Music to my Ears…

Guide dog 2.jpg

I was inspired to write this as a result of having two superb builders doing repairs on my house. David had been a photo/journalist in the ‘hot spots’ prior to setting up his business in Devon; the other has numerous interests including rowing at a high level. Their conversation and discussions have been such that I have wished to join in and therefore unable to attack much needed work.


One of the topics we touched on was background music.  The other was in greater detail focusing on the problems faced in attracting young people to take an interest in the vast choice of sporting and arts-related opportunities on offer.


As far as background music is concerned, I used to find that I couldn’t do any administration with extraneous noise (regardless of type) in the background. This has changed recently depending on what the music is. I can now press buttons tuned into Radio 3 but find I am not able to recognise instantly what the work might be – I am normally more on the ball. However, the moment a rhythm is out of place or intonation is amiss, my ear will pick it up. Then I lose concentration.


I fare better with Radio 4 depending on the programme. ‘Just a Minute’ used to have me in giggles (not any more) and the computer keys would lie untapped. On the other hand, Gardeners Question Time (how this shows my age!) is definitely no go where work is concerned. As for TV, I can pretty much do anything in front of it turning it off when I suddenly find East Enders has appeared without my knowing.


Of course, other people work in totally different ways. My youngest daughter  – an ex-Chorister and oboe player – always drives while listening to Heart. My eldest daughter now plays endless tapes by the acclaimed writer, Ann Rachlin so that her children get to know the magic music of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky Korsakov while the stories of Swan Lake and Scheherazadeare read simultaneously. By the way, it was in Oman and listening to these wonderful recordings that inspired her to become a harpist. We used to hear them as we bumped our way along the many dirt tracks into the desert.


Can I work with conversations going on in the background? Yes, is the answer and it doesn’t seem to matter what comprises the subject matter.


I am sure others would treat extraneousnoises in very different ways and I would be interested to know what they are. I loathe the tedious music one hears in shops and restaurants but I guess we have to live with it. What, for me,  is far worse, is the non-stop repetition of The Four Seasons that one hears on the phone when patiently waiting in the queue for someone to say, …’How may I help you?’


Now on to the subject of young people’s interest in hobbies, sporting activities and the arts….


I – and many others – have been conditioned to think that it is the arts that are not favoured by teenagers. It’s not cool to be attracted to classical music; nor to sports such as rowing. Drama. Again, this has been brought to my attention by my delightful helpers.


The rowing enthusiast says how the members of his club strive time and time again to interest teenagers to become involved in the sport.  Golf is perhaps different in that it has never appealed to the masses at a young age. It’s expensive for a start and seen as a ‘sedentary’ sport along with bowling. However, there used to be a lot of people in their twenties who enjoyed the game and now no more. Obviously this must depend on where you live and somewhere rural is more likely to attract older people than in urban places where the population is greater in number. Tennis, in spite of its broader appeal, is suffering too.


So this brings me to music… You can shoot me down in flames on this, but I believe there are many opportunities out there if you are prepared to look for them. Schools may not have the resources any more to include the arts in the way that they should do. However, people in this day and age now expect everything to be handed to them on a plate. Also, you can throw as much money at something and it won’t make a jot of difference to the situation. If, on the other hand, you have a person in charge who has drive, motivation, confidence, ability and who is not frightened of initial opposition, it’s possible to turn round a poor organisation into one that is highly sort after and in a short space of time. I remember reading a feature in the Daily Telegraph supplement in which a new head had been appointed to a very poorly rated school in south London and who turned it round almost overnight. The first thing she did was to insist that all the pupils wore uniform. The school now ranks higher than most.


