James Murphy


  

Congratulations to the Westmorland Youth Orchestra on its 60th birthday. Iím amazed that itís the same age as my dad, and whatís more that itís the very same age as the National Youth Orchestra: a glowing sign that Kendal has always kept pace with the mainstream.

  

I canít remember when I joined WYO but spent at least five years hacking away at the back of the second violins, relying on the better players in front of me to cover my dubious intonation. Memory is an untrustworthy thing but in that time I think we performed Crown Imperial about 767 times, and Pictures at an Exhibition even more so. But donít get me wrong; I love those works Ė Noel was always really savvy at picking music that we could rip into and let leash all the adolescent energy, ardour and fire that had built up by Friday night after a weekís tedious slog at school.

  

I left the orchestra in 1993 and now, as Marketing Manager of the Royal College of Music in London, my violin only ever comes out for the occasional staff/student fundraiser where once again greater talents conceal my embarrassingly bad tone. Iím also a regular commentator on BBC TVís live Proms broadcasts and itís fair to say that the passion you may catch me exuding there for some of the worldís best orchestras was born back in my days at WYO. Orchestral music was always just a pleasant wash of pretty sound until WYO gave me the chance to get inside it. My parents will recall my stupefied silence the weekend after my first WYO rehearsal; you simply canít know what itís like to be in an orchestra till youíve tried it, and WYO gave so many of us that experience, and continues to do so. To this day, I can think of few life experiences better than being part of an orchestra, and playing our hearts out in concerts at Kendal Parish Church was the first time I really understood that. Even if you donít play any more, itís a feeling that continues to resonate within you. Experiences like that donít go away.

  

I also have to confess that once Noel daringly assigned us to play something far out of our comfort zone Ė Charles Ivesí The Unanswered Question Ė and I remember seething all the way through the performance, not having the faintest clue where we were amid its continuous high string chords. For years, I resented that piece. Then in 2001, I was watching Terrence Malickís stunning war movie ĎThe Thin Red Lineí and at its most devastating moment, a piece of music emerged that I remembered from the distant past. It was of course the Ives, and just last month I heard it again, used to equal effect in the National Theatreís stunning production of ĎWomen of Troyí. I didnít remotely appreciate it at the time but I realise now that Noel was introducing us to one of the most extraordinary and brilliant works ever written, and I salute him now for doing so in the face of my frowns and confusion. The WYO really was a primer for life in more ways than we could ever know back then, and Iím really pleased to hear itís still going strong.

  

James Murphy