Howard Goodall

Singing is for everyone, not just the privileged few

The role of choral music has taken on new significance in the light of recent tragedies in the UK and, for composer, Howard Goodall, it’s one more reason why access to music-making is essential for everyone, not just those who can afford to pay. Karen Stretch catches up with him at his Burgundy bolt-hole.

In a scenario that has stayed unchanged for centuries, a celebrated composer is squirrelled away in the composing room at his French home, allowing the soundtrack of his thoughts to spill out onto manuscript paper.

So far, so traditional. But, unlike Deodat de Severac in Languedoc or Joseph Canteloube in the Auvergne, Howard Goodall is an incomer, escaping from the buzz of London to his Brionnais hideaway for two months of the year, and creating a setting of the Passion which is certain to blow away the cobwebs.

‘We know what a Passion setting meant to people in 16th century Germany when they took passages from Luke, John, Matthew and Mark and put together a narrative and recitative and chorale and arias, and I didn’t want to do that straightforward thing again,’ explains Goodall. ‘What are the issues that are thrown up by the Passion story? I found other texts to try and create a series of movements and reflections on these ideas, including texts that are not religious at all.’

The 50-minute piece has been commissioned by a choir in Houston, Texas. They’ve performed Goodall’s Requiem Eternal Light five times, and have a good idea of the kind of work that they will get to premiere. As Goodall says: ‘With Eternal Light, I was trying to rethink what the concept of a Requiem in the 21st century actually would be. I found new texts that I felt reflect on some of these ideas, especially now, where we don’t really think that the Requiem is about asking for intercession on behalf of the person who’s died to save their soul, but as something else.’

That Eternal Light received its 500th performance in June 2017 in Cambridge, Massachusetts (it premiered in 2008) is proof that Goodall’s thinking chimes in with that of many others. Reworking age-old concepts and marrying classical standards with contemporary sentiments has seen him honoured for his choral music, stage musicals (from The Hired Man in 1984 to Bend it Like Beckham in 2015) and film scores.

Howard Goodall at the Carnegie Hall

Howard Goodall at the Carnegie Hall, New York

In fact, it’s hard to think of an era of great telly which doesn’t feature a Goodall theme – Blackadder, Red Dwarf, Mr Bean and The Vicar of Dibley are all his musical creations, and his self-written and presented TV documentary series on music has won a BAFTA amongst other awards. His recent BBC2 documentary, Sgt Pepper’s Musical Revolution, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ album, has been critically acclaimed, illustrating once again the breadth of Goodall’s musical expertise and his ability to communicate it with clarity and style.

This is a composer who undoubtedly has his finger on the rhythmic pulse of the nation. So responses to tragedies such as the terrorist bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in May 2017 and the Grenfell Tower fire in London in June have struck him as completely natural expressions of shock and grief from a people unable to comprehend the enormity of what happened.

‘I think that we are, by many events, literally lost for words,’ he mulls. ‘We are so shocked but as a community want to react in some way that’s respectful, that binds us together and isn’t too gung-ho! We reach back to something that’s quite ancient in us – this desire to sing.

‘You almost could say that it’s a communal version of singing a lullaby to a child. What I think is true now, is that what people sing when they’re together is always changing and I don’t take the view that – because of the killing of innocent people – we would necessarily reach for something religious. Once you would automatically have sung a hymn or a prayer that everybody knew because everybody went to church or synagogue – but now there aren’t that many things we all know.’

Following a minute’s silence in honour of those who died at Manchester Arena in May, the community gathered together in the city centre and sang Don’t Look Back in Anger. ‘It was something they all knew and it was of their town and something they could do together,’ says Goodall. ‘Singing together has a tremendous healing power.’

Indeed, the first collective response to other recent incidents has also been musical. A cover version of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water was released just a week after the Grenfell Tower disaster to raise funds for the victims of the fire, featuring more than 50 pop stars and, most importantly, a choir made up of residents and survivors of the tragedy.

It is this same instinctive need to join together and sing something familiar and appropriate that was at the heart of Goodall’s work as the UK’s first and only National Ambassador for Singing from 2007 to 2011. Launching and leading the Government-funded Sing Up initiative, the scheme was aimed at getting children singing again, following the disappearance of religious assembly from many schools, and, consequently, the eradication of a common songbook of hymns.

‘What other songs do children learn together that they get to know through their childhood and as teenagers?’ asks Goodall, who was made a CBE in 2011 for services to music education. ‘I am of an age that I remember having to sing hymns, whether I liked it or not, all the way through my schooling.

‘One of the things we did was create a database of songs that all children could get to know.’

