What a poignant year for Help Musicians to celebrate their 100th birthday – a year in which they have paid out more than £18 million to musicians whose careers and livelihoods have been blighted by COVID 19. But what a wonderful 100th birthday celebration – here in the 1859 Garrison Chapel, newly restored as part of the massive Chelsea Barracks development running down to the Thames from Sloane Square in central London.
Help Musicians was founded in 1921 by Sir Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams in response to the tragic death of the world famous American tenor, Gevase Elwes. (While attempting to return an overcoat that had fallen off the train he just alighted from, Elwes leaned too far out and was hit by the train pulling out.) Since 1921 the charity has provided help and support to musicians of every kind: advice, education, training, finance, housing, careers guidance, mental health support and much more. And for the last 18 months they have truly been a lifeline for musicians suddenly bereft not only of any opportunity to make music, but of any means of making a living.
To find out more about the charity and how to support their work, check in to their site.
But back to the celebration…..
The event was hosted by Sir Jack and Lady Petchey. Sir Jack (see the Jack Petchey Foundation) is a big time philanthropist and supporter of the arts. Lady Petchey is the sculptor Frances Segelman, whose sitters include everyone from the Queen and Prince Philip downwards – and who has the unique ability to create her initial clay model of her sitter in a mere two hours. So for the benefit of the charity, she got to work and in two hours had moulded the head of Help Musicians’ Ambassador, Sir Simon Rattle.
Check in to this lovely short film about the evening and then see below for some of the zanier moments.
Here she is at work and then talking about her work.
But that was not all. As might be expected at a musicians’ birthday party, there was also music. The programme had been devised by the internationally renowned harpist Catrin Finch and the players included Nick Ellis and Eliza Marshall of the Korros Ensemble who some of you will have heard play for us at the Highgate Festival in June. And here are a few moments of Catrin playing.
You may have noticed in that clip the guy in black on the right with the microphone? He was Mr Phormolu Solo Beatbox and, only because it is last thing that you might expect to hear in such a setting, here he is solo. There was lots of slightly more conventional music too!
As an added bonus – although we scarcely needed one – the chapel is currently hosting an exhibition of original watercolours from the Highgrove Florilegium – the huge and stunning two volume set of botanical prints depicting the plants, vegetables, fruit and trees grown in the garden at Highgrove which was commissioned by Prince Charles.
We forget that before the arrival of photography the only way for botanists to log and codify the plants that they discovered was for artists to draw and paint them, usually in watercolours – the flowers, the stalks, the leaves, the buds and the corms or roots. Collections were often gathered together in florilegiums (literally ‘bouquet’, from Latin flos, flor- ‘flower’ + legere ‘together’) but are now rare except in old botanical libraries.
Apologies for the poor image. I was leaning over guests and the lights were bouncing off the glass. However, the watercolours are just stunning – and the exhibition is on, and is free, until September 26th in the Garrison chapel..