Saturday, July 30, 2011

London Olympics - one year to go and all's well!

It is hard to believe that it is three years since the Beijing Olympics. We all knew that was going to be a hard act to follow. So I was with some trepidation that  I realized that London, not Paris had won the dubious honour of being chosen for the 2012 summer Olympic Games. I mean how do you compete with China at the moment?

Yesterday I got a pleasant surprise when I saw what my home town had accomplished. In fact I was blown away by the beauty and simplicity of the swimming venue. The picture above does not do it justice. So far the London organizers appear to be doing the almost impossible job of parring down the now over blown Olympics without losing any of the Olympic  spirit.

I was privileged to have been taken to the 1948 Games. It was just after the war and austerity ruled and yet at the age of four I could tell the importance of these Games. The production values were simple but the result was exceptional. In truth no other opening ceremony seems to have had the power of this one. The pigeons were totally memorable. One thing we Brits can do is organise. We can work to a deadline and get the job done. It is our talent.

My father was Wembley Stadiums unofficial 'official' photographer for the Games. He was the only staff member with a Leica camera, (garnered during the war and no questions asked!). To compare the two photos of now and then is quite illuminating. Both are simple and both will do the job. 

I was at the 1948 Opening Ceremony and much as I should enjoy being there in 2012  I learnt back then that actually it is better on television!

Friday, July 29, 2011

World Population 7 Billion. Are There Too Many of us?


Today the world's population has reached 7 Billion, up from 6 billion in only 14 years and will reach 8 billion in another 12! I find this alarming. Admittedly I shall not be here to worry about it but I do worry as I 'do worry' about the future of my species. There are just too many of us.

It seems to have escaped the powers that run the world's notice that unless we conquer space rapidly the world is going to run out of resources.  Surprise, surprise. There is only so much we can plunder. With  exception of the Chinese no super power with the  seems to be taking the population problem seriously.

Most of the counties with rampent population growth are under the hands of the clerics. Iran springs immediately to mind. No birth control, no abortion and marriage for girls at the age at 13 when their education comes to an abrupt halt means disaster for them and overcrowding for everyone. The Pope could help too in this area.  Boys are preferred and in China and India there will not be enough girls to go around which will led to wars and frustration.

Instead of planing for 8 billion wouldn't it be a good idea to halt the increase? The results of overpopulation are distressing. I saw a film of babies washing in a public fountain in the Philippines. The poor mothers had nowhere else to bath them and it made uncomfortable viewing as one knew there was no hope for them growing up with a chance of a reasonable life.

Surely today with the progress of technology and sensible living one should be able to look after ones self in old age and not require thousands of young immigrants to pay the taxes in aging populations. Admittedly at the end if one lives long enough one will need help as most elderly have no families to look after them. The young are too busy coping for themselves.

Now the whole world is suburbia. 'If it is green cover it with concrete' seems to be the order of the day. Well I have news for the planners. You can't eat concrete!

On that happy note Have a good day!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I hate sport!

I hate sport. I can' help it ever since I was a four year old I have hated football and cricket. My grandfather who ran Wembley Stadium used to watch it on TV for hours and hours and even then it bored me stiff.

The hours and hours that is devoted to sport on television has had no effect on me whatsoever and considering sport takes up half of every news programme on radio and television and has since I was a child many years ago just goes to show how little effect constant  indoctrination can have on occasions.

So it was refreshing to read Germaine Greer's  blog on the subject of women's sport  in today's Telegraph. Like me Greer has little time for male games of supremacy but is appalled at the discrimination against women that is still associated with the whole topic.

Personally I get no kick from beating someone at something even for fun. Winning a game even ping pong makes me feel sorry for my opponent. I feel guilty at my success. This is possibly why I am the world's worst Association Croquet player. It gives me no fun to see my opponent sitting on the side for hours while I go around in one go but this triait is necessary if one is to succeed at this game. You have to take pleasure in your opponents frustration.

For men it seems, sport is a substitute for war. It gives them the opportunity legitimately to thrash a rival team and glory in their defeat without actually killing anyone.  The time and money devoted to this end seems to me out of proportion with it importance on the world seen. After having discussed wars and famines the news presenter smiles and says 'and now sport' as if it was on the same level as millions dying of starvation!

Women are not interested in sport. I know this because I edited a woman's sports magazine and in fact market research showed only 2.5% were interested. Sales figures showed this was about right. I was horrified and depressed to find many advertisers would not support women's sport as they were afraid that their male followers would refuse to buy a product that was favoured by women.  The worst offender in NZ was Apple Juice!

Women have come far in the discrimination stakes but still have a fair way to go.  However I must admit I love watching male tennis!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

BBC How Musical Are You? Test 100%

For fun and with slight trepidation I took the BBC's 'How Musical Are You?' test and I was amazed at how accurate the results were. Although I have worked as a professional singer and dancer and director of opera's all my life many of my associates have never considered me 'musical' as I do not play an instrument.

It is not for want of trying! I have tried to play the piano, tap dance and type all my life but I can never get past page one. This has been somewhat of a disability but was put down by all and sundry that Janette Miller was 'Not Musical'.

Well of course I am Musical! You don't work for Britten without being musical or marry Wagnerian loving husbands without appreciating the master and loathing Brahams and Puccini!

