Guest post by Lucy Melvin
I love this idea of the 21st century version of mixtapes, even though I am still sufficiently old-school not to subscribe to a streaming service, and I still own a casette player and possibly even have my old mixtapes stored somewhere.
I often get swept up in the nostalgia of Desert Island Discs, and like to think which music would tell my narrative were I to be on my own desert island, so here is my list and some of the reasons behind them.
Most of these choices are not classical. In my interview with The Cross-Eyed Pianist for the Meet the Artist series, I mentioned a musical memory of the Schubert Quintet performed at St Endellion; I haven’t included this piece, although the memory will always stay with me, because no recording I have heard can match up to that memory. These memories can’t always be recreated out of context – of location – different performers – different interpretations, or in a recording studio. But with all of these choices, these are the specific recordings which hold the specific memories for me.
No. 1 will always be Bob Marley. No Woman No Cry.
I think this started as a teenage thing. I bought the cassette of Bob Marley’s Legend Album when I was a teenager. Songs on that album seemed to be able to capture all the emotions needed for being a teenager. Now my own children have grown up listening to the several Bob Marley CDs we would listen to on road trips (cars don’t even have CD players anymore, so even that is a past memory), and again, they each had their favourites, but they know that No Woman No Cry is my favourite.
No. 2 is Nina Simone’s Sinnerman
An incredible pianist, and vocalist, this is such a great song. Her own history of being a classically trained musician, but was denied access to further classical training at The Curtis Institute, and so instead funded her private tuition by playing in bars – where she was asked to sing as well as play the piano, and this is how her Jazz style developed. You can hear her skill in piano playing, and love of classical music coming through this track. It was used as the soundtrack to the more recent version (1999 – I suppose is recent to me, but maybe ancient history to others.) of the Thomas Crown Affair: Also a brilliant film.
No. 3 is Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl.
As this mix-tape/playlist is meant to tell the story of our life, this is one part of my life which many people might choose to gloss over, but I think that people come into our lives for long periods, or short periods, and we all take something of that time along with us, on the journey that we then continue to travel. I was married for 12 years, and before that, we were together for 7 years. We have 2 amazing children, who we now continue to guide through this world, and even though we are no longer married, our two children are full of inspiration, and hopefully we are doing an ok job at the guiding. In our more care-free times, he used to sing this song to me at Karaoke, and we also had it on a CD listening to it in the car. It is a great song, full of love. Now it is our children who are our Brown-eyed girls.
No. 4 – Cinema Paradiso. Sung by Monica Mancini
I am totally in awe of the output of Enrico Morricone and his contribution to film music. There are so many beautiful melodies which we know and love thanks to him (early on, he used a pseudonym because he still wasn’t sure if he wanted to be a classical composer or a film composer – so there are many other films which he composed music for which went by a different name.) This piece has a very special place in my heart though. When I was in my 20s I performed in Italy quite a bit. I had a duo with a pianist called Luca Verdicchio, and we would perform in the UK and Italy. He loved film music. I already knew and loved the film Cinema Paradiso, and had it on VHS, but he would sit down at the piano and play it, and somehow, hearing it played in Italy, by someone who I could quite easily imagine once looking like the little boy in the film, growing up watching old movies (he loved all of the Chaplin films and could also improvise sound tracks to them) – and in those town squares in Italy, hearing the music, I almost felt transported to part of the movie itself.
I have, since then arranged this piece for all sorts of different ensembles – taken it on tour with my pupils, and each time I tell them that it is one of my favourite pieces, and they can’t let me down by playing it badly. I arranged it during Lockdown for violin and piano and made a montage of the signs on Cinemas which were shut during the pandemic, and other symbolic images of that time. It was recorded remotely (with my own rather embryonic recording equipment) with David Bullen on the piano, and set to the images of photos around London which I had taken….
….but the one for the playlist will be this one: the voice of Monica Mancini accompanied by orchestra to the music of Morricone’s Cinema Paradiso. As I said in the previous song selection, it is really important to appreciate all of the people who come into our lives, but there are still some who like to be kept private. This piece was introduced to me by that private person. It was a piece which had such a strong and personal story for him, combined with my own personal memories of this piece, this is the one I am choosing to keep in my playlist/mixtape.
