Music Hall Traditions

jules-leotard

 

 

 

 

 

Jules Leotard – The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze! (1838-1870)

 

Music Hall – a dead entertainment or a living tradition?

More often than not, when you introduce the idea of singing a Music Hall song to a young person, you are met with some resistance. It’s unfamiliar territory, maybe considered old-fashioned and the songs too simplistic. Students of Music Theatre are required to sing songs pre-1900 as part of their exams, so it is a subject worth exploring.

With the right introduction, it is clear that much of what we consider entertainment today was fathered in the Victorian Music Hall and the tastes of modern audiences are not too dissimilar to those of the Victorians.

Watching shows like Britain’s Got Talent and other popular entertainment, we see stand-up comedians with a heavy leaning towards social satire, hire-wire gymnasts, performing animals, magicians, male and female impersonators or ‘drag’ artists, mime artists, jugglers, ventriloquists, escapologists….. not to mention our fascination with strong men and women, super star sportsmen, professional wrestling, all presented with lavish stage effects, eccentric and over-the-top costumes. All of this was there in the Music Hall theatres so popular with the Victorians.

Above all they loved a good song, often the sole property of one beloved star singer, who would top the bill and raise the audience’s spirits with a good familiar chorus and sing-a-long.

Famous artists toured the country with their own signature songs – Florrie Ford ( She’s a Lassie from Lancashire, Oh I do like to be beside the sea-side, Down at the old Bull and Bush), Vesta Victoria (Daddy wouldn’t buy me a bow-wow, Waiting at the church), Marie Lloyd (My old man said follow the van, The Boy I love is up in the gallery, Oh Mr Porter), George Leybourne (Champagne Charlie), Charlie Coborn (The Man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo) and numerous others.

The Music Halls created a demand for new and catchy popular songs and professional writers were kept busy providing a variety of numbers, mostly comical, often cockney, cheeky, often telling a story poking fun at society figures.

Music Hall in London had its origins in entertainment provided in the saloon bars of public houses during the 1830s. The most famous London saloon of the early days was the Grecian Saloon, established in 1825, at The Eagle (a former tea-garden), 2 Shepherdess Walk, off the City Road in East London. It is still famous because of an English nursery rhyme, with the somewhat mysterious lyrics:

Up and down the City Road
In and out The Eagle
That’s the way the money goes
Pop goes the weasel.

This saloon ‘song and supper’ entertainment, initially popular with the working class, became increasingly popular throughout society, so much so, that during the 1850s, the public houses were demolished and music hall theatres developed in their place. These theatres were designed chiefly so people could consume food and alcohol and smoke tobacco in the auditorium while the entertainment took place. This differed somewhat from the conventional type of theatre, which until then seated the audience in stalls with a separate bar-room.

By the end of the century, London boasted several hundred music halls and there was at least one in most towns and cities throughout the country.

Interesting fact:
• Jules Leotard was a famous trapeze artist who inspired one of George Leybourne’s popular numbers – the Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze: (and incidentally gave his name to the all-in-one suit now used by dancers and athletes)
‘He flies through the air with the greatest of ease, that daring young man on the flying trapeze….’

• Music hall had a profound influence on The Beatles through Paul McCartney, who was himself the son of a Music Hall performer (Jim McCartney, who led Jim Mac’s Jazz Band). Many of McCartney’s songs are indistinguishable from Music Hall except in their instrumentation.
“When I’m Sixty-Four” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” “Oobladee, oobladah”

• Despite the fact that many Music Hall buildings were bombed in the war and/or later demolished, there is now a renewed interest in preserving them. You can see one of the original Music Halls, Wilton’s Music Hall, now restored and functioning as an arts and entertainment centre in Tower Hamlets.

Around 1950, the popularity of Music Hall seemed to have waned, but strangely, certain songs hung on. Amateur companies kept the tradition alive. Music Hall lived on in the BBC series The Good Old Days, Variety shows and period drama. Nowadays it’s quite common to hear these old songs popping up in pub sing-a-longs or other community entertainments .

I would guess they are here to stay!

Guest Blog by Marion Shuster
BA hons (Cambridge) LRSM

Marion Shuster has been teaching music, conducting and performing locally for over 30 years. She currently has two choirs based in East Grinstead, the Greenstede Singers and Choirpower, as well as a busy teaching schedule.  www.learn2sing.org

Praise

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New Year – New Goals

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I’m not just speaking of academic targets that you, as a parent, would like to see achieved. That may well be part of the process but, more importantly, it is a chance to find out how your child feels about various subjects, where uncertainties or insecurities may lie and even, perhaps, some ambitions of which you are totally unaware.

It never ceases to amaze me what a really young child can come up with and what a light, guided conversation can reveal. The conversation should never be heavy – just something along the lines of ‘I was wondering if there was something you’d like to have as a goal, something you’d like to improve or get better at this year (or term)? Maybe something you’re already really brilliant at but you’d like to do even better or something that is a bit of a problem?’ The wording would depend on the child and on your relationship. But steer clear of statements like ‘Well! We’re going to sort out ALL your times tables so you know them all perfectly!’ Continue reading

Cut To The Chase

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Writers should probably stick the words up as a big notice on their office wall! The most common structural problem writers face – amateurs and pros alike – is getting bogged down in too much explanatory or repetitive prose or dialogue with no action.

Thus, cut to the chase in writing means GET TO THE ACTION! Continue reading

Christmas Carols

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Some carol facts…

The term ‘carol’ has its roots in an old medieval French word ‘carole’. One thousand years ago this was a lively dance in a ring with people singing, often with one person leading and the rest of the singers answering. One of our most popular carols has come down to us in this form, with its questions and answers and dancing rhythms –

I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas day, on Christmas day
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas day in the morning.

And what was in those ships all three?…
Our saviour Christ and his lady…
And whither sailed those ships all three?…
O they sailed into Bethlehem… Continue reading

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I would like to suggest that we also take some time to consider the whole idea of kindness. We might think of kindness as being generous of spirit, being good to another, supporting and nurturing them. Often people have this strange idea that children need to be taught some harsh lessons about the reality of life. You often hear, for example, that life is unkind and that kids should learn that sooner rather than later. Continue reading

Kitchen Timer Homework

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To sum up – too much homework: why did he have to do it all the time and especially on Sunday, one day before he was back at school again?

One of the main problems – the daily diary! Far from getting done on a daily basis, this (in his view) pointless activity all happened late Sunday afternoon when he couldn’t think or care about a single thing to write. Continue reading

Emotional Impact

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When you tell a story from within your main character’s head, and tell it moment by moment, that is exactly what you are doing. You invite the reader to see with the person’s eyes, hear with his ears and share his reactions. The reader then identifies closely with that character and the story becomes his for the duration. Continue reading

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The familiar explosions of light and sound that go along with bonfires and firework displays have inspired many generations of musicians and artists since the first bonfires were lit around London in the months following the discovery of the infamous gunpowder plot in 1605. We are all familiar with the story – barrels of gunpowder waiting to be lit under the House of Lords, the capture of Guy Fawkes and his fellow plotters, King James I and Parliament rescued from a constitutional disaster. Continue reading

Walk A Mile In Their Shoes

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