Children’s Opera

by Jess 

A lot of people shy away from opera. It has connotations of being really long and inaccessible. It is certainly not the first thing you think of when planning a family friendly activity. But did you know some composers have actually written operas especially for children?

Benjamin Britten, for example, wrote a children’s opera. One of England’s most famous composers, living 1913-1976, he helped shape the music of the 20th century. You might know him for composing “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” (that in itself being an educational, family friendly piece.) But he also composed a children’s opera called “Noye’s Fludde” (or Noah’s Flood). As can be presumed, the opera tells the story of Noah and the ark from the Old Testament, a story that many children will already know. Having a plot that children know from the start really helps to get them to understand the story they are telling. When they really know the story they are setting out to tell, they become more involved and excited about telling it. There are about half a dozen adult roles with the children filling the parts of the animals and offspring of Noah. Naturally, dressing up as different animals has an appeal to a cast of children!

1bf012bb-b1a6-4448-b3f6-cbb64a8e3400The music was composed specifically so that children could be the central figure, making up the bulk of the cast. The melodies are simpler than that of a complicated Wagner opera and the children have to make sound affects as well as singing. Not only are the children in the cast but they make up the orchestra too. Britten composed the music so there were parts for all standards, going so far as adding violin 3 (to the standard orchestral set-up of 2 violin parts) so that as many children as possible can get involved.

The charm of this opera is that children can be excited about performing something that was written specifically with them in mind, rather than adapting a play or musical written for adults. They can also work alongside adults that are specialised in their field, whether it be the adult leads in the opera or the leaders of the orchestra, and can be inspired and driven by these professionals.

The opera is being performed at Blackheath Halls on Thursday 7th April and Friday 7th April so go and watch it if you can. This is truly an opera for all ages!

2016 Musical Resolutions

by Becky and Jess

Happy New Year everybody! In true new year style, we have been thinking about what goals we can have for 2016, particularly thinking about our musical ambitions. Here are some thoughts from Becky:

And here are some ideas from Jess..

“It’s always daunting starting off a fresh new year, especially if you are remembering things that happened the previous term. Perhaps you didn’t finish the year with your best playing, or you weren’t so happy with the last concert you played in. My advice is move on from it and keep enjoying music! You don’t stop eating because of one burnt dinner! So don’t stop playing because of one not so great experience. Start the year with new aims and ways to move on and learn from the memories you have of the previous year and create brilliant new musical memories.”

“Markson Pianos come home: to Mycenae House”

written by Mark Johnson-Brown (manageP1060300r of Mycenae House, the community centre in Mycenae Road)

Mycenae House is delighted to announce a new sponsor and partner, Markson Pianos, who have generously gifted a magnificent Danemann 9ft Grand piano to us here at the Blackheath community centre and cultural venue.

Markson Piano’s, the UK’s leading and most reputable piano supplier, have long historic connections with Greenwich. It was founded in Woolwich in 1910 and ran their business from there until the 1970s.

Simon Markson, grandson of founder Louis, has been looking for the right way to re-engage with South East London and to honour his family’s commitment to the area lasting over a hundred years. He says he is delighted to be working with Mycenae House to support the development of its live music programme and educational work.

Now based in Central London, Markson sell, maintain, restore and hire the finest pianos around London – including Concert Halls, West End theatres, TV and film studios and to a wide range of customers including Jools Holland, The Royal Albert Hall, the BBC, National Theatre and Arsenal Football Club.

I recently visited the workshops of Markson Pianos to see the 9ft piano being prepared before its delivery. The piano will be put to use in the centre’s busy schedule of concerts which includes the legendary Jazz Nights Club run by Dave Silk, who is himself a collector of over 50 pianos and the very man who fostered the relationship between Mycenae House and Markson Pianos.

Mycenae House is hoping to attract local superstar pianist Jools Holland to drop by for a quick tinkle on the new ivories to help bed her in. The Danemann piano is believed to be one of only three 9ft concert grands in the whole of South East London.

The Name’s Bond….

written by Jess Tomlinson 10995427_10155690504155109_3214150190701156284_n (2)

For the first time ever, a James Bond theme song has reached no. 1 in the UK charts. I found this difficult to believe when I read it- out of 24 films spanning over 50 years, featuring some of the most famous artists of all time, it has only just happened in 2015. I’m going to throw a few ideas out there to see why this is the case.

