Would you care to say something? The thirty year story of a successful music society by N K Scott CBE, Overleigh Press, Overleigh House, East Cliff,  Preston  PR1 3JE England. pub. 1998 ISBN 0 95341560 0 £25 plus £5.00 postage

Oh lucky, lucky Preston!

This book records one man's vision, supported by enlightened corporate sponsorship. As I am sure Bill Bryson would concur, it is one of the endearing facets of British life that here can flourish such an incredible variety of hobby clubs, societies and affiliations, many because of the spirit of enterprise and unstinting self-sacrifice of one or two individuals, often meeting in the most unprepossessing surrounding - dingy church halls or back rooms of institutes usually on uncomfortable plastic stacking chairs. Each one adds to a rich cultural heritage and serves as an important focus to the social life of its members. I t was this spirit that used to inspire Gustav Holst  to trek across  hedgerows and fields in order to conduct the Bourton-on-the-Water Choral Society (now long gone, along with the railway branch-line and halt). In spite of the immense social changes over the last 100 years it is remarkable that so many still survive, even if in declining numbers. There are still colliery brass bands even where the colliery no longer exists - there are more colliery brass bands than there are working pits.

In spite of declining government support and diminishing musical tuition in schools, one of the deciding factors in our loss of Sir Simon Rattle from Birmingham, there still flourish over 2000 music and recorded music societies as well as many choral societies, amateur orchestras and brass bands. Living in Coventry, I have the choice of three competing Jazz Festivals each summer, all within 20 miles of my house - and jazz is a decidedly minority interest (or is it? Rumour has it that Jazz now outsells Classical CDs). However few organizations can show the 30 year success story of the Building Design Partnership (BDP) Music Society.

Here we find a blue-print for the running of a successful society.

The idea for the music society was Keith Scott's. Having just graduated as an architect from MIT Boston, he was in the Arizona desert to meet Frank Lloyd Wright who had been one of his tutors. Frank spent his winters just south of the Grand Canyon. In his house he had a large room with a stepped floor where he used to invite artists to stay for the weekend and put on cultural entertainment, there being nothing else available in the desert.

When Keith Scott joined the Building Design Partnership in Preston, Lancashire, he found himself in another cultural desert. However, a few miles away in Whitehaven lived the fabric designer, Sir Nicholas Sekers who, having a similar idea to Wright's, had transformed a derelict barn into a replica Venetian Palace and invited some of the world's star performers to play there; Brendle, Richter, Schwartzkopf. He found this a valuable marketing tool in attracting and maintaining clients and. more importantly, in retaining his own talented staff.

The Building Design Partnership was a real partnership with the staff putting up the money for the development of their own premises. The staff had grown from 35 when Keith Scott joined in 1958 to around 400 a decade later and those early experiences coalesced into the idea of providing artistic stimulation for the staff in an attractive setting that would enable them to invite top artists. So a Music Society and an Arts Society were born and a 1901 Steinway purchased and an old burnt-out bowling alley refurbished as an art gallery and concert hall. The BDP partners offered a guarantee to cover artist's costs. There was also a buffet area so that both society members and artists could eat, mingle and chat after the performance - which Scott stresses as highly important. Through a willing band of helpers food was provided at cost.

This book presents a 30 year success story, is beautifully illustrated with contemporary photographs of the artists taken (mainly) by Roger Park, a nationally acclaimed architectural photographer (the caption of one of which has been reversed when naming the artists). "Would you care to say something?" was the invitation extended to all artists and, in the intimate atmosphere of the gallery, added a bonus to the performance. However, not all artists, including Jill Gomez, were prepared to say something!

The first recital was by Colin Horsley in January 1969 (who later returned to mark the 10th anniversary). In two further recitals that year Léon Goossens with John Wilson on piano and later Sheila Armstrong with Martin Jones were to perform. What is amazing are the fees they were paid - £260 in total. To put that into perspective I was paid £1800 pa at that time as a University lecturer. The society subscription stood at £1.  Even today they find it possible to engage "about to become" world-class artists for £1000 - although for a Pollini or Brendel it would be ten times that! The subscription has risen to £75  - about £8 per event including the wine and buffet -gulp! All the concerts are detailed in the appendix and each bears some discussion in the main text. It is a panoply of artists of international stature and it is the anecdotes that make this book such a compelling read. Sir John Manduell, then Head of Music at Lancaster University ( and who provided a foreword), suggested that University students should provide a concert, and this became an annual event. The second season had 8 concert and most seasons from then on had between 8 and 10.

In 1970 they were able to purchase the Whitehaven Steinway for £1000 (now valued at £25,000) and for a short while they had both pianos and were used by Cyril Smith and Phyllis Sellick. The earlier Steinway was eventually purchased by david Wild.

For a few years in the 70's the society also invited Jazz musicians but could not attract sufficient audiences to make it a viable proposition. There is seeming intolerance of other styles in Jazz aficionados but at least they tried. My own Society is even more intolerant of Jazz. The only other slight shadows on the Society's history was the local singer Amanda Roocroft, in an episode that reflects well on the music society and very badly upon her. This is not the place for details - you will have to buy the book for those. The other shadow was cast by Yuri Bashmet who failed to appear three times in a row.

I cannot resist one or two anecdotes:

Alfred Brendel to a young pianist who made grunting noises as he played: "We must never make noises when we play - I make horrible faces but nobody can hear them".

A military man who asked Gerald Moore "Mr Moore, have you ever in the course of your long and distinguished career given any thought to the idea of becoming a pianist?"

Alfred Brendel again, outdoing Keith Scott in his knowledge of Bavarian Rococo churches - of which Keith had made a personal study!

Anthony Hopkins's party piece of sitting with his back to the piano and playing it with his hands behind him

Sidney harrison on pianists who affect an elaborate swooning of the body and windmill sweep of the arms before the fingers actually touched the keyboard: "Always remember the piano couldn't care less".

Alfredo Campoli suffering a sever attack of cramp in Saint-Saëns Havanaise

Richter judging a piano competition with all categories judged on a scale of 0 - 20. All his marks were either 0 or 20."Well to me it's quite simple. They can either play or they can't".

In 1994 BDP moved out of Preston but the University bought the premises and carries on the tradition.By 1996 the membership has risen again to match that before BDP and its staff departed.

So here's to the next thirty years!


Len Mullenger

There is an "alternative" review of this book by David Wright here

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