Thursday, 28 March 2013

Bath Museum of Fashion.

Dresses from the 18th century, with shoes to match.

I braved the bone shaker bus on Wednesday morning, for an uncomfortable journey into Bath to meet up with Jo at the Assembly Rooms, for another visit to the wonderful  "Bath Museum of Costume."  We were visiting the "Fifty Fabulous Frocks" exhibition, staged to celebrate 50 years since the opening of the museum in 1963.  The museum houses some lovely clothes, some of which I can remember wearing in the 1950´s and 60`s.  Had I kept my mini-skirts, I could have offered them to the museum as reminders of a past era.

 Versace Dress with a floral print.

I didn`t buy a catalogue, so cannot write the details of these dresses, but I do remember that the yellow dress above, designed by Versace,  was wore to a party given by Sir Elton John.   Many of the dresses have been loaned or given to the museum by several celebrities.   A very smart black Dior suit was donated by Sian Philips, the actress, and also a skinny dress by Twiggy.   Some of the dresses were designed and worn by "bean poles," ladies who were so thin, that if they turned sideways, you´d be unable to see them!

 A 1930´s style beaded dress and a dress with a centre printed panel. 

The pinkish, beaded dress would have looked lovely on a slender lady, as she danced at an evening party.  The fine fabric must have enhanced her movements, and the beads would have glistened in the party lights!   Ohh, so romantic!  Each bead would have been hand stitched to the fabric, and the dress must have cost a fortune.  I´m not so keen on the white dress with the blue printed panel, although the design is interesting with its Art Deco shapes.

Each year a special dress is chosen as "Dress of Year," and this year a design by the late Alexander McQueen was chosen.  

It was displayed on a bed of cotton wool, and looked mighty impractical to wear.  I think I would tripped up on the many layers of folded fabric.   I cannot guess what it cost, but I certainly wouldn´t want one,  I much prefer the beaded pink shimmy dress.  The link below will take you to the museum website, with all the information about the museum and its exhibitions throughout 2013.

                       Fashion Museum website – Welcome to the Fashion Museum

The Assembly Room restraurant.

We took tea and refreshments in the Georgian cafe in the Assembly Rooms.  This building was damaged in the war, but has been beautifully restored to its former glory, and is often used by film companies when filming Jane Austen adaptations, or other costume dramas.  This small room, together with the other large ballroom, assembly room, and smaller side room,  make up a group of the best preserved Georgian spaces in GB.   Great chandeliers grace the ceilings, and the whole building has a lovely feel about it.   
Unfortunately the prices here were not Georgian, with a cuppa and two biscuits costing me "an arm and a leg."

Monday, 25 March 2013

Singing for Ugandan Children in a Cold Church in Bishops Cannings.

We had only two hours on Saturday afternoon in rehearse John Rutter's "Requiem," for a performance at 7.30pm that same evening.   No mean task, and it was a "Scratch Concert" after all, and  after a hesitant start in the evening, we all sang extremely well, with the expected mistakes!   I have sung this work before, and as with most music, it looks deceptively easy on paper, but singing it with expression and contrast is another matter!   It has many tricky discords and subtle key changes, but when sung correctly, it sounds wonderful.   Our rendition was good in parts!   To the left is the programme cover, showing school children in a village in Uganda, who will benefit from the money raised by this concert, to support their school, homes, and to provide the general necessities of life that we, in Great Britain,  take so  much for granted.  

The evening opened with a short talk about the aims of "African Dream," and information about recent developments in the small Ugandan village.  The guest speaker, Hillary Kabanza, who lives with his family in the village, and who is studying theology in England,  thanked everyone for their fund raising efforts.  The financial support enables children to lead comfortable lives, be well fed, clothed and educated.  We live our daily lives in England, never really appreciating just how very lucky we are.  Each of the 60 singers in the choir paid £5 each to sing, with an audience ticket costing £6.   The money raised after some expenses, will go to the village school, mission and to support its children. 

 The view from the font of some of the singers, mostly from Dauntsey's School and the Church choir,  during the afternoon tea break.