Sam Smith’s song “Writing’s on the Wall”, recently released as the song for “Spectre”, topped the charts last week even though it had mixed reviews when it was released. I have to say I was one of the less enthusiastic listeners when I first heard this song, enjoying the orchestration, but pinning it down to just being the classic “James Bond sound” that we’ve heard in so many of the films. That being said, it is obviously very popular.

screen-shot-2014-12-23-at-3-33-20-pmThe artists of previous Bond themes, like Sam Smith, have always been some of the most famous performers at the time of release; Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger and Diamonds are Forever), Paul McCartney (Live and Let Die) and Adele (Skyfall) being just a handful of names you might recognise. These artists will be forever remembered as some of the greatest of their time- is it that Sam Smith has more a fan base than the previous artists? Or is it these artists that helped him get to the top? And why did some of their most famous work not top the charts?

Just looking at the figures of the Bond films alone, you can see the explosion of the film industry over the last 50 years. The budgets have doubled almost every other film, with these bigger projects moving along with society’s demand for film. Maybe we are now wrapped up in film so much that when a theme song is released, it is obligatory to listen to it. Our need to listen to and download popular songs has moved forward with the industry boom, making it natural that the Bond song has finally got to no. 1.

Or maybe it’s the work of all the previous artists and films that’s helped this song finally get to no. 1. Over 50 years of hype for the most famous film series in the world must surely help the promotion of a song. Never do songs have more pre-release discussion that when they represent the Bond franchise. The past songs have been so exciting and set such a precedent, that people can’t wait to hear the next one.

Some of my favourite Bond songs were released for the films that span through the 70s, one of the most iconic decades for the music industry. Perhaps the classic Bond songs of this era didn’t hit the top spot because of the tyranny of choice the lucky listeners of the 70s were presented with. Maybe there was just too much new music to listen to compared to now?

It could simply be, however, that “Writing’s on the Wall” is the best song we’ve had yet. There will never be a deciding answer as to what the best Bond song is, it is all personal opinion. But I do think it’s interesting to see through this franchise how much the music industry has been developed, how it is so integral to other industries and how it’s clearly a very exciting and talked about aspect of our society.

Why Does Classical Music Matter by Dave Malkin

Why does classical music matter? Five truths.

On the evening of May 29th, 1913, the curtain rose at the newly-opened Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. The theatre was at capacity, perhaps due to the rumours of the preceding weeks. Present were the most important creatives of the day; Pablo Picasso, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel. As a solo bassoon, in its strange and strangled high register, opened Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, ‘The Rite Of Spring’, choreographed by the legendary Vaslav Nijinsky, it was clear that it was to a deeply unsettled audience. What followed was something extraordinary.

As the piece developed, revealing Stravinsky’s guttural orchestral writing and Nijinsky’s bizarre choreography, so too did the audience’s agitation. Some say that objects were hurled towards the stage, blows were exchanged between concert- goers, and as many as 40 people were arrested. One account details Stravinsky holding onto Nijinsky’s coat tails so that he could lean over a balcony to call to the dancers, who could not hear the orchestra because of the terrific uproar. The Rite had caused a riot, and it was nothing short of a scandal.

It’s as far from the image of classical music that a lot of us have today as it is from the definition of scandal; it’s not really comparable to the Miley Cyrus twerking incident of more recent times. The thought that a piece of classical music was so divisive that it started a riot is a strange one by 2015’s standards. Perhaps music mattered more in 1913.

It’s easy to see why interest in classical music has waned. As I type I’m listening to a long-playing vinyl record (I’m one of those people) of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, which clocks in at just under an hour from beginning to end. In the fast-paced 21st century, the century of ceaselessly buzzing iPhones and instant gratification, perhaps we are not willing to dedicate that much time to something intangible, something old and fusty and boring. Perhaps it would be impossible to listen for an hour straight without distraction. Perhaps the fact that an hour of Mahler of an evening is a viable option for me means I have too much time on my hands…

I think that classical music is hugely important, and I sense I’m preaching to the converted, as I doubt you would have invested in instrumental lessons for your child if you did not think so too. For me, there are few things more enjoyable than hearing the stylus of my Technics SL-B202 turntable crackle across the black vinyl into the opening bars of ‘The Planets’. Here are five reasons why;

1) All music is important. Experiencing an emotional response to music makes us human. I recently took a trip to Paris, and visited Opera Bastille for a performance of Debussy’s ‘Pelléas et Mélisande’. My French being in a neglected state, I faced a considerable language barrier everywhere I went, yet I shared an inexplicable experience with my fellow concert- goers. We were all moved by the universal language of music in one way or another.

