A very British Orpheus!

Harpsichord(Orpheus – in ancient Greece considered to be the greatest of all musicians and poets, who could ‘charm the birds, fish and wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance and divert the course of rivers’ when he sang and played on his lyre.)

When Henry Purcell’s wife published two volumes of his compositions after his death with the title Orpheus Brittanicus (a British Orpheus), she was giving voice to the high esteem in which her late husband had been held by the English public, nobility and newly restored monarchs.
Purcell is considered by many people to be our finest English composer.

He was born in Westminster in 1659 to a musical family. Six months later saw the restoration of the English monarchy and, with that, a new chapter opened for English music. Purcell’s father and uncle both sang in the Chapel Royal Choir and he grew up amongst the best of court and church musicians of the day under the patronage of Charles 11.

After a long Civil War and Commonwealth period under Oliver Cromwell (when theatres were closed, public performance of music banned, similarly all Christmas feasting, carols etc, no music allowed in church services) English music was fortunate that a genius of Purcell’s stature came along to set it on its way again.

During his exile in France, Charles 11 heard and admired the up-to-date French and Italian music – and encouraged his own court musicians to bring their innovations to England.

Purcell spent his life in and around Westminster and the court – he was organist at the Abbey and Chapel Royal – and is buried next to the organ in Westminster Abbey. He was a prolific composer of church music, organ music, songs, music for violins, harpsichord and orchestra. In his later life he wrote for the theatre – notably the first real English opera, Dido and Aeneas.

He composed for all State occasions for Charles 11, James 11 and King William and Queen Mary.
He died in 1695. The funeral music written for Queen Mary the previous year was played at his own funeral. It is still played and sung today at State Burials.

Listen to:

Dido’s lament from Dido and Aeneas. You will hear the bass line played solo in the opening bars. This same bass tune is repeated over and over and the song composed over the top of it. This compositional technique is called a ground bass – a popular device used by Purcell and other Baroque composers.
Fantasia upon one note – possibly tongue in cheek, but very clever piece – that one note persists throughout!

Incidental music written for the play Abdelazar, or The Moor’s Revenge – the Rondeau tune was made famous when Benjamin Britten used it as the basis for his Young People’s Guide to the Orchestra.


Nymphs and Shepherds Come Away
I Attempt from Love’s Sickness to Fly


John Dryden’s very beautiful Ode, on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell

‘So ceas’d the rival Crew when Purcell came,
They Sung no more, or only Sung his Fame.’

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

How Do You Turn An Idea Into A Story?

ideaAll stories start from an idea. By itself that’s not going to get you very far. But you can build from an idea by asking questions.

Your idea could be a snatch of conversation, a theme, an image, a person. A little thing that tickles your imagination and starts you thinking. For example, you’re on holiday on the beach and you see a boat speeding across the bay. Visions of speedboat chases jump into your head and there’s the germ of a story. Continue reading

Shooting Stars


On the 12th August 2015, hundreds of shooting stars lit up the night sky as the annual Perseid meteor shower peaked. The shower is active each year from 17th July- 24th August but this year coincided with a new moon (for the first time since 2007) creating the ideal dark sky conditions. The shooting stars were also joined by the International Space Station (ISS) at around 10:30pm as it moved from the West below the bright star Arcturus and then headed towards the south, fading out as it passed into the Earth’s shadow. To learn more about the Perseid meteor shower take a look at this link:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11796654/Perseid-Meteor-Shower-shooting-stars-to-light-up-Britains-skies.html Continue reading

Cilla Black

cilla blackOn Saturday 1st of August 2015 we lost the British icon Cilla Black at age 72. She was loved by many and made her name through singing, acting and presenting. She was born Priscilla Maria Veronica White in Liverpool on 27th May 1947 and later created the stage name Cilla Black. She was raised in a Roman Catholic household by her mother Priscilla Blythen and John Patrick White.

From a young age Black was determined to become a performer so when she finished college she became a cloakroom attendant at Liverpool’s Cavern Club which had strong connections with the Beatles. Black was lucky enough to perform on a couple of occasions at the Cavern Club and these performances caught the eye of the Beatles who were very impressed. This was just the start of their relationship, later on in Black’s career she became one of the only artists to record more than one collaboration with Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Continue reading

A University Education Revisited

Group of graduate students throwing graduation hats to the sky.

I have touched on this subject previously but as costs of universities rise it’s worth a revisit. Coming up to September many last minute decisions to go or not will be made. University should never be looked at entirely as a means to employment. That is a very narrow view of something which is potentially so much wider and so much more beneficial than just getting a job.

Certain professions require a university education such as Doctor, Lawyer, Vet, etc. But there are so many more diverse subjects that can be studied. The backbone of universities is research and factually they contribute a huge amount to human endeavour and betterment. Continue reading

Songs To Amuse

songs tNow that the summer holidays are here, it might be useful to have a few amusing songs ready at hand.

There is a wealth of young children’s songs of the silly kind that could well liven up a party or a long car journey –


There was an old lady who swallowed a fly
I went to the animal fair
Aiken drum
You’re a pink toothbrush
There’s a hole in my bucket

If you would like a challenge, try The Rattlin’ Bog – an Irish traditional version of The Tree In The Wood. (There are some good celtic versions on YouTube.)

For older children (and adults) with an interest in performing, comedy songs give an opportunity to show off, or polish up, your acting ability. They require a degree of production, but are useful repertoire to lighten a concert programme. All the world loves to laugh! Continue reading

Frank Sinatra

frankFrank Sinatra was one of the most popular entertainers of the 20th Century. He built his spectacular career in music and film acting. He rose to fame singing big band numbers and in the 40s and 50s had multiple hit singles and albums which are now iconic songs such as “Love and Marriage” and “New York, New York”. He also developed a strong acting career and won an Oscar for his appearance in “From Here to Eternity”. Although, sadly, Frank Sinatra is no longer alive his music is kept alive by his adoring fans and will continue to live on for many years. Continue reading

Who Wants Perfect Characters?

A book on an isolated background with a bright,magical glow emanating from it

As a reader, you’ll find your favourite characters are flawed. We like to recognise ourselves and in life we know that nobody is perfect. Flaws are endearing and make a character more interesting. With Pride and Prejudice, the clue is in the title, yet we love Darcy and Lizzy.

Snape in the Harry Potter books is the most complex of JK Rowling’s characters, yet one of the most popular. We are fooled into seeing Snape as a villain, and he is vindictive to Harry, though he protects him. We understand when we learn about his relationship with Harry’s parents, and in the final book we get the truth. This makes him fascinating. Continue reading

How To Handle Help

MotherI have an adult student who won’t let me touch a single piece of artwork she’s working on. Why? Because her mother always re-did anything she ever produced as a child. Nothing was ever up to her mother’s standards!

I have a husband who would get very, very ratty if I ever pointed out some problem with his DIY handiwork. Why? Because his father was always telling him how to do things and criticising the job he had done!

It is sometimes hard to prevent oneself from making similar errors, even if not to the same degree. Your little child wants to wipe the table. You watch as smears are produced and parts are missed and the temptation is to grab a cloth and do a brisk and thorough job yourself. Ever felt that way? I certainly have and it has been a hard lesson to restrain myself and leave the child to be happy with their product. Continue reading


wimbledonWimbledon championship, simply called Wimbledon is the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. It started in 1877 at The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club when the only tennis event held at the tournament was the Gentlemen’s Singles, won by Spencer Gore. This event was watched by 200 spectators who paid 1 shilling each to watch the match. Continue reading