The church was cold, even though the heating was fully on, but recent temperatures have been so low, that two huge space heaters would have been needed to make an impression on warming the cavernous space of the nave.  Instead of wearing our pretty black outfits for the evening performance, we all wore black overcoats, layers of black jumpers and fleeces, with blue scarves around our necks, to add a touch of colour to a very cold winter/spring evening.

The village hall near the church, with its thatched roof.

Between the rehearsal and the concert, some of the choir enjoyed hot tea and nibbled cakes in the pretty little village hall, originally built in 1830.  The parish of Bishops Cannings is the third largest in Wilshire, but was formerly much larger.  It once reached into Devizes, 2.5 miles away, and gave rise to the legend, that the good folk of Bishops Cannings  are true  "Moonrakers,"  a name given to those who are born and bred in Wiltshire. 

The church of St Mary the Virgin, Bishops Cannings on a cold Saturday evening.

A Saxon church was established on this site in 1091, and after its demise, a Norman building was constructed in the 12th century, with the tower added in the 13th.  In 1602 the church had a peal of six bells, and gained a reputation for the fine sound of its bells, and the singing of its choir and congregation.  In the mid 19th century, a former resident gave £1000 to the church, which included £400 for the purchase of a new organ.  The church was extensively restored during the Victorian era, leading to the loss of many fine medieval and older features.  On a warm day it provides a wonderful space in which to sing.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Friday´s Visit to Avebury Manor and Gardens.

Avebury Manor House, that stands near the famous Stone Circle,  was the home of Sir Alexander Keiller, a member of the famous Scottish marmalade making family.  He was interested in archeology, and in the 1930's excavated the ditches, the standing stones and stone avenues,  that make up his now "World Heritage" site.   He eventually bought the 15th century manor house that stands behind the gate, and made it into a comfortable home for his family.  The house stood empty and derelict for many years, until it was bought by the National Trust, who eventually allowed the BBC to make a programme about its restoration.    As it was not possible to know exactly how each room had looked, the manor's rooms are now decorated and furnished in a variety of styles from the 15th century, to the time when Keiller lived there in the 1930´s.      

The Dovecote, now used as a video information centre, with the church in the background.  

The earliest parts of the present house were probably built after Sir William Dunch of Little Wittenham in Oxfordshire, who bought the estate in 1551.   It is thought he purchased the land because of his interest in the ancient monuments and stone circle in the area.   The house was passed down through the family to Lady Moody, Sir William´s granddaughter, who eventually emigrated to America and in 1645 founded Gravesend in Brooklyn.   The house went through many changes over the centuries, and a library was added by the Jenner family, who lived in the house in the early 20th century.

The large kitchen.

The kitchen is furnished in a style from the early Victorian period onwards.  The whole house is very "Hands on" meaning that, unlike a museum, it is possible to handle everything, open draws, stir foodstuff in mixing bowls and generally get the feel of the place.

The Edwardian Lounge.

This lounge is furnished in a 1920´s to 1940´s style.  I remember this design of chair, when visiting the home of my grandparents way back in the 1950´s.   The carpet was commissioned by the BBC programme, and woven with a pattern of cars, wheels and lamps, to commemorate Sir Alexander Keiller´s interest in motor vehicles.  Two teddies sit cosily on the green sofa.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

One Concert Sung, and Two More to Go!

Last Sunday´s concert was wonderful, so much so that the music of Brahms is still pleasantly wafting around  my mind!    Having lived with the music for three months, and sung in a memorable concert, the music became a close friend from whom I had to take leave.   I think all singers feel a sense of loss at the end of a concert, just as finishing a good book, when the characters have become close companions, leaves a part of your heart in limbo.   

Last night I rehearsed with  Devizes Chamber Choir, where we are singing another Latin Mass, this time by Cherubini, and another "Te Deum" by "Wonderful Wolfi Mozart."   Luigi Cherabini  was born in Florence in 1760, the tenth of twelve children.  He showed early musical talent and was taught by his father, a musician at the theatre in Pergola. This Requiem was composed in Paris in 1815/16 for a memorial service to King Louis XVl, who had been guillotined during the French Revolution.   Robert Schumann praised the Requiem as being  "without  equal in the world,"   and it was played at Beethoven´s funeral.  It is a gentle piece, a hymn for the dead sung in Latin.  All choirs around the UK are busy at the moment, preparing sombre music for Easter. 