In Devon, where I live, there is a huge amount of music on offer. The Devon Music Education Hub is very active as is South West Music School. There are jazz orchestras, choirs, three Devon Youth Orchestras and Exeter Cathedral Choir operates a top-notch Outreach programme. The Two Moors Festival offers school workshops, a high-quality Young Musicians Competition and the opportunity for young instrumentalists to play alongside a professional orchestra. Private schools embrace students from the state system. Courses abound (Dartington for instance). Visiting orchestras offer tickets at student prices (the festival charges £5).  Is that enough…


What’s the saying?… ‘You can take a horse to water’…


Penny Adie

August 2019

PS If you wonder why the guide dog is in the photo, it’s because he was listening to a concert at Tiverton Parkway’s station. I wonder whether it was music to his ears…



The Importance of taking Teenagers to Concerts and the Opera



Now that the brochure is in circulation you would think there might be a bit of a lull. In one sense there is but it’s full steam ahead towards planning the festival’s twentieth anniversary programme. In fact much of it has been put in place already.


There has been time however, to get cracking on a new project. This is to take teenagers with no prior knowledge of classical music to concerts as well as to the opera. In fact, the inspiration behind this arose when I noticed that English National Opera were putting on a production of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. There couldn’t be a more fitting introduction to opera than this!


How to set it up was the next step.


Having bought three tickets for two students and me, I got in touch with Exe Valley Rotary club to see if they would be prepared to sponsor the cost. They readily agreed.  Then GWR gladly provided return rail tickets to Paddington. All that remained was to find the teenagers. Easy you would think!


Quite by chance I met a charming person at the Devon County Show. We happened to be munching a bun and some coffee in the craft tent and on making conversation discovered we lived in the same village. One thing led to another. I explained the project and asked if she knew of youngsters who would fit the bill. ‘My daughter’, she said. It turned out that not only would Anna like to take up the opportunity, but that her friend, Izzy would be keen to do so as well.


After having three preparatory sessions around my kitchen table, laden with gooey cakes, and armed with laptops as well as the DVD, they were not only well versed on what they were going to see, but full of excitement at the prospect of the trip.


So on a perfect day, we high-sped to London for what I can only describe as a magical experience. It was the most perfect way in which to immerse young people in a type of music about which they not only knew very little but also had been put off from being too involved through fear of being teased by their peer group.


Having watched the film, they knew that every production was individual and that this applied also to the human voice. As a consequence, they realised why a big sound was needed to penetrate across a full orchestra (although it was reduced on this occasion). They saw how monitors worked – vital as the orchestra was under cover behind the stage. They understood the necessity of having a conductor. They were aware that in order to become a professional musician it would take years of study and that discipline was required. One big bonus was on knowing Gillian Keith (Sandman) who took us backstage – an eye opener for them!


Here is some feedback:

…Firstly, I’d like to start by saying that I loved the experience and that my exposure to operatic music, performance and teaching has increased my appreciation for the arts; it was the perfect introduction to opera, whilst also giving an insight into classical music at the time this piece was devised. I have absolutely no doubt that due to this wonderful opportunity and experience I will endeavour to attend other such performances. It has given me a different perspective for opera and how it can be used as a tool for relaxation as well as learning about the history and context of when these sorts of pieces were composed…


From my own perspective, I found the day profoundly moving. To see such girls totally absorbed in an art form such as this and how it would remain in their memory for a long time, left me with a feeling of sadness. They appreciated the benefits of involvement in classical music; the joy it can bring to people’s lives, especially to the elderly and the infirm; the opportunities for learning to play instruments, sing in a choir and with constant study, it would impart a sense of purpose that would have impact on life in general.


I am determined we – the festival – should do more to help young people at this age. To this end, the LPO and the LSO have already offered tickets to concerts in the autumn.


If anyone who may be reading this might like to donate £100 towards the cost of taking someone to a concert in London, please do get in touch.


Oh – one of the tragic things I discovered was their telling me that many adolescent drug takers were largely subsidised by their parents. How truly ghastly…


Penny Adie

30th June 2019

Music in Exeter Cathedral

Did you know that whether a visitor or a member of the congregation at Exeter Cathedral you wouldn’t hear a note of music but for the financial support from the Exeter Cathedral Music Foundation Trust?

