools introducing children to the then largely unknown world of medieval music, and the instruments of the period. One primary school in Birmingham sent a large envelope of letters to the Munrows in November 1968 to say thank you for the workshop, and to record the children’s responses to it. Though some of the responses were not unexpected, some were rather more unusual….

I would like to thank you for coming and for the recorders that you showed us in the hall on the Wednesday. I liked the base [sic] recorder best of all I should like to play the recorder myself

…The biggest recorder when you played it you went all red because you had run out of breath

…I liked the recorder that squeaked

….I did not like the big instruments but I liked the axe [I have no idea what instrument this pupil was referring to. Can anyone out there guess?] it was a good instrument

We all hope you will come again next year and bring us some nice instruments with you. And if you have got a real trumpet that we use nowadays [evidently not a fan of period performance!] and some flags from all other countries

The shawm and the china bells were universally praised, and there was even a critic in the audience (aged about 8) – ….if you do come again I hope it is as good or even better than last time.

As provided by Lady Bliss, a cover design for A colour symphony

As provided by Lady Bliss, a cover design for A colour symphony

Fast forward 20 years, and primary school children in Lincoln were responding to Sir Arthur Bliss’s Colour Symphony. Aided by an album cover that Lady Bliss had thoughtfully supplied, which included helpful sleeve notes by Christopher Palmer, the children listened to excerpts from the symphony using the then new Chandos recording conducted by Vernon Handley, and then responded to the work.

Some of the responses were clearly heavily reliant on Christopher Palmer’s own response, but predictably (for children) there were some unusual responses too….

Red…was like somebody having a sword fight. Or there was a fire in a hut and somebody [was] trying to get out

I didn’t like purple because it was slow

Bliss2I think blue was dancing music. I nearly did a dance. Mrs. Instrall [their student teacher] wanted to dance too

Green is like monsters killing lots of people and eating them

Purple is slow and soft. It sounds like a ballet dancer

I like the green music. It sounds like you’re in a sledge riding down a hill very fast. And in a rush the sledge was very fast very good too this sledge was so big it could fit 8 people in it

Bliss1 001Green was like some men on horses they was chasing and they saw a man was falling down a cliff and there was a monster in the water the monster it had one eye and two noses

I like the red. It is fast and furious. But I am a boy so you would no [sic]

And my personal favourite – Dear Lady Bliss, My name is Kylie. I come from Louth. My telephone number is…


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About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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4 Responses to In a child’s mind

  1. mj263 says:

    Reblogged this on IAML (UK & Irl) and commented:

    It’s not just scores! Some unexpected items to be found in a music library.


  2. Reblogged this on texthistory and commented:
    Old music for young kids

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mj263 says:

    A shy MusiCB3 reader suggests “I wonder if the ‘axe’ was the single drone bappipe. I guess it could look a bit like that and Munrow only played winds … just about all of them.” It certainly sounds like a possibility, perhaps akin to some of the pipes that can be seen here


  4. SVM says:

    If anything, this post exemplifies the differences between the ‘Ten Pieces’ myopia — an unforgivably repressive act of narrowing so many children’s concept of ‘classical music’ to a miniscule canon of ten works, and not even exposing them to different interpretations (all the children were exposed to the same recordings, and with relatively few opportunities to hear much orchestral music *live*) — and the enlightened approach of Munrow et al., exploring an impressive variety of instruments and repertoire in considerable detail and live. Far better to do something on a small scale and well, than attempt to brainwash a whole nation of schoolchildren with a few pre-recorded orchestral soundbites.

    Munrow et al. seem to open a door onto the exciting variety and possibilities of the classical tradition, without the arrogant pretence to being representative of the whole tradition. In fact, reading about and seeing pictures of these instruments and their repertoires when I visited this exhibition in July was a real eye-opener even for me! One wonders how much more Munrow may have achieved and contributed if he had not died so young…

    Liked by 1 person

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