Mozart´s "Te Deum," a hymn of praise to God, is a lively, rigourous work full of contrasts.   At first it seems deceptively easy to sing, but on close inspection it has many subtle changes in tempo, that can catch you out if you loose concentration.   It is great fun to sing, especially the first movement with its fast tempo, an slow adagio in the middle section, and then a return to the first theme at a fast tempo.     I cannot live without music,  (and a cup of tea of course!)

Monday, 18 March 2013

A Wonderful (although tiring) Concert.

The concert was a great success.  After only 11 rehearsals, (one was cancelled because of heavy snow) we sang in Marlborough College Chapel to great applause from the audience, after the final chord of the Brahms "German Requiem" had faded away.    This piece has been one of the most emotionally exhausting works I have ever sung.  It has many long, sustained notes, and is a work of great sadness and contrasts in mood and sound, with many crescendos and diminuendos,  all contained sometimes in just one or two notes.  Apart from JS Bach's "Magnificat," in which I don't think I will ever sing every note, the "Requiem" has been the most difficult to sing.  On the score, every note looks simple enough, but to introduce every intended subtle mood, phrase and contrast, required much sustained concentration!   By the fourth movement the choir was beginning to tire, as we had already been rehearsing for three hours throughout the afternoon.  

The programme, with a photograph of Johannes Brahms, is pictured left.  Our second work of the evening was the "Te Deum" by Anton Dvorak, a Czech composer, who spent the later part of his life working in America. When he became director of the New York Conseravatory in 1891, he was commissioned to write this work to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus

The day was cold, and the chapel cold, but we sang well at the afternoon rehearsal dressed in winter garb.  We could not sing too strongly, as we had to save our voices to produce greats sounds at the actual concert itself.  The College Chapel, dedicated to St Michael and All Angels,  was erected on the site of an older one, and was built by Stevens & Barstow at a cost of £31,000.  It was consecrated by the Bishop of Salisbury on September 29th 1886.

The orchestra has tuned up, and here sit the sopranos waiting for the conductor, with the soloists, to enter the chapel.   The ladies sit on both sides of the central aisle,  with the gentlemen basses and tenors sitting at the high altar in front of the reredos.  The orchestra is seated in the centre aisle.  Violins can just be seen in the middle of the photo.

Simon, our conductor stands in front of the choir waiting to begin the concert, with part of the large audience sitting in the background.  In the centre sits Jacques Imbrailo, a South African baritone, whose wonderfully rich voice sang the solos in the "Requiem" and in Dvorak´s "Te Deum."  To the other side of Simon sits Mary Bevan, a young, wonderfully talented soprano, who sang the solos in both works.  It was a lovely, music filled evening, and we all went home feeling enriched by the experience.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Sunday is the Big Concert Day!

Simon conducting our rehearsal on Friday evening.

Just a short write up today, as I listen to the Brahm's "Ein Deutsches Requiem" yet again, and attempt to come to terms with the fugue in the third movement!    Not easy, as it is sung at a pace that defies its appearance in the score!   Until recently I've been singing (with others) a couple of bars behind the rest of the choir!   I will mime the bars I do not know, so as not to draw attention to myself.  Hahaha!   

Above, Simon our conductor, is seen rehearsing us on Friday evening, with the altos sitting in the background.  We were accompanied on the organ by the sub-organist from Bristol Cathedral.  How talented he was!  He came straight in from a rush hour journey from Bristol to Marlborough, and without hesitation launched in the mega complex accompaniment to Dvorak's rowdy "Te Deum."    I'd have need a cuppa before I could have done that!

The basses and tenors sing up in the high altar.

We had problems at last Tuesday's rehearsal, when the  piano accompaniment in the spacious Marlborough College Chapel, could not be heard by the men singing some distance away near the altar.   They can be seen in the middle of the photo, and the piano stands to the near left.   This resulted in some confusion as to when they should start singing, and when to stop!    We all giggled, and got on with singing as best we could.   

