Friday, January 8, 2016

A Life in Music

Over the last few days I have enjoyed reading the story of Sir David Willcocks in A Life in Music which a friend loaned me.  Several time I saw him in action on Christmas Eve at King's College (with his famous carol descants) and, as a teenager, sang (poorly) from his Carols for Choirs.  But his career dazzles in its wide range, taking in Westminster Abbey, dramatic wartime service, Salisbury and Worcester Cathedrals concluding with directorship of Royal College of Music and the Bach Choir. What makes the book unusual  is wide-ranging engagingly told by transcribed conversations with Sir David and friends.

Many things struck me. People who knew him best always remarked on his beautiful and meaningful conducting of the psalms.  He said he could recite many of them by memory and when preparing the choir he would ask questions like:
Where does the main stress come?  In a verse like "God is our hope and strength: a very present help in trouble" (Ps. 46:1) is the stress on 'very', 'present', 'help', or 'in trouble'?  You have to work in rehearsal to make sure that the entire choir feels the words in the same way.....I love the psalms. They cater to every mood, and speak of joy, sadness, sorrow love, hate, redemption and reconciliation - every mood experienced by man is to be found in the words of the psalms.  
How right he is.  It just so happens that I am starting a new set of Bible study notes for Scripture Union which includes two psalms -108 and 109. You can certainly see some moods there!  Oh, to love the psalms too.

I also enjoyed (amongst much else) his philosophy of conducting. 
I'd say to any person who wants to be a conductor, "Play in an orchestra, sing in a choir, be at the receiving end, and make up your mind what it is you like about the person up on the rostrum.  Is he talking too much?  Is he encouraging?  Is he getting to the really important points, or is he fiddling around with little things that don't really matter?
 Is it possible that I hear a message there for training preachers too?

Another aspect that impressed me was the loan copy was personally inscribed with a lovely message to my friend, Maggie, who was also responsible for transcribing interviews, for collating book material and for photographs. Listening to her speak of her own fond memories (sadly not included!) including his very last years make me even more grateful for the difference that Sir David made to so many of our lives through his glorious music making.

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