Goodall is also mindful of the fact that society in 2017 is very different from 100, 50 or even 20 years ago. ‘We live in a very individualistic age, for better or worse,’ he muses. ‘We can’t put that clock back, and you have to find as many ways as you possibly can to remind people that we are part of a community and that we are bound together for all sorts of reasons.

‘Singing is one of the very few non-competitive activities that can happen where you feel like one community. Choirs are a good example of something that you don’t have to be individually brilliant to join. Nor do you have to be individually brilliant to be in a brilliant choir! So at an early stage before you have inhibitions and worry about making a fool of yourself, you should be singing in a choir.’

It is this ultimate aim, being a part of society and singing as an adult, that Goodall feels the Government has lost sight of in its single-minded approach to raising literacy and numeracy standards, thus forcing drastic cuts to the arts in primary and secondary schools.

‘There’s the classic Govian view that we’ve got to match these Tiger economies whose school systems in China and Indonesia are racing ahead,’ he says. ‘With that came the thought that things you do creatively are only part of a luxury education.’

But, says Goodall, there is a double standard at play here, with those ministers recommending stripping out the arts happily putting their own children through private school, where it would be considered absurd not to have a good drama, music or art department.

‘They know that when you pay for education you want these facilities, and the opportunity for your child to be in a play or sing in a musical as a matter of course,’ he says, his voice shaking with passion.

‘The way to improve literacy and numeracy is to get children involved in music and only an idiot who had no knowledge of education, had never set foot in a school or done a minute’s teaching, would promulgate any theory like that!’

There is a need, adds Goodall, to bring back a conversation between those shaping the curriculum and what happens when we leave school.

‘Reducing education to literacy and numeracy is a terrible mistake – you can have that same argument in any country in the world – but it is doubly bizarre that we are having it because Britain’s creative industries are our second biggest export!’

With Sing Up funding lapsed (it is now a buy-in product) and investment in community choirs fading, Goodall knows that today’s amateur music-making lies in the care of enthusiasts. There, at least, there remains a glimmer of hope for the next generation.

‘A lot of my works are performed by amateur choirs around the world,’ he says. “The industries where brass bands and choirs were originally formed have gone, and they have realised that they have to engage younger singers to foster links and create the adult singers of the future.

‘It has required an inventiveness on their part that has been very inspiring.’

In search of his own inspiration, Goodall just has to pick up a trowel. ‘I garden a lot here so I think it’s very compatible,’ he smiles. ‘You can be working on something in your head and gardening allowing you to let the piece mature and ferment in your mind.

‘All day, every day, you can keep your head in the same zone. It’s a very creative place.’

howardgoodall.co.uk


About the author

After cutting her teeth on the arts pages of the Burton Mail and the Yorkshire Evening Post, Karen Stretch headed up the launch team for Metro Yorkshire’s arts section before joining its head office in London.

Now a freelance writer and mum of two, she is also a Primary music teacher and a keen explorer of the arts scene in her new home near Bristol.


 

Darren Henley

Bringing the arts to everyone, everywhere

As Chief Executive of Arts Council England, Darren Henley is hot on the trail of great culture in strange places. We catch up with him during a rare free moment to discuss the state of the arts in pre-Brexit Britain.

Hanging out on the third floor of a dimly lit multi-storey car park with contraband alcohol and the risk of arson may not be quite the salubrious surroundings associated with the future of British arts and culture.

But for Arts Council England Chief Executive, Darren Henley OBE, this is exactly the exciting, edgy and ingenious take on creativity that he champions.

‘I was in Sunderland on top of a car park last week watching a fantastic Faust dance piece by Southpaw Dance Company,’ he recalls. ‘There was lots of fire and it was a high-quality piece of work.

‘One of the things for me is that no part of the country has a monopoly on creative great works so you get to see amazing things in unexpected places.’

Faust by Southpaw Dance Company

Faust by Southpaw Dance Company

Visiting those places has been at the forefront of Henley’s charter since taking on the Chief Executive’s role 18 months ago, fresh from his position as Managing Director at Classic FM. Then, he pledged to spend half of his working week travelling the length and breadth of the country meeting creatives and seeing their art happen. Indeed, if dedication were measured in miles, Darren Henley would win the top prize. ‘I’ve kept my promise and I spend more than 50 per cent of my time outside London, which is great,’ he nods. ‘I’ve seen more art in more places around the country than I suspect anyone else. Doing a job like this, to my mind, is a bit of a lifestyle choice because I love art and culture so it is great to have the opportunity to see the best of what is being made around the country.’