Conductor Simon has great faith in us, and says it will all be "alright on the night,"  when the orchestra keeps us in time, and all together.  The choir has a mind and body of its own, but when we all sing together, my goodness, we make the most wonderful sounds.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Dvorak´s "Te Deum" for our concert on Sunday March 17th.

On this clip you can listen to the Dvorak´s "Te Deum," one of our works for our concert on Sunday afternoon.  It is very exciting to sing, all brassy noise and commotion, with some very high notes for the sopranos.  At times there are hints of Dvorak´s Czech folk music homeland, where he was born on September 8th 1841, and died in Prague on May 1st 1904, where he is buried.

The "Te Deum" op 103 is a cantata for soprano and baritone solo, choir and orchestra, to the Latin text of the famous hymn Te Deum, "God, we laud You."  It was composed in 1892 and dedicated to the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America.   The work was completed before Dvorak moved to America, and was commissioned by Jeanette Thurber in 1891, when the composer accepted a position as director of her school.  The work was premiered at Dvorak´s first concert in New York on October 21st 1892.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A Visit to Chester.

The Eastgate Clock.

This ornamental clock stands on top of the medieval city wall in Chester, and is said to be one of the most photographed clocks in Britain after "Big Ben" in London.   Chester was founded in the 70s AD by the Romans who  built a fort here.  The city has the best preserved medieval city walls in the the UK, stretching for two miles around the city.  Apart from a short stretch where the wall has disappeared, it is possible to walk around the entire city on the "Wall Walk."   The above photos shows one of the entrance gates through the wall, which also has towers at regular intervals, which were originally used as lookouts posts in times of civil strife, when the city needed to be defended.

The Rows.

These half timbered  Victorian buildings are unique in Britain, and have shops below ground level, on ground level and also on the first floor.   To the bottom right of this photo stands a group of school children, who were listening to a history of the city from a man dressed as a Roman soldier.   It was fortunate that the weather was on the warm side, as he was wearing rather a short skirt, no trousers or socks,  and Roman sandals on his feet.

Queen´s Park Suspension Bridge.

The bridge, which spans the River Dee that runs through the city, was opened in 1923.  It allows pedestrians to walk from the town centre out towards there homes in the suburbs.  I met my German penfriend here, and we enjoyed a lovely walk together through the walkways and trees of Grosvenor Park, and then back into town along the banks of the River Dee. 

Much of Chester is owned by the Duke of Westminster, who owns much of London too.  His family name is "Grosvenor," and many streets and buildings in Chester bear this name.

R sits beside a model of the Roman amphitheatre.

This site has was excavated several years ago, and many of the artifacts from the Roman fort and other buildings  can be seen in Chester museum.   Our short stay of only three hours in the city was not enough time to see all the interesting places.   At 2.30pm we were back on the coach for the return to our seafront hotel on Rhyl.    There is so much to see and do in Chester, too much for just one visit, so that means I will be revisiting at some time in the near future.

Standing on Queen´s Park Suspension Bridge after our walk through the park.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

"Mother's Day Cream Tea Cruise" on the Kenavon Venture.

The flower bedecked entrance to the boat.

Sunday 10th March was "Mother's Day," and the crew of the  "Kenavon Venture" ran a cream tea cruise, for all the mummies on board with their families.   The cruise is popular every year, and this year 36 passengers with a crew of five  took the boat four miles up to the Horton Bridge winding hole, where she turned for the return journey back to Devizes Wharf.

Some of the crew members enjoy a cuppa before departing.

 It was a cold day, with a biting northerly wind blowing, and the sky threatened to drop sleet and snow on us all.   Here the passengers sit in the comfort of the boat, waiting to set off. 

Saturday, 9 March 2013

From Devizes to Llangollen for Lunch

The River Dee tumbles down from the mountains of North Wales through Llangollen.

We left Devizes at 07.50 for an easy coach journey up to Llangollen, via Cirencester, Birmingham, Telford and into North Wales for a lunch stop in lovely Llangollen.  This town sit in the picturesque valley of the River Dee, and is the scene of the annual  "Llangollen  International Music Festival."  Every year musicians, singers and dancers gather together of a week of music making, around the town, and in an especially erected pavilion and music centre.   The town was quiet for our visit, and we made our way to the railway station, to the right of the above photo, for a lunch in the station's "Victorian Tea Room."   Queen Victoria visited Wales on many occasions, and in 1868, paid a visit to the station for a ride on one of the little steam trains that still chug their way up the valley.   An extension to the line is being restored at the present time, and soon it will be possible to travel twelve miles up the valley from Llangollen.

