In Concert

Get a flavour of the music collections of the Library of Birmingham – quirky, practical, historical, contemporary

Classical music through a Caribbean lens — June 22, 2020

Classical music through a Caribbean lens

Today (June 22) is Windrush day in the UK. It commemorates and celebrates those individuals who arrived on HMT Empire Windrush from the Caribbean in 1948 and their descendants.

HMT ‘Empire Windrush’ (photo from IWM via Wikipedia)

If you’re interested in discovering the musical legacy of those people who came to the UK for a new life, this short series of videos look good.

The British Library has a considerable number of informative and thoughtful essays on Windrush topics including this one on Calypso and the birth of British black music.

For this post though, I’ve decided to feature five contemporary, British – Caribbean composers who also all happen to be female. Continue reading

Singing the score at home — June 3, 2020

Singing the score at home

Whether you’re a singer or instrumentalist, opportunities for making music are still limited. Lockdown may have eased, but in this, little has changed. You can practise on your own of course, (subject to your neighbours) but that soon palls. If other people in your household are also musicians, that’s good. However it’s a fortunate home that has a perfect line-up and sufficient material. Continue reading

Beyond the Pastoral – other music by Vaughan Williams — May 20, 2020

Beyond the Pastoral – other music by Vaughan Williams

The Lark Ascending has topped Classic FM’s ‘Hall of Fame’ nine times. It is a rapturous piece of music, wedded to the English outdoors and well suited to listening on long, lazy summer days. How many people though, don’t explore what else Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote in his 60 plus years of composing? I can only scrape the surface in this post. Here are three of his symphonies, all different and pointing to other facets of the composer’s music. Continue reading

Do you remember the Humline? — May 6, 2020

Do you remember the Humline?

This is going to read like the start to a fairy tale…  Once upon a time there were hardly any mobile phones, the fax machine represented high tech, and there was no publicly accessible internet. Remember?

That meant no Siri, Alexa, or Google to answer your every question. So what were you to do if an earworm drove you mad? Or music for a funeral had to be found, or a half-remembered theme from a film bugged you.

One option was to visit your nearest music library. Continue reading

Made in Birmingham 2 – new listening edition — April 22, 2020

Made in Birmingham 2 – new listening edition

If social media is to be believed, this enforced stay-at-home time should be used to broaden your horizons or learn something new, rather than just surviving. In this spirit, I decided to wander off and see what Birmingham indie rock bands old and new are out there, waiting to be discovered. Usually, the library’s stock takes me on all kinds of journeys; now, of course, I have no access. My classical music bias hangs a little heavy sometimes, so this exploration should be a breath of fresh air.

Join me in this experiment. Maybe you’ll discover someone new, or perhaps you’ll just roll your eyes at my choices. Continue reading

Staying tuned – alternative engagements — April 15, 2020

Staying tuned – alternative engagements

Producing online content sounds an easy thing to do, but it isn’t. Particularly if you’ve had next-to-no warning that it will be needed. Sound familiar? As a library, we’re finding our way around the perils (and pleasures?) of making YouTube videos and other streaming content. This may form an important part of the library’s offer over the next few weeks or months. We’re lucky that some library services continue: there’s still access to e-books, e-audiobooks, and e-magazines for example.

Compare our situation with that of many arts organisations. Their primary purpose is to perform; take away that and they lose nearly all contact with the audience, their customers. Orchestras and other music groups in the UK run on a (comparative) shoestring. In normal times, their backroom staff have a job keeping things running smoothly. Online content and engagement can feel like a luxury to be tackled only when circumstances allow. And then the world turns upside-down. Continue reading

Made in Birmingham – Part 1 — April 8, 2020

Made in Birmingham – Part 1

We’re back! It seems a long time since the last post, and it is – more than a month in fact. And hasn’t the landscape changed? Library staff are all now working from home and trying to find their way around the new normal.

This blog must also alter somewhat – I have no access to any of our stock now so the focus will change. Music will still be central of course.

A week or so ago, a BBC report caught my eye and got me thinking. The US Library of Congress hosts a National Recording Registry. Every year they select 25 recordings (music or speech) which they regard as ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant’ to life in the US. Continue reading

Music and W.H. Auden – a taster — February 19, 2020

Music and W.H. Auden – a taster

In the UK, February is LGBTQ History month. A timely reminder of this, together with the poet W.H Auden’s roots here in the West Midlands led to the idea for this post.

[clicking on an image will give the full picture]

In a fascinating article about Auden and music on the British Library website, Valentine Cunningham starts his essay in this fashion:

Poetry and music have always gone together. And of all the great modern poets who have kept alive the ancient alliance between poetry and singing, there’s no one to beat W H Auden. Auden sang without stop.

Continue reading

A Chinese puzzle — January 28, 2020

A Chinese puzzle

Some time back, a post From Russia with some difficulty … looked at the troubles we’ve had as a library in obtaining Russian material over the years. These continuing difficulties pale into insignificance when compared with accessing China’s music publications and composers. Equally over the past 120 years, many Russian composers have enjoyed Western representation and a large number of works are considered part of the classical music canon. Chinese representation is extremely low.

Continue reading

Rebel guy – songs and lyrics of Joe Hill — January 9, 2020

Rebel guy – songs and lyrics of Joe Hill

A slim, battered volume in our folk section caught my eye recently. This interest ramped up when I read the following down the long edge of the front cover:

Originally published on the 40th anniversary of his murder at the hands of the authorities on November 19, 1915.

OK… that was the hook. So who exactly was Joe Hill? And why did he merit publication by the radical American folk imprint, Oak Publications? Read on to discover what I found. Continue reading

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