As you see I scored 100% for my relationship with music but it was in my other scores that my disability was noticed. It picked up my rhythm problem. I find it hard to beat in time with my hand. I am always inaccurate. Ditto typing!

It seems in retrospect I have something amiss with my hypothalmus, a small organ in my brain that controls my nervous system. I cannot remember sequences from brain to hand and that means every time I sit at a piano or a typewriter, it is like I am being introduced to it for the first time.

I never get any better. Oh my poor piano teachers. I used to practice and practice my scales for hours one day but the next when I got to the lesson it was as if I had never seen the keyboard before. Consequently I was labeled by many of my teachers and colleagues as 'Unmusical' solely on my inability to play an instrument although I can sing like an angel and I love Schoenberg!

The BBC's test was impressive. I started badly because I had to skip the musical genres section where one had to chose which genre a tiny sound bite fitted in. I couldn't recognize any! Later I found out it was rock, hard rock and two other genres with which I am unfamiliar. Like asking a rocker to recognize Mahler, Mozart, Schoenberg and Stravinsky with just one note  to go on so I just scored nil in that section. I reckon I could do that with classical composers .

I did well on Musical Ability except for the rhythm section and even then I was average. Note these results disappear so screen shot them as they will be gone. You cannot retake the test.

Most of my musical friends will score better than I but having been considered unmusical for most of my life and never able to pass any practical test as singing did not count. I was OK on the theory it has come as a delightful surprise.

Here's the link  to BBC's How Musical AreYou?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Death of George Earl of Harewood

With much sadness I learned today of the death of George, Earl of Harewood, the only member of the Royal family I have ever met and had a slight acquaintance. Although I did not know him that well he always treated me as a close friend and his letters to me which I treasure on the 'strange' behavior of our mutual friend Benjamin Britten, the composer were frank and astute. He was not afraid of discussing the foibles of Britten's complex and enigmatic character.

My first introduction to the Earl was the above photograph. In post war Britain there was little joy and children like me collected pictures of Royal Weddings to brighten up our lives. This wedding was for some reason a particular favorite of mine.

The second was that I was assigned his office at The Royal Opera House Covent Garden as my dressing room! Lack of space meant that this was usually used as the conductor's dressing room and the Earl had to vacate it every evening and leave it tidy.  In 1957 as the first two children allowed in the Royal Ballet's 'Petrushka' we were given this honour. I have been working my way down ever since!

The first occcasion I actually got to meet the Earl was at The Aldeburgh Festival in 1958 where to my surprise and horror I was chosen to sing the solo in Wagner's birthday tribute to his wife Cosima. I was to be accompanied by Benjamin Britten and the item was to be introduced by the Earl.

This supposedly glorious  opportunity for me was in fact a nightmare as I was given just twenty minutes rehearsal and no complete run through. The first time I heard the piece in its entirety was when I was standing on center stage with Britten at the piano and the Earl giving a five minute explanation of how the piece was written. I have never felt so alone.

Britten had told me that the introduction was rather long and he would nod and I was to come in four bars later. Some ask as I was a ballet dancer and only 15. The whole of the musical and social Establishment was in the audience. I was terrified.

But I did 'come in' and I got through it to be met with an ovation of applause. I remember curtseying  in a true Fonteyn manner and telling myself I should never, never do anything like this again with no rehearsal when to my horror the Earl said "Well that went rather well! I think we should do it again" and I had to return to the piano and sing the wretched thing once more. I remember Michael Crawford who had for once had not been invited saying ironically 'The audience certainly seem to like her!'

I could tell at that moment that I had impressed Britten. At some time during those few moments he must have realized that this performance was close to disaster as he really had no idea of how I would perform. It was a sort of arranged marriage but for us it worked. Britten enjoyed the experience and so did I. Performing together in public under stress makes a sort of 'bond'. One has to have complete trust in one's partner and from that moment I became a Britten 'favorite' although being a girl and an 'outsider'. My presence in Aldebugh was never noticed. I am never mentioned. I was not 'seen' but I was around for four years and I got to know a 'Britten' that was completely 'different' from the Britten I read about today in books, plays and articles .

So much of a favorite that three years later when I was singing 'Flora'  in 'The Turn of the Screw' at the 1961 Festival I found Britten's behavior to me 'unusual'. Britten behaved as a young student on his first date. I was 19 at the time. I found this behavior 'strange' but put it down to a 'one off.

Years later I wrote to the Earl about what I had experienced and was it my 'imagination'? I felt that somehow my strange experience should be put on record for posterity. Someone should know. To my surprise the Earl wrote back a very frank letter which I still have. The Earl said he understood completely what I had experienced and he was not surprised in the least. He added that it was fortunate that I was so sensible and had not 'ended in tears!

My last meeting with the Earl was at the first night of Aida at the ENO when he was holding forth rather loudly on a certain opera singer looking 'like the back of a bus'!

So he did remember me our one night stand on a windy night in Aldeburgh.  It was a 'night to remember'. It was!

Sleep well sweet prince! I shall miss you.

The Earl of Harewood with Britten at the preview of  the
Associated Rediffusion's 'Turn of the Screw' directed by
Peter Morley.