2014 poppy appeal


This week sees the start of the promotion of the 2014 poppy appeal by The Royal British Legion (http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/get-involved) in the United Kingdom – 100 years since the outbreak of WW1.

The creative ideas to produce the imagery for the campaign have again been spectacular. Some of the examples are the GCHQ staff human poppy in Cheltenham (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-gloucestershire-29745303), giant poppy at King’s Cross station in London, knitting poppies for an art installation in Nottingham (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-29575962)…

GCHQ_Poppy (from the BBC article)

Mankind does not seem to have learnt much from the lessons provided by the conflict experience during the past 100 years. It saddens me to write that George Santayana’s words from his Soliloquies in England (1924) “Only the dead have seen the end of war” will stand for many decades and even centuries to come.

Has society developed since 1914? One paragraph from the Every Man Remembered site (http://www.everymanremembered.org/) may provide some answers -

“Disability, homelessness, bereaved and desperate families, poverty – these were typical issues in Britain after the First World War. Today, The Royal British Legion resolves similar issues – providing practical and immediate support to injured veterans and bereaved families, helping people into jobs, into homes and offering them hope for the future.”

I hope that as many people as possible can donate time or money or both to this community appeal. The Royal British Legion club locally never fail to support fundraising efforts I have been involved with and I wish them every success this year.

The BBC news report about the start of the campaign can be seen at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-29726541

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Happy blogday


The blogging journey started almost two years ago. At that time I could only see a desolate landscape of desert and mountains that had to be traversed and as to the light at the end of the tunnel? I had no idea where the entrance was.

I arbitrarily chose a one thousand word target for each blog and thank you to the readers that have criticised and commented as this has now been reduced to 500 words. Hopefully there is now less skirting around the issue(s) and a more direct approach, it could be more of a press release quality than the academic paper that was the first goal, and some sense of style has developed over the century of blogs.

My writing of words, from starting as a chore, has become fascinating. I have overcome the fear of “getting it wrong” (I was always unsure of what was being measured) but you, the readers, have helped along the way. Words are now very interesting – so much so that I often write more poetry than prose these days.

And it is not only words. During my time as a blogger I have also composed over 60 new pieces of music. Some have been put together and performed as Deranged Drums on Digital Vistas, some have been entered into competitions – Fleeting Glance, Splitscreen Sinfonietta and Only the dead have seen the end of war, some published – 12 Solos for Xylophone, and some are still being finalised for concert performances, publication and/or recordings in the future.

This is the one hundredth blog (according to the counter on the WordPress site) and I would like to thank everyone who has helped, read, liked, disliked, subscribed and supported during the expedition. I feel far more creative now than I have done for many years and it is by doing, by sitting down and writing or composing, that the inspiration arrives. Not all the thoughts and concepts are used as the critical mind then begins to work but ideas are formulating and new work is taking shape each day.

Blog again soon

© P.R.Birkby 2014

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Nervous Nineties



Ninety-nine blogs
Have oiled the cogs
They’ve started to mine
A new world of rhyme

Time to discover
To think and recover
The mind is active again


I used to travel by car
Very far
Thinking of some melody
Some rhythm or polyphony

Now I travel by train
Distance still the same
But thoughts of verse
In my mind
The music is next
Just after the text

Soon I will drive
The music to survive
In the muse
A mix to infuse
The beats and chords
The melody and tunes

When I’m travelled
I’m not tired
But inspired
Not retired

Commuting (the late one)

It’s nine p m
Jackets off for the day
On the evening train
What’s to say

Standing-room only
Everyone lonely
Wishing their life away

Commuting (first thing)

Morning bus
Stuck in the rush
Creeping it’s way
Through Holmer Green and Hazelmere

Just after dawn
With brake lights flashing
Like the earlier alarm
The rain is lashing
On the stressful fuss
Of the crawling bus

Rows of cars
One person in each
Friendship and sharing
Just out of reach
All out on display
Before the rest of the day

