One of the more ticklish aspects of doing a family history is how one treats one’s own activities. Well here I take the plunge and announce that my piece, Cornell Sketches, was played on the Cornell University Chimes last Friday, May 11, 2018. The bells and the keyboard are at the top of the Library Tower as pictured above, a 161 step climb for performer s and visitors. The Senior Chimesmaster, John Lee, worked patiently with me as I prepared lead sheets of the seven sections. Any faults in the outcome are due entirely to my poor grasp of elementary music theory.
In an earlier article, I gave a history of Cornell Sketches. Here is the back cover of the CD of my original keyboard setting for your guidance.
As you will see, the 21 bells do not require 21 lengths of rope but a large keyboard. If you want to see more of the Chimes, just do a search for Cornell Chimes.
I feel rather awkward putting myself into this sequence. I am caught between my native Scottish trait of modesty and the combined MacCormick/American general (for lack of a more accurate word) assertiveness. Sobeit.
My own music life has been threefold. First as a singer, pianist and then composer/improviser. A paramount feature of my musical activity is that, similar to my cousin Neil, the artist, I have never had a music lesson and to this day cannot ‘read’ music, just follow the lead notes up and down. I have a very good ear which allows me to memorize music. That merged with years of experimenting on keyboards from a very young age enables me to find the right combination of sounds. I spent many hours listening on the radio to every type of music and attending concerts. The MacCormick influence on my musical life is there but my mother’s family had in two cases ‘playing by ear’ skills – my Grandmother Janet Potter (who played entirely on the black keys!) and her daughter, my Aunt May Penman. My Aunt MacCormick, the music teacher, of course would never countenance ‘playing by ear’ and indeed she found my early childish one finger playing highly amusing. In retrospect, I am happy that my parents did not try and force me into piano lessons. I think it might have discouraged me from experimenting. However, I do often consider the great advantage I would have now if I could read music, and more important, be able to score my own compositions. I also thus deprived myself of proper fingering and dexterity. A good article on my approach can be found in the next PART.
Turning first to my singing life, it was entirely choral – no solos, please. My first venture was at age five singing with with my school class at the Glasgow Empire Exhibition in 1937.
Next was in the Woodside Senior Secondary School, Glasgow, Gaelic Choir under the guidance of Tom Crawford when we won the local Glasgow Gaelic Mod schools prize.
My third choral venture was in Rochester, New York in 1951-52, where, as a new immigrant, I joined my employer’s ensemble, the Lincoln Rochester Trust Company Choir. (I am center rear light jacket.)
Then in Japan, where I was serving in the US Army, I sang with the First Cavalry Division Glee Club which won second place in the US Far East Choral Competition in 1954.
From 1954 to 1958, I reached the pinnacle of my singing career when I performed with the Cornell University Glee Club. I was also very proud to serve as President of that group which was founded in 1868.
My piano ventures have been as accompanist, US Army ‘concert party’ type band member but mostly for my own pleasure. Again, at the risk of boring readers, all this was done without the ability to read music – all ‘by ear.’ My first public appearance was quite amusing. Some pals were preparing for an audition for the Carl Levis Show in the late 1940s. This was a BBC radio talent hunt. They asked me to be an accompanist for their singing group. So I went on stage with them in he Grand Theatre in Glasgow, age 16. The chosen piece was Jingle Bells and I launched into my usual attempt to reproduce the harmonies and sounds of an orchestra. We had only been performing about a minute or so when a voice came out of the darkened theatre – ‘Hey you on the piano, quieten down – we’re not auditioning you.’
My other efforts on the piano are not worthy of display here. Suffice it to say that whatever skills I enjoyed gave me much pleasure and were of great social benefit. One of my fondest memories is playing four hands, improvising with another ‘ear’ pianist, fellow student Bill Barnes, in the lounge of International House at the University of Chicago. We would feed off each other’s sounds and came up with several fine arrangements, the best of which – ” It’s All Right With Me” I have rearranged for midi multi instruments reproduced on disk – not alas available to me at this time.
My activities as composer are difficult to set out here. I will begin with the first public performance of one of my pieces. The music of this work is the last movement of my seven part Cornell Sketches, more of which later..
That composition [music and lyrics] was ‘performed’ at Sage Chapel, Cornell University.
(An aside – I was pleasantly surprised to see that the hymn tune Bunessan was also to be sung at the service. I recall trying to explain to the bemused organist the claimed MacCormick connection.)
Only two of my other songs are in score. The lead sheet first below was prepared by me while all full scores above and below were prepared by organist/composer Brian Hoffman from my recordings.
A related piece languishes unscored. “The Wedding-Cake-Walk.”
Last is a children’s hymn suggested by an old rhyme from childhood – ‘Look up, look down, you owe me half a crown.’