No. 5 Velvet Underground Sunday Morning
Who doesn’t love a nice Sunday Morning? Whatever it is you choose to do with your Sunday mornings. This piece is full of twinkly sounds, and mellow vocals. It is another teenage throwback for me, but I was especially reminded of it during lockdown when I needed some more feel-good songs to get me through each week. Lockdown was a big part of everyone’s recent history, and getting through it was a big thing for everyone, so this one is on the mix-tape.
No. 6. Oh Holy Night. Sung by Aled Jones and Malakai Bayoh
I have a complex relationship with religion. It was a big part of my upbringing, and therefore has contributed to much of who I am today, but I often think that as adults we need to take much more responsibility for our own individual actions, but sometimes the rituals of religion can seem to negate that element of individual responsibility. However, I still like to believe that there is an example of something mysterious that we can’t quite name, or articulate. Music can have that power to transcend, and especially at Christmas time, the magic and mystery can come alive. Malakai has made musical history for many reasons: Not being daunted by anything else whilst singing at the ROH for example, but most of all, I hope will be remembered for this beautiful recording he made in 2022, and whatever career he has ahead of him, this piece is beautiful and full of magic.
Now for my classical selections
The 1st and most importantly is Haydn’s Quartet op 76 no 2. “The Fifths”
This is my all-time favourite string quartet. Hartmut Ometzberger (lead violinist of Callia Quartet) and I played this together in August 1995 – and I still have the photographs. We both studied with the same teacher: Emanuel Hurwitz, and his quartet (Aeolian Quartet) was the 1st to record all of Haydn’s Quartets on LP. – They were then released on CD, which I have, so unlike many other classical music memories, this is one which I have as a recording. When we 1st played together in 1995, we were probably 18 and 19 years old, and straight away, we said this was the piece we wanted to play. We next played it together after a gap of many years, in 2017. This was at a performance in the Thames Tunnel in Rotherhithe. There were many friends of mine who had never been to a classical music concert before, who said that when they heard the opening bars of this piece, they had never heard anything quite so powerful. It is in D Minor, which all my pupils know is my favourite key. I see some keys in colours. Not all, but some of the more powerful keys have a colour for me. D Minor is a deep purple, which is my favourite colour. So many wonderful pieces are composed in D Minor, it is a beautiful, and dramatic key to compose in.
My 2nd classical piece is Mendelssohn’s Octet
I don’t have a specific recording in mind, so I have selected this one performed by the Melos Ensemble (also lead by Emanuel Hurwitz) . I was too young to remember a particular sound of the performance which I heard, but I can remember a visual memory of seeing this for the 1st time, and I guess this was what struck me as the brilliance of string chamber music. I was at a concert when I was probably about 5 or 6. I think I was sitting on the floor, like children often do, and I was looking up at each of the performers, and watching the interplay between all 8 of them, and how the melodies were passed from one to another, or who was playing with whom. It is a piece of sheer joy, and brilliance, and at that age, I was very aware of the magic of it (again, that power to transcend). Whenever I teach it to pupils, I tell them this story of how I have never forgotten that memory. I hope that they will remember just as much of the magical moments created for them through music.
And finally my last selection would be Jaques Loussier playing Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C Major
Bach has to be on the play list. But, again so many different interpretations. What to choose? Solo violin? Solo cello? So, for something which encompasses something of all of my previous selections above, this is the one. That moment when he goes from Bach into Jazz is such fun – and then back again to Bach.
Lucy Melvin is founding Director of Chamber Players chamber music courses, which have been running since 2009. Chamber Players is quite unique in its ethos in that there are no audition requirements, and pupils are welcome from pre-grade 1 through to Diploma and above. Through experienced knowledge of the repertoire and care and attention to each pupil’s age and ability, every pupil is placed in an appropriate ensemble with their peers, according to their ability, age and previous experience, finding the most appropriate parts to suit them.
Previously a member of the Illyria Trio, with pianist Annabel Thwaite and cellist Sheida Davis, and duo with Italian pianist Luca Verdicchio, she has performed in concert halls, and intimate chamber music settings across Europe.
Lucy’s interest in education and chamber music performance led her to coordinating Classical Collective: a diverse concert series organising exciting performances for audiences of all ages, in venues across South London, as well as managing the performance opportunities for the Callia Quartet.