During this, Arts Council England’s 70th anniversary year, Summer visits have included the SO Festival in Skegness and Coventry’s Festival of Imagineers – a collaboration of artists, engineers and designers – in September. ‘There’s really high-quality work just happening on the street and you can see the look on people’s faces; they are just going out to do their shopping on a wet Saturday and they’ve got a really excellent piece of art happening in front of them!’

Mú by Transe Express, SO Festival 2016. Photo © Alan Fletcher

Mú by Transe Express, SO Festival 2016. Photo © Alan Fletcher

Listening to the highlights of his recent visits, it’s hard not to be insanely jealous of the merry-go-round of cultural nights out, interval canapés and complimentary drinks. But this is to forget the carefully crafted initiatives, community building, economic investment and pure hard graft that has gone into ensuring that projects come together in the first place.

‘If you look at Hull City of Culture 2017, I believe that that will change the perception that everybody around the country and the world has of Hull as a place,’ explains Henley. ‘I think it will change the perceptions of people who live in Hull and of what they see happening in the streets of their city. I think that’s very exciting – the possibilities of what will happen not just for the economic regeneration of a place but in terms of artistic creativity in a place.

‘I want the people living there to be more demanding of us as an investor in art and culture: I want them to be able to say “these things should happen in Hull”.’

It is the collaborative nature of such projects that is at the heart of Henley’s vision for the arts. His recent book, The Arts Dividend (Elliot & Thompson), argues the case for arts for everyone, clearly defining the benefits (health, innovation, economic prosperity) that public investment in the arts brings for all.

‘Art and culture is about giving a heart and soul to a town or a city’, he says. ‘Place-shaping and place-making is really important and having that sense of those great towns and cities. Manchester is an example of where there have been a couple of decades of sustained investment in art and culture and that has been important in driving that city forward. More than ever now we need to build our reputation on the world stage.’

The Fliphouse by Lost in Translation Circus, SO Festival 2016. Photo © Alan Fletcher

The Fliphouse by Lost in Translation Circus, SO Festival 2016. Photo © Alan Fletcher

Speaking in the shadow of the Brexit vote and political wranglings over the future of the UK, Henley’s resolve to build Britain’s reputation as a leader in the arts is as strong as ever.

‘I think when you go around the world and ask people what they think of with England, they talk about our arts and culture and heritage,’ he says, ‘whether that be Shakespeare or Adele or our world-class conservatoires training people in music and drama. It’s our theatre, films, books… for a relatively small place in the world, our cultural output is huge.’

It’s not clear, he adds, how leaving the EU will play out. Over the last few months, Arts Council England has gathered as much data as possible to share with the Government and ensure that, as negotiations go on, art and culture are very much at the table.

‘For example, in the Department for International Trade, it’s really very important that arts and culture is seen as a very valuable sector,’ says Henley. ‘Creative industries are growing twice as fast as financial services, so this is big business for this country and America is actually our biggest export country, so not affected by leaving the EU.

‘As well as countries like France and Germany, Spain and Holland – which are important to us – equally, we need to build relationships in New Zealand and Canada and Australia. We signed a memorandum of understanding with South Korea just a few weeks ago and we’ve been doing a lot of work in India and that will continue and opportunities in China as well. These are all big markets for us.’

The Big Feast 2016, a street theatre festival hosted by Appetite. Photo © Chris Patrick Photography

The Big Feast 2016, a street theatre festival hosted by Appetite. Photo © Chris Patrick Photography

For Henley, though, there is a clear link between the international exchange of ideas and the seedlings from which these ideas grow, in our communities, schools, towns and cities around the UK.

‘It’s very important that children and young people get to see and hear and experience the highest quality art and culture and they get to meet actors and directors and see their work,’ he says.

‘It’s absolutely vital that all young people are offered the chance to learn music and dance, drama and design to a very high level and I’m very passionate that those who come from tough economic backgrounds are given the same opportunities as those who are lucky enough to be born into wealthier families.’

Some of these tough backgrounds are being targeted by Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places initiative, now in its third round of funding since it began in 2013.

With investment of £37million National Lottery funding in 21 projects around Britain, audiences have been able to experience arts up close and personal – sometimes for the first time – created by their community for their community.

‘We’ve just announced another set of £6million funding [for seven Creative People and Places projects] and I’m very proud of the work that we do,’ says Henley. ‘I was recently in Stoke-on-Trent where the Appetite initiative has brought arts to the streets and talked to one lady who said: “Things like this don’t happen in Stoke” and that was fantastic. I’ve heard that sort of refrain in St Helen’s and Sunderland and small places where they are doing amazing work where there wasn’t an arts infrastructure. Putting opportunity in those places is a programme that we are really proud of.’

