BBC Music Day – a Westminster perspective

“Bless ‘em all! Bless ’em all! The long and the short and the tall!”

So says the popular World War II song; and judging by the enthusiastic response, the long, short, tall, old and young were indeed feeling blessed by Westminster Music Library’s World War II sing-along. Our event was part of the BBC’s inaugural National Music Day, “a nationwide celebration of everything we love about music, with the aim of bringing people together from different generations and communities through their love of music.”

"Full to the brim" - a wartime chorus at Westminster Music Library.
“Full to the brim” – a wartime chorus at Westminster Music Library.

On Friday 5th June we filled the Library to the brim, uniting members of local community group Open Age with troops of children from St. Barnabas CE primary school for a morning of singing, celebrating the finest of the Second World War’s musical legacy.

While the struggles of wartime were very hard for soldier and civilian alike, our selection of songs served to communicate the positive qualities brought to light through the conflict: hope, in We’ll meet again; love of country, in There’ll always be an England; and bravery, in The white cliffs of Dover. Comradeship, too, of soldiers all-too-wary of their sergeants and corporals, is wonderfully represented in our ironic opening number, Bless ‘em all, whose composer, Fred Godfrey, assuredly informs us, “… furthermore, it wasn’t ‘Bless’.”

For our guests from Open Age, these songs were gateways into memories of growing up post-war, and for some, even during wartime. “Very nostalgic,” commented one visitor, although another justly observed, “I think it could get emotional for some people here.” Indeed, nostalgia can often rose-tint our recollections; for some the hardships of wartime are still very real memories.

Old and young (and short and tall) combine in "Bless 'em all".
Old and young (and short and tall) combine in “Bless ’em all”.

For those of us young enough to have no such memories, the musical legacy of this time is a unique look into the past, and certainly our year six pupils from St. Barnabas valued these as such. “A week ago these songs were completely unknown to the class,” commented their teacher, we were grateful to the children for their hard work in rehearsing the songs to sing with us, and thrilled to hear that they’d even given a “preview” performance to the rest of the school in their morning assembly before coming here.  Their earnest singing boosted our ranks, and was especially appreciated during the final number – Roll out the barrel – when it became apparent to many of us in the audience we couldn’t encourage our vocal chords to hit the high notes!

WML June Event (10)
Anthony, Ruth, Jon, Andrew – the friendly (and musical) staff of Westminster Music Library

One person who has no such singing woes, though, is Ruth Walters, who masterfully led us through the entire programme, accompanied by Anthony on piano. As well as being full-time staff, they are accomplished and experienced musicians, along with the three other members of the Music Library team: Miriam, Andrew and Jon.  The high standard of performance is often commented on at events such as this one and we are grateful to our staff for using their musical talents so effectively.

We were also joined by Sam, a reporter working for Westminster Council, whose interviews and photo-calls really excited the children. A group photo taken at the end of the school children and staff serves as a lovely reminder of an exciting morning.

A reminder of an exciting morning
A reminder of an exciting morning

After refreshments and much chatting, our guests left us, and we set to work opening up the Library to the public for another day. We enjoyed having people of all ages and backgrounds for our sing-along, and, in the words of Vera Lynn, here’s hoping “we’ll meet again some sunny day.”

Jon Frank

Westminster Music Library