2) Most importantly, because it’s beautiful, powerful, and moving. Try the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto, or Allegri’s ‘Miserere’, or ‘Dido’s Lament’, by Purcell, or ‘The Lark Ascending’, by Vaughan Williams. I defy you not to cry a little bit (even the Dads).

3) It makes you smart. A study carried out by clinical psychologists, commissioned by Spotify, showed that students who listened to classical music while they studied scored on average 12% higher. Some say there are health benefits (I’m expecting to live to the age of 192 because I listen to Mozart every day).

4) The British are really good at it. We have the top conservatoires in the world, and a plethora of amazing composers – Purcell, Handel, Elgar and Britten to name but a few. Lets face it, we’re not going to win the World Cup any time soon…

5) Because of this beautifully-written quote from ‘Why Classical Music Still Matters’, by Lawrence Kramer;

Despite the frigid connotations of its label, classical music is the very opposite of frozen in its presumed grandeur. Lend it an ear, and it will effortlessly shuck off the dead-marble aspect of its own status and come to as much life as you can handle. It will invite you to hear meanings it can have only if you do hear them, yet it will give you access to meanings you had no inkling of before you heard the music. It has nothing to do with the classic in the sense of a timeless monument that dictates a self-evident meaning and demands obeisance for it. It opens itself like a willing hand or smile, making itself available to you for self-discovery and reflection.

Dave Malkin is a guitar tutor for the Becky Dell Music Academy. To inquire about or arrange lessons with him, please contact Becky on 07889 365 297.

5 Fun Ways to Expose Kids to Live Performance

With late night jazz gigs, long sit-down classical concerts and crowded pop gigs, it’s easy to see live music as something aimed solely at adults and teenagers – if this is the case, how do we encourage our children to be enthusiastic about live music? Well, there are many fun ways to inspire children to get involved and experience some really great musical events. We’ve compiled a list of easy ideas that will do just that.


1 – Lunchtime recitals

Classical music is a big and important part of our history, but with television, games, curfews and a new set of social expectations, it can be difficult to find convenient times and ways to expose our children to it nowadays. However, we are very lucky in Greenwich to have such a rich musical culture – at St Alfege’s Church, free lunchtime recitals are open to the public almost every day. They are often quite short and have a break in the middle, so are great for young kids with too much energy to sit through an entire concert.

Why not check out the website by clicking here to see what’s on?


2 – Buskers

In London, you can find a wide array of musical talent from all genres, and with great Conservatoires and music courses dotted around the capital there is an abundance of quality and talent. From Covent Garden and Camden to Greenwich foot tunnel, it’s easy to stumble across some really brilliant performers.

Click here for a list of busking hotspots to get some ideas!



3 – Live Music Restaurants

There are a few child friendly restaurants that have live music in the day, often for Sunday dinner or to make use of an evening stage during the day. You can pay The Big Red Pizzeria a visit from 2pm until 4pm on a Saturday or Sunday for a spot of live jazz, or visit The Vanbrugh later in the afternoon on a Sunday for some more live music, usually performed by students from Trinity Conservatoire of Music.


4 – Carol Singers

Christmas time in London is magical, and for us, one of the main contributing factors is the abundancy of carol singers. At pretty much every Christmas light display, Christmas market or big shopping centre you can stumble across some really great festive street shows!

Have a look on the TimeOut website for some ideas.


5 – Flashmobs

If you’ve ever witnessed a flashmob, you’ll know that they’re exciting, inspiring and do a great job of bringing the community together in awe of something really unexpected. You don’t always just have to be lucky to find one though – flashmobbers have their own website where they advertise up and coming events.