The Enchanted Chandelier (Maudits Sonnants) by Transe Express hosted by Appetite, Stoke-on-Trent, August 2016. Photo courtesy of Clara Lou Photography

The Enchanted Chandelier (Maudits Sonnants) by Transe Express hosted by Appetite, Stoke-on-Trent, August 2016. Photo courtesy of Clara Lou Photography

Alongside the recent budget announcement of £622million per year lottery and grant aid for 2018 to 2022, the future of arts innovation in the UK looks distinctly rosy at a time of national uncertainty and caution. More funding has been directed outside London (by 2018, this will be a 75/25 percent split compared to the current 70/30 share) and the premise is very much that arts are for all.

‘After all, everybody pays their taxes and everyone across the country plays the National Lottery,’ reasons Henley. ‘So every time you buy a ticket, you are helping art and culture and every time you pay your taxes, you are paying towards money that we are distributing.’

In the meantime, though, there is little time to rest in the Bloomsbury-based office. Henley’s bags are almost permanently packed and he is a self-confessed aficionado of the National Rail train timetable.

‘I’m off to Coventry and Salford next, then up to Yorkshire,’ he says, enthusiastically. ‘I am an advocate for arts and culture and I am able to have conversations with Government ministers and senior civil servants.

‘I can do that so much more authentically by having seen the work happening and I don’t anticipate that the journey will ever really end.’


Header photo: Darren Henley © Philippa Gedge


About the author

After cutting her teeth on the arts pages of the Burton Mail and the Yorkshire Evening Post, Karen Stretch headed up the launch team for Metro Yorkshire’s arts section before joining its head office in London.

Now a freelance writer and mum of two, she is also a Primary music teacher and a keen explorer of the arts scene in her new home near Bristol.


 

Singing is for everyone, not just the privileged few

The role of choral music has taken on new significance in the light of recent tragedies in the UK and, for composer, Howard Goodall, it’s one more reason why access to music-making is essential for everyone, not just those who can afford to pay. Karen Stretch catches up with him at his Burgundy bolt-hole.

In a scenario that has stayed unchanged for centuries, a celebrated composer is squirrelled away in the composing room at his French home, allowing the soundtrack of his thoughts to spill out onto manuscript paper.

So far, so traditional. But, unlike Deodat de Severac in Languedoc or Joseph Canteloube in the Auvergne, Howard Goodall is an incomer, escaping from the buzz of London to his Brionnais hideaway for two months of the year, and creating a setting of the Passion which is certain to blow away the cobwebs.

‘We know what a Passion setting meant to people in 16th century Germany when they took passages from Luke, John, Matthew and Mark and put together a narrative and recitative and chorale and arias, and I didn’t want to do that straightforward thing again,’ explains Goodall. ‘What are the issues that are thrown up by the Passion story? I found other texts to try and create a series of movements and reflections on these ideas, including texts that are not religious at all.’

The 50-minute piece has been commissioned by a choir in Houston, Texas. They’ve performed Goodall’s Requiem Eternal Light five times, and have a good idea of the kind of work that they will get to premiere. As Goodall says: ‘With Eternal Light, I was trying to rethink what the concept of a Requiem in the 21st century actually would be. I found new texts that I felt reflect on some of these ideas, especially now, where we don’t really think that the Requiem is about asking for intercession on behalf of the person who’s died to save their soul, but as something else.’

That Eternal Light received its 500th performance in June 2017 in Cambridge, Massachusetts (it premiered in 2008) is proof that Goodall’s thinking chimes in with that of many others. Reworking age-old concepts and marrying classical standards with contemporary sentiments has seen him honoured for his choral music, stage musicals (from The Hired Man in 1984 to Bend it Like Beckham in 2015) and film scores.

In fact, it’s hard to think of an era of great telly which doesn’t feature a Goodall theme – Blackadder, Red Dwarf, Mr Bean and The Vicar of Dibley are all his musical creations, and his self-written and presented TV documentary series on music has won a BAFTA amongst other awards. His recent BBC2 documentary, Sgt Pepper’s Musical Revolution, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ album, has been critically acclaimed, illustrating once again the breadth of Goodall’s musical expertise and his ability to communicate it with clarity and style.

This is a composer who undoubtedly has his finger on the rhythmic pulse of the nation. So responses to tragedies such as the terrorist bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in May 2017 and the Grenfell Tower fire in London in June have struck him as completely natural expressions of shock and grief from a people unable to comprehend the enormity of what happened.

