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.
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.
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
I 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
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…