Without this…

The organ would cease to function.

There would be no choir

There would be no sheet music

There would be no robes

There would be no Director of Music

And the list goes on…

The cost of running the music runs into many thousands of pounds.

No – this isn’t a plea for financial support, or it could be if you, the reader so wished.

People take the glorious singing of Choral Evensong for granted. They would be denied the chance of hearing Tallis, Byrd, Parry and Tavener – just a sprinkling of composers who have been drawn to writing anthems based on some of the most poignant texts that have appeared over the centuries.

What about Christmas Carols? The congregation would be forced to sing them without accompaniment as the organ would be out of tune and the pipes full of gunge. Can you imagine how ghastly this would sound – the pitch would drop within the first two lines.

The poor choristers would luck out on two Christmas dinners: the one they have on Christmas Day at school and that which devoted mums cook a day later.

Music within the Anglican Church has, over the centuries, become a ‘must’. Of course it is perfectly possible for said services to take place, but they’re not the same. When I take my grandson to church, it’s the hymns that grab his attention otherwise we count the number of Amens that appear during the service, comparing notes at the end. I wouldn’t want to be the Granny who drags a child into the House of God without the temptation of singing ‘Praise my soul’ let alone ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’.

Music plays a vital part in the daily life of Exeter Cathedral. Visitors and members of the congregation would feel bereft without it. The Choir is one of the finest in Britain and deserves to be heard at every opportunity; an organ recital likewise. A sung service brings that extra and indefinable quality to a staunch believer of the Christian faith.

We must maintain this wonderful entity that exists in Exeter’s glorious building. We must never let it die. This is why the Foundation is so important. Without support, the music would collapse within a very short space of time.

Penny Adie

May 2019

Two Moors Festival Young Musicians Competition – the only one of its kind…


How many people remember the dreaded music exams that often took place in a dingy room with a stern faced adjudicator saying, ‘right, when you’re ready’?  For me, this was enough to instil a fear of performing in public that has remained with me ever since. Having prepared Diabelli’s ‘Lesson in C’ from memory (I can still play it!) and knowing that I could play it with real joy, made the misery even greater. All the preparation, treasuring those lovely louds and softs and remembering to put my thumb underneath so that I could play a scale evenly, seemed to me to have been a complete waste. The only way I could retaliate was to whizz through the aural tests with a smug sort of ‘told you so’ expression on my face.

With these recollections, it occurred to me that there must be hundreds of highly talented young instrumentalists and singers longing to express themselves but who never had the opportunity to play in front of people just for the fun of it. So I decided that this was something the festival could address by creating a competition set up specifically to give these gifted children and teenagers the chance to perform in front of an audience and in a large space.

Essentially the competition is run on conventional grounds. The big difference however, is that we look for four winners as opposed to one. In addition, we offer a masterclass as part of the audition process.  We ensure that the surroundings are congenial and do so by having informal (and sometimes quite flippant) conversations with each candidate, The final touch is everyone is offered a chocolate at the end.

There are two rounds with a panel of four professional musicians at each.  The winners each receive £300 prize money as well as share a concert in the main festival.

One of the keys to success we have discovered, is the remote location of the auditions in the depths of the Devon countryside. As parents are not allowed to ‘sit-in’, being offered coffee at the same time as admiring the view are an added attraction. Bearing in mind that some people drive long distances to get there, it is vital that we make the day out worthwhile for all concerned.

The most significant aspect is the masterclass that is given to each candidate. There is never any negative criticism. There could be comments on where to stand; how to bow and how to enter the room; how to project the sound and much more besides. Quite a few candidates have never played with an accompanist before – something that comes with a shock. The panel might comment on the height of the piano stool; similarly the stand. Sometimes they suggest having a go from memory. It’s amazing to see the joy on the faces of some of the performers when they find adjusting one little thing makes all the difference to their playing.

