It all started about a year ago. My brother, organised and thoughtful as ever, emailed me looking for suggestions for our father’s 80th birthday.
After listening politely to my hopeless ideas, he said, “Shouldn’t we get someone to write a piece of music?” Not only that, but he gave John Woolrich a call and the next thing I know, the Dartington brochure comes out with a concert including a new work by Gordon Crosse dedicated to Jeremy Wilson, archivist to the Summer School. Which is how I came to be in the Dartington Hall Gardens on a beautiful summer’s afternoon this August.
I say it started a year ago. It actually started way back in 1951, when my father, a student at Bryanston School, got involved in one of Europe’s post-war cultural rebuilding efforts, a summer school of music run by William Glock. The summer school moved to Dartington Hall in 1953 and has been there ever since, and my father has been a constant presence.
He’s been an audience member, a trog*, a member of the management council and, now, archivist. His collection of photos, programs, the ‘daily’ and the ‘weekly’ are a real treasure trove. His memories are even richer. Moving harpsichords for George Malcolm, defending the Steinway in the Great Hall from being ‘prepared’, waltzing with Elizabeth Schumann and in later years, propping up the bar with Peter Sculthorpe and Wilfrid Mellers, three surprisingly non-grumpy old men of music. This year, even at the age of 80, he was still much in demand. (Good bassoonists are always hard to come by).
His involvement with Dartington Summer School has been the foundation of my musical life. My whole life, in fact, given that he met my mother at Dartington. My first Summer School was at five months, my last at about 23. So I’ve done 24 summer schools. But my father has done a great many more.
So on 19th August me, my brother, my dad and many summer school attendees heard the premiere of Ambleside Air, a new work for bassoon, by Gordon Crosse, commissioned by the Summer School in honour of their archivist, Jeremy Wilson. Bassoonist Sarah Burnett performed it twice, brilliantly. Now my father is learning it himself (having typed the manuscript copy into his computer – “don’t like Sibelius, much prefer music publisher…”)
Great joy all round. So if anyone is trying to think of a good present for a friend or relative, ageing or otherwise, please consider commissioning a piece of music. It doesn’t clutter up the house and it keeps on giving.
*A trog (or troglodyte) was George Malcolm’s nickname for the team of stage managers.