John Morris, to whose memory we dedicated our July 2016 “Conversation Pieces – Words and Music uniting the Generations”, gave many hours of administrative time during his retirement years to the Croydon Performing Arts Festival. He was a passionate advocate of the Festival’s Asian Music section, and I think he would have been especially delighted that the second phase of our memorial project this year featured a 14 year old veena player, Malathy Nithiyananthan.
Malathy was able to come and play just at our last performance at Woodcote Grove House, and we were all thrilled to see this large and beautiful instrument at close quarters as she carried it round the room to show everyone before playing a beautiful raga-inspired piece.
Our other two young musicians for the full two-day project on 19 and 20 July were 15 year old Carol Leader who played flute in the ensembles and a Chopin Nocturne as piano soloist, and 16 year old Joseph Mackley, who played mostly alto saxophone in our programme but who also played his French horn, played a piano solo, and truly enchanted everyone when he sang “Some Enchanted Evening”.
Ian Fasham, just emerged from an intensive run of Garsington Opera, was able to join Margaret Archibald to lead the rehearsals and to give a sonorous bass to the ensemble numbers flexibly scored for flute, clarinet, saxophone or horn, and trombone. Given this line-up we needed to create some of our own arrangements and to make imaginative use of pre-existing ones. We put in a solid three-hour rehearsal at Red Court Nursing Home, where we were offered free use of a spare lounge all morning to prepare for our concert there that same afternoon. By the time we were eating our picnic under a garden sunshade we had come up with a programme ranging from a Marenzio Madrigal and a Monteverdi Canzonetta to favourites from the West End, film and TV.
We had picked two of the hottest days of the year for these concerts, and after a short rehearsal and morning concert next day at Beth Ezra Trust we were once again grateful for the offer of a shady patch in the garden to eat our picnic. Then it was just a short drive round the corner to Woodcote Grove House, where a few residents from Orford House across the lawn were able to join us in the elegant lounge for the last concert of the series.
“I had hoped that the project would be fun and different”, wrote Carol, “and it certainly was! As well as playing music, I particularly enjoyed talking to the elderly residents at the 3 care homes to learn about them and their story”. Joe had offered us a wide selection of choices from his repertoire and we particularly wanted him to share two of the most popular items. Later Joe wrote “Your choice of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ and ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ provided great joy and ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ put big smiles on everyone’s face. My expectations were exceeded as we made them happier than I had anticipated. Talking to the residents following our concerts was a wonderful opportunity to find out what they enjoyed and hear about the very interesting and varied lives that they have had. It was a very enjoyable two days and it really made people happy”.
Thanks to the generosity of John’s many friends, over the four days of our project two separate groups of young musicians from the Croydon Performing Arts Festival have rehearsed with their professional colleagues and performed alongside them in six of Croydon’s care centres for older people, and we very much hope that this year’s collaborative project will be the first of many.