The standard of the competition is extremely high; in some cases comparing favourably with finalists of BBC Young Musician of the Year. Many festival’s winners go, with scholarships, to the major conservatoires in the UK as well as, on occasion, to the States. A good percentage go on to Oxbridge and some of the younger ones might end up attending Junior College or being offered a place at a specialist music school. Interestingly, the spread of entries between the state and private sectors is usually fairly even.

As Artistic Director, it has given me huge joy to follow the progress of previous winners. Clarinettist, Jordan Black is Guest Principle of the Philharmonia; double bass player, Toby Hughes was a Strings Section Finalist at the Royal Overseas League; soprano, Charlotte Hewett studied at the Royal Northern College of Music and cellist, Joseph Pritchard is now a major scholarship holder at the Royal Academy of Music.

A competition at this level is a prized commodity and as such, needs to be organised with immaculate skill. To this end, the administrator, Sarah Fletcher, works tirelessly. Visiting schools and talking to teachers are only a small part of what she does to make the event the success it is.

I think it’s fair to say that the Competition gives these exceptionally talented young people the chance to realise that appearing on a concert platform is not a daunting prospect but one that can give an immense thrill. It is their innate musicianship that they are willing to share with other people that makes them so special and remembering the audience is there to enjoy themselves.

Penny Adie

May 2019

Office on the Train

There was, until recently, a time when most passengers on National Rail fiercely resented intrusion on their privacy. However, being forced to eavesdrop on the calls made and received by fellow travellers has had its ripple effect in making us far more tolerant of the rat-race life that we all seem to lead these days. But how many of us really WANT to know … ’I’m behind schedule, so can you do the school run?’…

Do we really feel the urge to help the poor girl who can’t cope when …’Zac dumps me for Kelly, the split-ends blonde at the end of the table – I mean – how could he have it off with her scoffing chips… Ya, Ya, Ya … s’pose so, but cheesy chips as well …Ya, Ya, Ya… 

And what about …’Rachel, could you arrange a conference call for 6am local time?’…

If that isn’t enough, we might be privileged to hear the 60s Walls Ice Cream jingle on the phone belonging to the woman carrying her Jack Russell. Dog goes on floor where he finds the Wi-Fi cable that he proceeds to chew.

Now however, we’ve all joined this mobile high-speed office. The old saying, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ’em leaps to mind and so, nauseatingly as well as reluctantly, I have joined the party. Suffice to say I wouldn’t be writing this were it otherwise.

But at what expense? That precious ‘me time’ has all but dwindled into a thing of the past. I no longer gaze out of the window watching the Somerset levels slip by. Nor do I marvel at the White Horse at Westbury, let alone the sleepy house-boats on the Kennet Canal. I cannot spy on the occupants of contemporary housing with its nondescript architecture that merges into the cavity-walled semis only to be dwarfed by the majestic Edwardian properties with their high ceilings. By the time I approach Paddington, I might, if I’m really lucky, have spotted the occasional Georgian front door. 

At which point I join the throng pouring forth on to one of GWR’s spotless platforms. We spill out as if being tipped from a can of beans with people clad in track suit bottoms, jostlers carrying black rucksacks, men in suits (a rare sight these days) and women in puffas going to do serious shopping in Peter Jones. We’re all there – including me, Artistic Director of the Two Moors Festival, who has never owned ‘executive’ clothing in her life, and who turns up at smart meetings in jeans (expensive, mind you) and sporting a Gucci scarf bought on ebay.

And how much work has been achieved in this ‘boardroom’? Mega deals, booking a gourmet dinner, an essay, accessing bank statements; working out spread sheets, online shopping and much more. 

We all LOVE our communal workroom..

Just to confuse things, I have written this long hand…

Penny Adie

26th April

(Dedicated to my friend, Robin Wight)

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