Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cyclist Elgar, the Musician

On the grounds of Hereford Cathedral in England (see pictures in previous blog) there stands a statue of Edward Elgar with his famous bicycle.
So who was Elgar?
Edward Elgar was arguably the leading English composer of his generation. He was born in the small village of Lower Broadheath outside Worcester, England in 1857, the son of William Elgar, a music dealer and his wife Anne (nee Greening). By the age of eight, he was taking piano and violin lessons, and would often listen to his father playing the organ at St. George's church, and soon he also took that up. His prime interest, however, was the violin, and his first written music was for that instrument.
Surrounded by sheet music, instruments, and music textbooks in his father's shop, the young Elgar became self-taught in music theory. On warm summer days, he would take manuscripts into the countryside to study them (he was a passionate and adventurous early cyclist from the age of 5). Thus there began for him a strong association between music and nature. As he was later to say, "There is music in the air, music all around us, the world is full of it and you simply take as much as you require."
Although he started cycling at an early age, Elgar's first bicycle was purchased a month after his 43rd birthday. He then became serious about cycling and was often accompanied on his cycling trips by friends. One friend remembers, "there cannot have been a lane within twenty miles of Malvern that we did not ultimately find ... as we rode, he would often become silent and I knew that some new melody or, more probably, some new piece of orchestral texture, had occurred to him'. Though none of Elgar's bicycles seem to have survived, some of his cycling maps have, complete with the routes he carefully filled in.
Elgar is probably best known for the five Pomp and Circumstance Marches, composed between 1901 and 1930. Shortly after he composed the first march, Elgar set the trio melody to words by A. C. Benson in his Coronation Ode to mark the coronation of King Edward VII.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Morris Dancers in the UK

One of the excursions we made on our last visit to England was going to Stratford Upon Avon, well known, of course, as Shakespeare’s town. We came across some street dancers with some unusual attire. These strangely clad men, waving handkerchiefs and sticks, with bells jingling from their clothing are called the Morris Dancers. Popular all over England, we learn that the origins of this tradition are lost in time, but the ritual goes back well over 500 years.
The black faced dancers we saw were colorfully dressed with fabric strips and handkerchiefs sewn all over their clothing and gave their performance with the accompaniment of accordion music to the tune of "Oh Susannah." They've been merrily dancing with their blackened faces for 200 years but recently, because of political correctness, they might be forced to abandon darkening their faces. We’re not sure if the feathers in the hats has any particular meaning!