The title above is the first line from a poem which I read just over 60 years ago: I still have the copy I bought when I was a student. Its full meaning only became clear to me while composing a test piece during these last months for the Scottish Brass Band Association. It is called ‘Gallery’ and is set for the Scottish Open Championship at the end of November 2015.
Having been asked for a piece a couple of years ago I accepted the invitation with pleasure, yes, but also with some fear. But least I have learned over the years to be calm when faced with the rush of a deadline. But in the same way I discovered when writing a couple of books, if the plan is right, the book, or in this case the piece writes itself. Just add in countless hours of effort.
I have always been in love with painting in much the same way as I am with music and my eventual plan for the piece united the two. So I settled upon the idea … not the first person to do so, of course … of linking separate sections of the piece to pictures. The choice turned out to be not at all like a planned exhibition, but more a random selection of images that raised a clear musical response in me. Because the piece was for a Scottish Contest, my mind turned northwards in that direction because I had lived in the West of Scotland from the age of 9 and I finished school at 16, and had most of my formative musical experiences there, before going on to study in London.
Not all the pictures are Scottish in origin, or in Scottish galleries, or are even ‘great’ pictures, but it gave me a thread that I found fruitful. It took me back to times in my schooldays when my school entered several of us to take part in the then annual painting competitions at Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow. I didn’t mind being consistently unsuccessful in these competitions because my attention was always taken up with the treasure trove of pictures, sculpture and statuary in that wonderful Gallery. It contained everything and more that one could wish: small paintings the size of a plate, large paintings the size of a small lorry, and everything in between. The Gallery itself, set in its gracious park … grass is never more perfect than in Scotland … with the river Kelvin winding around it against the rising background of the University, was in itself an uplifting sight.
The title ‘Gallery’ refers to various pictures, four of them by Scots artists. One of Scotland’s best known paintings (3) by Henry Raeburn is there. A further 2 are by another artist depicting two views from Ben Lomond (7). In this case it is a very famous Scottish name: John Knox, born in Paisley. However this John was not also a preacher! To my taste he is a magnificent landscape painter who stands with the best. Caitriona Campbell, a contemporary artist with a very human eye, presents n° 5, while the 3 others are an American (4) John Singer Sargent whose large picture ‘Gassed’ is from World War 1, a Frenchman (6) … Henri Matisse, with a bundle of cut-outs that decorated a book entitled ‘Jazz’ … and an Englishman Paul Cox (2) whose affectionate watercolour ‘snap’ is of the Barrowland Market.
Each of these pictures raised in a me a strong but obviously very different emotion that I have tried to paint in music … sometimes descriptive, sometimes not, and sometimes from my memories of half a century ago. That is where the title comes in: it describes my progress in relation to music, to painting and to Scotland, from then till now, from that particular beginning, to my end, so far … ‘In my beginning is my end.’
The first part of each title given below is mine, the second part is of the picture’s actual title with its painter:
1: Entrance – no picture – the visitor strolls up to the Gallery
2: Street Market – The Barras by Paul Cox
3: The Skater’s Waltz – The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch by Henry Raeburn
4: The March Back to Camp – Gassed by John Singer Sargent
5: Love Story – Old Couple by Caitriona Campbell
6: Cut-Outs – Jazz by Henri Matisse
7: Landscapes – Two Views from Ben Lomond (looking South-West and looking North-West) by John Knox
I first must thank The Scottish Brass Band Association for entrusting me with this commission, particularly Peter Fraser, and the initiator of the idea, Alan Edmonds. I dedicate Gallery to two Scots musicians who were very important to me as a boy: one was a Salvationist from Paisley, Bert Mackay, who taught me determination, and the sheer value and satisfaction of hard graft. The second was my piano teacher at the Royal Scottish Academy, John Erskine, with whom I took once-a-week lessons for two years while still at school in Paisley. Very sparing of praise but generous of time and insight, he opened my young ears to the great composers, and what they were trying to say to me. They are are still trying to say the same eternal truths to us all across the years … if only we are capable of teaching ourselves to listen.
My intention is straightforward: to test both the Bands and their conductors fully, the players through their instruments, the conductors through their knowledge, even though most of the music looks quite innocent on the page. For the audience I hope that some enjoyment is the result and the sense of a few minutes interestingly spent.