Commuting (on foot)

Walking against the flow
No where to go
Looking to recognise a face
At pace
An aspiration in vain

No contacts
No eyes
No comments
No ties

We are asleep
Don’t peep
Lost inside
Default is hide
Programmed with blinkers
To eradicate the thinkers


© P. R. Birkby 2014  www.prbpnews.info

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The Xylophone, Max Jaffa and three years late

10 IMG_3132

Today I have completed and published a new collection of xylophone solos, over 31 years since the first one, with a CD of accompaniments rather than a piano book. My original compilation – Ten Xylophone Solos was an edited collection of solos that I had performed in the Grand Hall at the Spa in Scarborough during my summer seasons as percussionist with Max Jaffa. End of the pier music in the tradition of march composer Kenneth Alford (Sparks, The Two Imps) or percussionist Jack Simpson (On The Track, On Another Track, Track Three…) and not in the tradition of Thomas Pitfield (Sonata) or Toshiro Mayuzumi (Concertino) but sometimes using similar techniques.

The new collection – 12 Solos for Xylophone has some more modern versions of the featured soloist tradition (particularly Long Country Road, Bouncy and Horror Chase) and also more melodic, rolling marimba influenced compositions (Short & Sweet and Melody In E) as well as influences from jazz, latin and dance music styles (Latin Jazz, Pasadouble Exprés and Dance Break). I have enjoyed working with the accompaniments to give them some interesting timbres with the intention of enhancing the brittle (some say cutting) sound of the xylophone and at times have resorted to indicating soft or wool mallets for more of a marimba-like quality.

All the music was completed in 2011 but with a change of job role and responsibilities during that year I never had the time to complete the backing tracks. Revisiting the music three years later has been good fun and I still enjoy listening to the compositions some of which have become favourites to whistle around the house. Sales of the Ten Xylophone Solos book are still good today as they were 30 years ago despite the demise of students learning percussion instruments (mentioned in an earlier blog from a recent ABRSM report).

The music (£9.99p including VAT and P&P) is available to order from the website www.prbpnews.info and if you want a preview I have made a short film including some of the music at http://youtu.be/c_Hrkw0iVdM

Order your copy now for the xylophonist you love this Christmas. (Never knew those words could work in one sentence).

© P. R. Birkby 2014

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Back to the beginning

Band at Alton Towers2

From the “edge”, “top” or even da capo are other ways of describing the experiences of the past few weeks. My playing career started in brass bands and yesterday I was back again playing with the Hatfield Band at the National Championships in Cheltenham.

During my absence from the brass band world very little has changed and it was good to catch up with colleagues I had not seen for many years – some performers and some now conducting. The social side, camaraderie, dedication and passion for music was still very evident as well as the competitive element as the bands vied to be the number one on that day and gain promotion to the Championship Section.

The choice of test piece was interesting as the composer had included four percussion parts although to perform all the elements on the score properly (taking into consideration stick/mallet/bow changes, moving between instruments…) six or seven percussionists would have been more appropriate. None of the bands could include this many performers and four, or at the most five, was the norm.

According to the latest ABRSM report Making Music (http://gb.abrsm.org/en/making-music/) percussion tuition is on the decline but if the brass bands keep performing works like this then encouraging more drummers to experiment with percussion will be a necessity. 17 bands took part in the 1st Section championships on Sunday with at least 70 percussionists performing in that one competition alone.

Hatfield Band 2014

Listening to the bands has rekindled my enthusiasm for composing for brass (the xylophone solos with band Two Spanish Dances and Silent Cinema Chase are still available) and I hope to write some more works in the near future as well as arranging for brass quintet. All details can be found at www.prbpnews.info

© P.R.Birkby 2014

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A community rewarded


Last weekend saw the final round of games in the Pontefract and District Cricket League. For my local club, South Kirkby Colliery Cricket Club, it was a significant Saturday in that a win (or at least three bonus points) in the final game would mean winning the division one championship. The last time the team had a similar division one honour was in 1932 and I don’t remember that one.

