I recently read in one of my professional music journals of the death of a great British composer called Guy Woolfenden. Now this was not particularly remarkable and though he had an obituary in the papers he was not especially famous and in fact he passed away last April and I had not heard until September.
Just a brief round-up, he was mostly famous for his work with the Royal Shakespeare Company for whom he was the musical director and composer for 37 years. I first came across him/his music in 1985 when I joined my local Wind Band and this “new” piece was presented to the band called “Gallimaufry”. No, I didn’t know what it meant either (Def – a confused jumble or medley of things) but this piece of music was great. It was also quite newly published so we would have been one of the first bands to perform it. Well, the band at the time really enjoyed learning it and 12 yr old me got to play the Bass Drum and blow a solo whistle note!
But this piece was not just one of those “nice” pieces, it has travelled with me for the last 30 years. It stuck in my memory as an earworm at the time, and over the years, the same band (who I now work for) gets it out from time to time. The current youths don’t seem to appreciate its beauty as much as previous incarnations buy hey…
I also come across it regularly with an adult community band I often guest with and I am sure that many bands across the world have this as a staple concert item. I was also fortunate to have a recording to listen to of our first performance so it has been a piece I have got to know extremely well.
So why is it such a good piece of music? I have never seen the point in over analysing this sort of thing from a technical perspective, but for me it has good tunes, majestic harmonies, intricate lines, one of the most beautiful melodies ever written and fun percussion parts! What’s not to like? Of course, yet again we come back to personal memories and experiences but the fact that almost all players who come across this particular piece seem to love it as well speaks volumes about its clear musical value.
When researching for this blog, not only did I discover that Guy Woolfenden had studied at the Guildhall in London, where I had studied Percussion, but that he also went to the same senior school in Croydon! I had never had that knowledge – and there I had been, humming his tunes around the school grounds, oblivious to the fact he himself had been there!! Perhaps there was always meant to be a connection??
I also came across this gem of a video with a reasonably good performance of the work (there are some fine ones around!) but more importantly it was a part of a concert dedicated to Guy’s music, and seems to be a last public appearance of the great composer. Looking a little frail, he and his wife are in attendance to this glorious work. There is also a brief spoken introduction by the conductor which sums it all up perfectly.
Enjoy then, this most marvellous of works, for a fantastic type of ensemble, for a fitting tribute to a true British talent.
Love as ever,