Villanelle: An appeal

Was ever thus, and ever more shall be.
What’s done is done, and nothing more to say.
Leave this last, simple, precious thing to me.

You wring your hands and preach austerity,
Express regret there is no other way.
Was ever thus, and ever more shall be.

So much I have surrendered willingly,
Decided I can do without. I pray
Leave this last, simple, precious thing to me.

A cost we can’t sustain, a luxury
We can’t afford. (Unlike the bankers’ pay.)
Was ever thus, and ever more shall be.

Is this your dream for our society –
A colourless machine; all work, no play?
Leave this last, simple, precious thing to me.

Our life and soul, heart and humanity –
Made yours to buy and sell, or throw away.
Was ever thus, and ever more shall be.
Leave this last, simple, precious thing to me.


As I’ve mentioned before, our peerless County Music Service is facing a 50% cut in its budget, and the subsequent loss of one-third of the instrumental teaching staff. I readily declare a selfish interest in this, because my daughter has her violin lessons, attends Summer School, and plays with some fantastic ensembles through the the Service. It’s been judged Outstanding by OFSTED three years running, and works with literally thousands of children, many of whom would otherwise have little or no access to music education. For the sake of saving £500K a year (out of a total County Council budget of £380 million) it’s all being put in jeopardy, and it seems there’s nothing we can do about it. (Somehow, they’ve been able to find an extra £57 million for roads, and I’m not aware that the leader of the Council is volunteering to forgo any of his £200K+ salary, either.) And once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Would I be so exercised if similar cuts were proposed to, say, a children’s football programme? Well, yes, I probably would. We’re so fixated on business, growth and economics, we’re becoming the cynics, as defined by Oscar Wilde, who ‘know the price of everything, and the value of nothing’. We’re consumers not citizens, target markets not people, and existing rather than living. When we sacrifice music, art, sport, or any of the other things that make us human on the altar of money, we lose something of ourselves. Did any of the 200 children and 400 parents who attended the concert on Saturday think music was a waste of taxpayers’ money? I doubt it. And it’s not even as though we’re taking a State handout here: we pay fees for everything, as well as buying instruments, music and so on.
This blog isn’t meant to be a platform for my opinions, rants and crusades, so I apologise for sounding off. Thank you for bearing with me. And the villanelle goes out to anyone who faces having something dear to them taken away, in the name of saving money. N.

Sonnet: Folk memory

“Summer is a-coming in,” they sang,
“Groweth mead and bloweth seed, and spring
The woods anew.” How sweet their voices rang;
The ancient round still with the power to bring
The scent of flowers and new-mown hay to mind,
And conjure skylarks in a sapphire sky,
While for a moment, Winter’s wicked wind
Was turned aside. Long centuries roll by
But cannot touch the melodies and rhymes
Our fathers made to lighten scythe or plough.
What music of our own impatient times
Will children sing eight hundred years from now?
What legacy will we be handing on
For them to marvel at when we are gone?


At my daughter’s violin class yesterday, teachers Miss B and Miss Y had them playing, then singing, ‘Summer is a-Coming In’, a round dating from the 13th Century. Slightly incongruous in February, and with snow imminent, but a wonderful treat for us parents – and for the children too, I think. They certainly seemed to enjoy it, especially when they divided into six different parts, with the melodies and harmonies repeating and interweaving in a single swell of sound. Glorious. I believe it’s really important that these old songs are handed on, generation to generation, as reminders of who we are (or were) and where we come from. As a nation, we’ve been very careless with our folk history and memories; other countries seem to do these things much better.
I’ve said it many times before, I know, but Miss B, Miss Y and the other East Sussex Music Service staff are beyond praise, and do brilliant work with literally thousands of kids all over the county. Which is why I’m so incensed that the Service faces a 10% cut in its budget this year, and will eventually lose HALF its funding to government cuts. I fail to see what possible impact these savings could have on the overall deficit – meanwhile, we risk losing some thing truly worthwhile and inspirational that our kids will remember (and possibly even thank us for!) all their lives. Some legacy, huh?

A night at the opera

A night at the opera

I’ve ridden, driven past these gates
A hundred times and more.
But tonight, we’re turning in:
Parking in the dark and distant corner
Where mere musicians’ old jalopies
Can be discreetly hidden from
The summer season’s picnickers.

We climb up to the circle
In cathedral-goers’ reverence
Enclosed in brick and polished stairs
Five-quid tickets in our unworthy hands
Then for the first – and, we imagine, only – time
We take our lord-knows-how-much seats
In that fabled wooden Oh-my-goodness

And there she is.
One cherished face, one treasured voice
In that bright chorus of three hundred
Raised in jaunty, joyous song.
No soprano’s aria could make
These sparks go crackling down my neck:
No opera at any price

Could summon up this surge of pride.
It is for her –
It is through her –
That we are sitting here tonight,
Transported into wondrous realms
We never would have known
And would not miss for worlds.


On Friday night, our 10-year-old daughter sang in the world-famous opera house at Glyndebourne along with her classmates and Year 6 children from half-a-dozen other local junior schools. The concert was organised by our wonderful East Sussex Music Service (for whom no praise is too high) as part of its annual Great Big Christmas Sing programme, which runs in schools across the county. The children sang a musical based (very loosely) on the Christmas story, specially composed for them by the Music Service’s Director, no less, which they’d been rehearsing in class all term.

Normally, Glyndebourne is a byword for glamour and gracious living. During the Summer Festival, many people arrive by helicopter or chauffeured car, and opera-goers’ picnics are the stuff of legend. On Friday, though, we the Great Unwashed took over. Egalitarianism ruled: everyone in the audience paid just £5 for their ticket. We managed to bag the front row of the Circle, and I wondered how much it would cost to sit in the same seat for a Summer Season opera production. What’s certain is I wouldn’t be able to afford it – and it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun, either. The Girl was beside herself with excitement beforehand and walking on air afterwards – it was a truly glorious evening. (What’s more, we got to sing at Glyndebourne, too: only a couple of verses of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, but hey, that’ll do me.)



You stand out front,
A firm grip on your bow
And their attention.

Rapt, upstanding, desperate to please,
Two dozen Heifetz aspirants fall in and follow –
Up-bow, down-bow –
Through dense quaver thickets
Up and down arpeggio hills
Along broad, smooth andante trails
Over jagged heaps of broken thirds,
Filling the room with smiles, swarms of sound

And me with longing and regret
That you were not around
When I was young;
And the wistful, certain knowledge
I’ll never be in your class.

Inspired by and dedicated to the wonderful staff of the East Sussex Music Service, and in particular my daughter’s violin teachers. There is no praise high enough for their dedication, enthusiasm and musicianship.