Have a look and see if you can catch one soon – it’s definitely worth it!



Benoit Viellefon & His Orchestra – ‘Mon Amour’

Benoit Viellefon & His Orchestra – Mon Amour

Calling all lovers of jive and swing – Benoit and his orchestra have returned with a brand new album for us to tap our toes and shuffle our shoes too! In 2009, Benoit Viellefon formed his orchestra and became an instant hit on the London cabaret and vintage scene. Five years and over 600 concerts later, we’re delighted to welcome the whole band into our living rooms with their latest album, “Mon Amour”.


The album is a compilation of songs written by some of jazz’s most accomplished composers (Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, Jimmy Van Heusen, Arthur Johnston and alike), a few lesser known gems and fresh new songs written by Benoit himself. The band’s sound resembles that of a top-notch swing band from the 1930’s with joyful, heavy swinging horns, a tight, in-the-pocket rhythm section and strong European influences. Benoit’s delivery of the lyrics and melody can be both humorous and sensitive – listen to 10 seconds of “Ferme La Bouche” and you’re bound to crack a smile. Let’s not forget that Benoit can’t only accredited as a singer; he flaunts his abilities as a rhythm guitarist with style and flare on this album, too. He is joined by another marvellous singer, Gabrielle Ducomble, who debus with the band on this album. She boasts a clear, strong voice, reminiscent of the best original cabaret singers.

The music isn’t the only thing that’s classy about this album – the band look the part, too, and the cover and crediting booklet are laden with beautiful vintage-esque photos that reflect the fun that the band must have had when recording this swingin’ album at London’s Porcupine Studios in January 2014. This small family run studio has been cutting high quality records since the early 1960’s and has been a second home to many generations of British jazz artists.

If you’re looking for an album to get you up on your feet, look no further than Benoit Viellefon & His Orchestra’s “Mon Amour”. Visit their website to get your copy!

Music from the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics

Whatever ones personal feelings about Russia’s laws regarding personal freedom and sexuality, you can’t deny that the country has produced some cracking composers over the years.

Watching the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics on Friday night was like watching a Who’s Who list of my all time favourite composers. Late Romantic Russian music is probably my favourite genre of classical music and the following pieces were played in a sort of Russian-classical-mash up offering during the last part of the Opening Ceremony.

First of all the magnificent (and gay, just saying, Putin) Pytor Llyich Tachaikovsky and his ageless sounding Swan Lake, danced here by the American Ballet Theatre. The last five minutes of this ballet are some of the best five minutes of music you will ever hear in my opinion.

Another firm favourite to be played during the ceremony was Polovtsian Dances from Borodin’s opera, Prince Igor, here performed by the mighty Kirov Ballet and Opera Company. The driving rhythms and lyrical folk melodies are simply enchanting. Add in some powerful orchestral parts and weighty harmonies and you have an incredibly powerful and memorable piece of music. You might recognise the melody as ‘Stranger In Paradise’ from the musical Kismet.

Lastly and probably my all time favourite piece of music is The Firebird by Igor Stravinky. The ballet is based on Russian folk tales of the magical glowing bird that can be both a blessing and a curse to its owner. When the ballet was first performed on 25 June 1910, it was an instant success with both audience and critics and still wows audiences round the world today. It is another ageless and inspiring ballet.

You might have seen during the finale of the Opening Ceremony that the Olympic flame was lit on an object that looked like a tail. This is representative of the tail of the Firebird. I saw this performed many times by the wonderful Mara Galeazzi at The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, sadly I can’t find a video with her in it, but here is one with the Royal Ballet. Whilst all of the music is wonderful, start from about 4 minutes in if you want to get to the highlights.

Also, if you were interested who the choir was, it was these guys, they’ve been going for 600 years; they must use some great moisturiser.

It’s not really surprising that all three of these wonderful pieces are for ballet. Music and dance are both passionate, intense, complex art forms and this is a perfect example of the sum of their parts being even greater when combined. If you’ve never been to see live ballet with an orchestra, then I strongly recommend you give it a go, and maybe start off with a magnificent, firey Russian composer.

Lastly, one can’t talk about the Winter Olympics and skiing without referencing this little gem. Enjoy!