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Prom 36: Made things better

August 10, 2007

I didn’t get to hear all of Prom 36. Sorry, I mean I know I’m a Proms fan supposedly, but the thing is that we were interrupted during the live relay on Radio 3. *

I had also dropped in five minutes after the beginning of the broadcast which meant of the 15 minutes of newly composed music by Guto Puw, I only really heard 10 minutes of it.

Mind you, one of my school music teachers did spring to mind as I listened to Puw’s Proms commission “(…unless I open the door..)”.

It was no easy feat teaching class music lessons at the school I went to. Noone seemed particularly interested. It must have been a tough job to do.

One music teacher was unusual. He had an unusual surname. He also doubled up as a games teacher, specialising it seemed in rugby, something I wasn’t particularly keen on. Still, everybody around me seemed rather impressed as his relative grooviness.

When his friendship blossomed with the big, burly, proper full-time sports teacher, our class music teacher’s status suddenly rocketed. This man was deeply cool, even though I didn’t quite understand what deeply cool was or felt like.

It was the same music teacher who introduced a bit of a challenge on what I thought music was. Up until then I was a connosseur of such musical theatre classics as The Sound of Music and Half a Sixpence. I also could be found listening to the music of Glen Miller as played by the Syd Lawrence Orchestra. All of it very good. Things were about to change when our music teacher introduced John Cage’s 4’33” silence.

He even got the class to perform it. We all sat for 4’33” in complete silence. A music lesson of which 4’33” was in total silence.

Afterwards he asked us what we had heard during that time. Then, as he explained some more about John Cage he persuaded us into thinking about what it was that defined the word “music”. Could it be possible that “msuic” could be sounds as unusual on the ear and even more unusual to create? What if “music” could be nothing more than sounds you hear when there’s silence. 4’33” silence.

There was a time when i was scared of new music, petrified when I saw the word “commission” in the Proms brochure.

Now, listening to Guto Puw’s fascinating and gratifying work I’m remembering the way my music teacher opened my mind all those years back and how I want to hear what more amazing effects composers can cajole musicians into creating.

Just to be clear, a Proms commission quite unexpectedly transformed my day and I have Guto Puw and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales to thank for that.

* That’s what they’re called. Live Relays. Sexy sounding, aren’t they?

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