Musical coincidences

Nathan Waring, one of our newer composers and Head of Music at Gresham’s Prep School in Norfolk UK, writes this post about some recent performances of his works. Follow the links to see the pieces he mentions in the CMP catalogue.

Britten’s Bell

Sitting staring at me in my office is a life-size bust of Benjamin Britten. How he came to sit in here is a long story but here he is, staring right through me, just as he was when I was researching his time at Gresham’s School. In reading Britten’s diaries and letters from his two years at the school, it is clear that the school chapel meant a great deal to him. A schoolboy friend of his once wrote that he remembered Britten climbing out the window of his boarding house to creep into chapel late at night to practise the organ. Britten’s use of hymns in works such as Noye’s Fludde and St Nicolas hints of a boy who, though not devout in a belief, has a musical understanding of the significance of the Christian musical tradition.

Whitechapel Bell

Gresham School’s chapel’s Whitechapel bell celebrates its centenary in 2015.

Thinking about this, I decided to research something other than the organ, something that perhaps would have some significance for the young Britten. The chapel bell, rung regularly during the week, was a perfect focus for a composition, particularly, as I discovered, as it was about to celebrate its 100th birthday. Given to the school by the then Headmaster J.R. Eccles (who took pleasure in reminding Britten to get his hair cut rather too regularly), the 1915 Whitechapel bell is inscribed “Ring in the Christ that is to be”, lines from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem Ring out, wild bells.

One hundred years after it was installed, the bell still hangs in the bell turret designed by Sir Maxwell Ayrton (of the original Wembley Stadium design), and is rung for every school service. What I could not have predicted though, as the bell was rung out during the performance of my Ring out, wild bells on 28th February 2015, was that it took exactly 100 tolls for the choir to complete the anthem. A wonderful, and most unexpected coincidence for a piece written to celebrate a bell heard by so many pupils past and present.

Remembering a First World War loss

Why is it that the past can be so emotive? What is it about the past that paints such strong pictures? A personal story can often provide the most sensitive of musical stories, as I found when researching part of my family tree; a lost great uncle, a tragic story from 1916.

Whilst a father was serving on the Western Front, his son, a Private William Pettigrew Waller, joined up for basic training in the London Scottish Regiment. Perhaps inspired by the service and courage of his father, William sailed to France in late September 1916. Exactly one month later he was dead, killed by enemy shelling of his trench.

The writing of Remembered came to me whilst sitting in a remote bay in Shetland, with words that expressed the importance of remembering the fallen to a new generation. The chorus in particular was derived from William’s surname and it was an emotional moment for me, when my youth choir performed it recently at the Royal Festival Hall, with my 10-year old son, singing in front of me. William had been remembered, by a new generation. It was a terrific bonus to the performance – a national choral competition – that saw the choir placed second in its category!

RFH choir

Nathan and the choir at the Royal Festival Hall




About Neil Sands

Director of the Chichester Music Press. Astronomer.
This entry was posted in Composers, Education, Performances, Publications and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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