My musical journey - back into music

But life moves on. By now we had two wonderful boys. Scotland was a great place to bring up children, snow every winter for sledging, mountains for walking and climbing, lochs and lakes for boating. The one downside was the weather. A lot of the year was very damp, and for one of my sons who had severe asthma, this was disastrous. We had to move. I was offered the job as engineering director of the UK part of a hi tech American multinational based in the Worcestershire Gloucestershire area. We moved to Malvern. Firstly because according to the local GP, instances of asthma were low, and this proved to be correct. Secondly it was the hilliest area in the locality, with the Malvern Hills rising majestically out of the Worcestershire plains and adjacent to the beautiful countryside of Herefordshire. It was a reminder of Scotland and the countryside we had left. Thirdly, with the Elgar connection, it was a very musical area. There are probably more musicians in Malvern per square metre than anywhere else in the country. Sir Edward Elgar didn't live in the house I live in now, but it was amusing that when we were house hunting, the estate agent seemed to claim that just about every house we looked at had either been lived in by Sir Edward, or that he had lived next door, or at the very least had visited for lunch on several occasions. It is the home of the famous English Symphony Orchestra, and also of the Chandos symphony orchestra which performance the major works many of the international orchestras avoid, because of their commercial imperative of playing music that people know from Classic FM.

So within a few weeks from moving here, I was playing string quartets, I become a member of an extremely good Symphony Orchestra, and was only a short time away from forming a barn dance and ceilidh band. The String Quartet expanded into a chamber orchestra that gave concerts in the area for many years, until I think we had played the whole repertoire at least twice, then subsided back into our String Quartet playing for which there is an almost infinite amount of music written.

Being engineering director of a significant company was obviously very time-consuming, but there was far less travel internationally, giving more time for music. It was not long before a musical friend, who is also an architect, asked if my string quartet would play for one of their corporate events which took place at the stately home and wedding venue of Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire. This was the beginning of what came to be the midsummer music agency.

Having realised what fun it was playing at such an event, we decided we wanted more of it. String quartet concerts are all very good, the music is intellectually and technically challenging, but they are not exactly jolly occasions. People go there to enjoy the music in a deep and meaningful way. Others I suspect, have gone to see how it compares with the latest recording on Classic FM or whatever record label is their favourite. They are sitting there with long faces, playing music critic, hoping for a good spattering of slip ups and interpretations which they can criticise compared with the latest fashion. It's quite different to a corporate event, or a party or a wedding where people there to enjoy themselves. It's a happy atmosphere. Some music doesn't work in this situation because it was written specifically for the concert hall and the only way to enjoy it is to listen carefully and focus on the music. Many composers however, such as Mozart or Haydn and many more wrote music to be played in social settings, banquets, Royal Courts, weddings, and even firework parties ( for example Music for the Royal Fireworks). The composers and classical ensembles were the pop musicians of the day. You wouldn't go to a pop festival listening to a function or a party band with a miserable expression on your face. You wouldn't stand in silence to listen, you would join in, talk to your friends, sing along, and always have a good time. So with the String Quartet playing at a wedding we are providing the same function.

You might wonder where the name Midsummer Music came from. Explain elsewhere in the website, but the completeness I mentioned it here. Front window my house you can see the full length of the Malvern Hills. We were thinking of names and decided we couldn't use the name Elgar, in part because it was an overused name anyway, and in part because I knew one of the Elgar family and played music with her on occasions, and it would seem the wrong thing to do.

so we said, why not name it after one of the Malvern Hills. There was North Hill. The North string quartet. No. There is British Camp. The camp string quartet. Definitely not. Where is hangman's Hill. The hangman string quartet? Not likely! And there is Midsummer Hill. The Midsummer String Quartet. That seemed a good name.

Around this time I got to know some people who were running a barn dance band in the area. They were looking for a fiddle player and I join them. This developed into Ringerike, the Ringerike Ceilidh Band and the Ringerike Barn Dance Band. You're probably wondering where the strange name came from. It is a Scandinavian art form (Ringerike) called Ringerike Art. There's a church in Herefordshire with some Scandinavian Ringerike carvings around the doorway, close to where are caller lived at the time. The art form is full of intertwined plants and multi headed and legged creatures, again intertwined with each other. We decided that our band played rather crazy and mixed up intertwined music, hence the name.

I decided to build a simple website to try and get some more gigs for our string quartet and barn dance bands. Gradually musical colleagues asked to go onto the site with their music groups. Then we started getting requests from music groups around the country to be put onto the website. This was the beginning of the Midsummer Music Agency. The rest as they say is history. But not quite yet.

What about my engineering job? Well, that came to an end as these things do. I had been in engineering for a long time and a change was needed. For various reasons which are too complicated to go into here, I moved into what may seem to be a completely different field. The field was a form of Hypnotherapy. You may ask how does someone with a background in high tech engineering end up doing hypnotherapy. This wasn't the Paul McKenna type hypnosis therapies, it was a very specific technique used for treating the kind of conditions that the NHS have great difficulty with, such as panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Although hypnosis in this country is viewed as a rather wacky and mysterious thing, it isn't at all. And this particular technique was exceedingly logical. It was more like debugging a computer program in an industrial robot than some quirky psychoanalytic technique. You're working to identify the bug in the program and assisting that person in re learning the particular logic that was causing the problem. Fascinatingly this was done almost totally in the automatic part of the person's mind, with little or no conscious involvement. However it is always that person that made the change. You can't force anybody to do anything using hypnosis, despite the appearances given by stage shows. But this is another long an interesting subject. The main thing is that this was very close to Engineering, so a logical step.

But again life moves on. More business was coming into the website, and for various reasons it seems logical to focus on the midsummer music agency. Again this might seem a Far Cry from engineering director, but with my musical background there was a connection, and with my computing background there was another connection with the website. Indeed my background was in automation systems, and midsummer music agency operates in a highly automated way, with a lot of computer assistance to ensure that we provide a reliable, fast and cost-effective service to our customers who we consider to be both the person who hires the music group and the music group itself, for whom we are obtaining business. And it allows me to continue to playing lots of music. I mostly playing folk these days. Every event is a happy party. There are many kinds of folk music to discover and develop. The original Ceilidh band has developed into an English barn dance band or English Country Dance Band, a Scottish ceilidh band, an Irish Ceilidh Band, an American barn dance band, a Jewish klezmer band, a Jane Austen. Dance Band, a Thomas Hardy. Dance band, and shortly we will be introducing Greek music into a version of our band. What can be more fun than that lot. And the question is, what next.

So why is this section called the Musings of a Mad Musician. Is it that you have to be mad to be a musician, with all the things that being a musician entails, or is it a comment on my personality? That is left for you to judge.