My Zen-like shot of the beach off Sheringham doesn’t really tell the story of the weekend I spent in Northeast Norfolk, which was pulsing with musical discourse from the moment I arrived at the B+B to find my landlady practising the euphonium. All around me people were preparing for band practice or hurtling through tunnel-like country roads to play/sing in the numerous magnificent churches which crop up everywhere, sometimes just a few fields away from the previous one.
A couple of years ago, the extremely leading composer Michael Finnissy moved here from Sussex (though he continues to teach his students at Southampton University). He has not been slow to make valuable musical connections within this fairly far-flung region, and I was honoured by his invitation to talk to the Norfolk Composers’ Group, around ten strong on this occasion, who met at the home of Tim Ambler. The Norfolk composers come from all sorts of musical backgrounds, and won’t mind me saying that they are not your usual ‘composer collective’. Pat Hanchet, a COMA stalwart, set the scene by remarking that she had taken up composing when schoolteaching, because she couldn’t find the music she needed and so decided to write some. We heard and saw much accomplished music by people who had been determined to fit the demanding activity of composing into their lives, whatever else was happening in it. They have been active in producing local concerts, and issuing the CDs of these. It’s been a long time since I took part in such an egalitarian but thorough discussion about composing music, which could have lasted even longer than the three hours we’d allotted.
The following evening I again had the pleasure of talking to Michael Finnissy, this time in St Peter’s Church Sheringham. We had diffidently approached the idea of simply inviting the public to hear two complicated composers chewing the fat, and were pleasantly surprised when an intent audience of 70 or 80 people turned up and stayed the full two hours (as at the Composers’ Group, with brilliant half-time refreshments to keep us going). Intelligent questions from the audience, as so often, centred on thoughts about the place of music in British society, and particularly about the perceived neglect of instrumental teaching in schools.
This was the weekend that news appeared in the media of the gleaming new concert hall at the Museum of London site projected for the LSO/Simon Rattle. As a Londoner I would not say no to a better concert hall, although my first reaction was actually a cyclist’s – ‘Good, now they really will have to get rid of the disgusting Aldersgate Roundabout !’ But being in Sheringham, my next thought was ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a new music room, hut or anything else in Sheringham ? – it would get used a lot’. Is it so impossible to smooth out these national inequities, even just a bit?