     The Victoria Tea Room.
A warm fire awaited us here, so we sat in a cosy corner and drank good cups of tea, ate egg sandwiches and packets of cheese and onion crisps.  All naughty but nice!

There's no chance of a train until Easter, I'm afraid.
This line is run entirely by volunteers, who drive the trains, man the station, issue tickets and generally make this little steam line a great attraction for the thousands of visitors who come to the town every year.

Here an trolley carries old suitcases.  A full history of the line can be read on the following website: 

Llangollen Railway - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedi
The Llangollen Railway (Welsh: Rheilffordd Llangollen) is a volunteer-run 
   preserved railway in Denbighshire, Wales, which currently operates between ...

Sunday, 3 March 2013

A Week in Rhyl, North Wales.

 My homeland.

On the above map, the yellow tack marks Devizes, while the blue tack up on the North Wales coast marks Rhyl, the little town where I will spend next week beside the sea.  The week's weather forecast is quite good at the moment, with cold weather expected, but with sunshine and a little drizzle on Wednesday.   I miss the sea, having lived in Worthing on the south coast many years ago, and enjoyed summer strolls along the promenade and winter walks in wild winds, rough seas, snow and sleet!   It was always good to get home again!

I leave by coach on Monday  morning, and after a lunchtime stop in Llangollen, will arrive at the seafront "Westminster Hotel" by mid afternoon.  On Wednesday afternoon I'm meeting my German email partner in Chester, the first time we have met since we started writing to each other several years ago.  She now lives near Chester, and is taking me on a nice walk around the city and along the River Dee.   I return home on 8th March, and will then get the Blog up to date with all the news of my exploits!

For anyone wishing to view my hotel abode on "Google Earth," the hotel's postcode is: LL18 3AH.   One of Rhyl's claims to fame is as the home town of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged for murder in the UK in 1955.   Lee Evans the comedian,  and the poet Adrian Henri, also hail from the town.

Inside the Palace cinema.

Last Thursday I went to the "Palace" cinema in Devizes, and saw the film "Hitchcock," with Sir Anthony Hopkins playing the lead role, and Helen Mirren as his long suffering wife.  It was worth a view, although not as good as I had expected.   There were approximately 15 of us in the audience, and as the volume is always so loud,  I had to wear my earplugs yet again to deafen the decibels!     Is everyone else in Devizes deaf I wonder?  

Friday, 1 March 2013

A Windmill Hill Circular Walk.

Walking towards a distant "Windmill Hill."

I'm fortunate to live in the heart of Wiltshire, among some of the most interesting sites previously inhabited by ancient man (and woman!)  Yesterday's walk was around one such hill top site at "Windmill Hill."  Neolithic and Bronze age man lived here in ca. 3,560 years ago, and left  several "Bell Barrows," ancient burial mounds on top of the hill, as evidence of his occupation.

The site is believed have been used as a settlement in the summer months, perhaps with some round houses and enclosures for keeping animals and growing crops.   Yesterday we stood on top of a barrow in a rough, cold wind, and waved our arms to the world.  The place has so much atmosphere with a feeling of contact with the ancient world.  I'm glad however, that our modern settlements contain warm water, double glazing and central heating!  

Flooded ditches.

England has been soaked with persistent rain this year, with some of the wettest weather for half a century.  The evidence can be seen here, with the flooded ditch on the right and the overflowing River Kennet to the left, just out of shot.  We took a wrong turn at one point, and ended up in deep mud which almost came over the top of our boots.  I eventually realized where I was, and with the help of Phil´s map, we got back onto the right track.  

We thought it a  good idea to  clean our boots in the stream before we entered the "Red Lion" for lunch, so hung onto a fence and dangled our feet in the stream.   I´d reserved a table earlier for the seven of us, and a good meal and a pint was had by all!  Cheers!

The old lychgate at Avebury Church.