‘I think that we are, by many events, literally lost for words,’ he mulls. ‘We are so shocked but as a community want to react in some way that’s respectful, that binds us together and isn’t too gung-ho! We reach back to something that’s quite ancient in us – this desire to sing.

‘You almost could say that it’s a communal version of singing a lullaby to a child. What I think is true now, is that what people sing when they’re together is always changing and I don’t take the view that – because of the killing of innocent people – we would necessarily reach for something religious. Once you would automatically have sung a hymn or a prayer that everybody knew because everybody went to church or synagogue – but now there aren’t that many things we all know.’

Following a minute’s silence in honour of those who died at Manchester Arena in May, the community gathered together in the city centre and sang Don’t Look Back in Anger. ‘It was something they all knew and it was of their town and something they could do together,’ says Goodall. ‘Singing together has a tremendous healing power.’

Indeed, the first collective response to other recent incidents has also been musical. A cover version of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water was released just a week after the Grenfell Tower disaster to raise funds for the victims of the fire, featuring more than 50 pop stars and, most importantly, a choir made up of residents and survivors of the tragedy.

It is this same instinctive need to join together and sing something familiar and appropriate that was at the heart of Goodall’s work as the UK’s first and only National Ambassador for Singing from 2007 to 2011. Launching and leading the Government-funded Sing Up initiative, the scheme was aimed at getting children singing again, following the disappearance of religious assembly from many schools, and, consequently, the eradication of a common songbook of hymns.

‘What other songs do children learn together that they get to know through their childhood and as teenagers?’ asks Goodall, who was made a CBE in 2011 for services to music education. ‘I am of an age that I remember having to sing hymns, whether I liked it or not, all the way through my schooling.

‘One of the things we did was create a database of songs that all children could get to know.’

Goodall is also mindful of the fact that society in 2017 is very different from 100, 50 or even 20 years ago. ‘We live in a very individualistic age, for better or worse,’ he muses. ‘We can’t put that clock back, and you have to find as many ways as you possibly can to remind people that we are part of a community and that we are bound together for all sorts of reasons.

‘Singing is one of the very few non-competitive activities that can happen where you feel like one community. Choirs are a good example of something that you don’t have to be individually brilliant to join. Nor do you have to be individually brilliant to be in a brilliant choir! So at an early stage before you have inhibitions and worry about making a fool of yourself, you should be singing in a choir.’

It is this ultimate aim, being a part of society and singing as an adult, that Goodall feels the Government has lost sight of in its single-minded approach to raising literacy and numeracy standards, thus forcing drastic cuts to the arts in primary and secondary schools.

‘There’s the classic Govian view that we’ve got to match these Tiger economies whose school systems in China and Indonesia are racing ahead,’ he says. ‘With that came the thought that things you do creatively are only part of a luxury education.’

But, says Goodall, there is a double standard at play here, with those ministers recommending stripping out the arts happily putting their own children through private school, where it would be considered absurd not to have a good drama, music or art department.

‘They know that when you pay for education you want these facilities, and the opportunity for your child to be in a play or sing in a musical as a matter of course,’ he says, his voice shaking with passion.

‘The way to improve literacy and numeracy is to get children involved in music and only an idiot who had no knowledge of education, had never set foot in a school or done a minute’s teaching, would promulgate any theory like that!’

There is a need, adds Goodall, to bring back a conversation between those shaping the curriculum and what happens when we leave school.

‘Reducing education to literacy and numeracy is a terrible mistake – you can have that same argument in any country in the world – but it is doubly bizarre that we are having it because Britain’s creative industries are our second biggest export!’

With Sing Up funding lapsed (it is now a buy-in product) and investment in community choirs fading, Goodall knows that today’s amateur music-making lies in the care of enthusiasts. There, at least, there remains a glimmer of hope for the next generation.

‘A lot of my works are performed by amateur choirs around the world,’ he says. “The industries where brass bands and choirs were originally formed have gone, and they have realised that they have to engage younger singers to foster links and create the adult singers of the future.

‘It has required an inventiveness on their part that has been very inspiring.’

In search of his own inspiration, Goodall just has to pick up a trowel. ‘I garden a lot here so I think it’s very compatible,’ he smiles. ‘You can be working on something in your head and gardening allowing you to let the piece mature and ferment in your mind.

‘All day, every day, you can keep your head in the same zone. It’s a very creative place.’

howardgoodall.co.uk


About the author

After cutting her teeth on the arts pages of the Burton Mail and the Yorkshire Evening Post, Karen Stretch headed up the launch team for Metro Yorkshire’s arts section before joining its head office in London.

Now a freelance writer and mum of two, she is also a Primary music teacher and a keen explorer of the arts scene in her new home near Bristol.