In 1972, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Academy of Music, Alan Bush was asked to write about his participation as composer and performer in the RAM Centenary celebrations that had taken place fifty years earlier.
by Alan Bush
The Royal Academy Centenary Celebrations opened on July 17th, 1922, at the Queen's Hall with a Masque called "A Wreath of a Hundred Roses". In the official programme, it was curiously announced as follows:
"The words by a very old student (Louis N. Parker)
The music by very young ones".
The composers included three past students, such as Frederick Corder and Paul Corder (then aged 70 and 43 respectively), J.R. McEwen (aged 54) and also two present students, Arthur Sandford and myself (22 and 21 respectively). My contribution was a Festive March for Organ played by Benjamin Dale.
The performance of the Masque was preceded by Frederick Corder's fifty-part Motet for female voices and organ, "Sing Unto 'God'". Ten five-part choirs had to be separately rehearsed for this and I was assigned to one of them as its conductor. There was no "conductors" course at the R.A.M. at this time. I had never conducted before in my life and knew nothing of teaching choir singers their notes. Singers then were not expected to be able to sing at sight; of course we did not get us very far. At the first rehearsal after I had been conducting for about 12 bars, no one at all was continuing to sing. I was appalled. What was I to do? I started from the beginning again. This time one stalwart contralto managed to reach bar 14. It dawned on me to ask the pianist to bang out each part separately on the piano. By means of this classic method we got on famously, and my choir was able to keep its end up at the first combined rehearsal.
By a lucky chance I had been favourably noticed during the Lent Term of that year by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, of whom were all terrified, but who was one of those rare human beings, adored by everybody and deservedly so. He had decided to perform some movements of a Symphony in C by Sains-Saens, which included parts for two pianos; Harry Isaacs and I were asked to play these. The parts consisted largely of rapid scales, in which the C major scale figured prominently; this particular scale, as everyone knows, is one of the most difficult to play evenly at any speed. However, we had had the chance to practise our parts a week or so before the first rehearsal, when we rattled off our contribution in fine style, which could not be said to have happened with the rest of the orchestra. Sir Alexander was delighted. As a result, I was chosen as the soloist in the Students' Orchestral Concert in the Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra by Michael Head. Why I was the lucky one and not Harry Isaacs I have never known; understandably enough I did not argue about it. Thus as things turned out I was the only student to appear in those celebrations as both composer and performer.
© 2001 Alan Bush Music Trust