The final game was played at Ackworth Cricket Club, 2nd in the league and seven points behind at the time. The home team batted first and declared before South Kirkby could get the maximum bowling points (3). 100 runs was the target for a batting point that would ensure South Kirkby would win the division one title. The batters did their job and in the end South Kirkby won the game with overs to spare, they held their nerve and won for the village.

This was not one season’s work but the culmination of plans and strategies that have developed over many years. Over a decade ago the Club went through many changes and the emphasis shifted from the senior teams to youth teams. Many of those playing on Saturday have come through the youth teams or are active with the youth teams as their children are playing cricket.

It has been a very good year for the Club both locally and in the County. One of the juniors who came through the system had her first game (and cap) with the Yorkshire Ladies team. The 1st team also won the Dyson Skidmore Trophy (cup competition) and the 20/20 league so a treble celebration is on the cards. All five of the junior teams had a mixed season on the field as well as camping out, under 9 cricket gala and other social activities that make for a stronger community.

All this and everyone involved with the cricket give their time and expertise for nothing. A community that does things the right way will eventually be rewarded and this year has seen the senior side get the plaudits (next year it could be the under 11 team).


Congratulations to everyone involved – players, spectators, parents, carers, volunteer coaches, physios, tea makers, groundsmen, committee, raffle prize givers… and of course the local businesses that help each year to keep the Club going and move it slowly but surely on to more achievements.

© P.R.Birkby 2014

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The cash comparison


All the elements of the world premiere of Deranged Drums on Digital Vistas were paid for by the audience that attended the concert or will use the recorded music. The contributions were processed through Indiegogo which is a crowd funding site similar to Kickstarter but with some different criteria in pricing and how the funds could be accessed.

Can you make any kind of living as an artist? Is an interesting article written by Elizabeth Day in The Observer last year http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2012/jul/29/artists-day-job-feature?CMP=twt_gu but even more illuminating are the comments from artists working in many different parts of the creative industries that follow the post.

Setting a fee for a creative work is a difficult calculation to make. How many hours have been spent in production? What is the going rate and what else is being produced by other artists and at what price? How much did the raw materials cost and what about the uniqueness/individuality of the work? How do you measure creativity and what is the rate per second? If a work took months to create is this reflected in the price?

A comparison of fees between artists and tradesmen is often quoted when negotiations are in progress. The average yearly salary for an electrician from the totaljobs.com website is £29,000 (range between £26,000 and £33,000). Prospect.ac.uk lists orchestral musicians as having a yearly salary between £25,000 and £50,000 and electrician engineers between £20,000 and £40,000.

That is the salary but then there are materials and an electrician will follow a plan drawn up by the architect (for the Royal Institute of British Architects salary guide go to http://www.ribaappointments.com/Salary-Guide.aspx) or the orchestral musician will perform the music (composer’s salary guide not available/never been produced) more than likely under the direction of a conductor (Tom Service in the Guardian has some American examples http://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2009/may/18/classical-music-conductors).

The creative process from imagination to design to production can be long and is this ever included in the fee(s)? When I started my publishing business over 30 years ago I was impatient for my music to get to the performers. I had many ideas of which some were impractical but many others were produced and published and performed. Regular employment stifled much of this creativity (no time to consider and progress ideas) but now I am freelance again the ideas are being finalised.

What the years of institutionalisation have given me is – better standards of production, some more efficient ways of working using technology as an assistant not as the be-all and end-all, a greater awareness of marketing strategies and more impatience as the ideas flow and need producing for the performers.
I doubt I will use crowd funding again, a website link (www.prbpnews.info)to all the details would work just as well, but I am glad of the experience and it focussed the mind to bring the music alive in the studio at the Joseph Bramah. As for the cash flow – slow at the moment but picking up.

© P.R.Birkby 2014, all figures researched on 07/09/2014

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