Music of England

This article is part of a series on music by our guest author Caroline Bennett.  Earlier articles include “Why Music?” and “Hallelujah.”

Ralph Vaughan Williams

“The art of music above all the other arts is the expression of the soul of a nation.”Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1934

Few countries have a richer musical heritage than Great Britain. Not only are the British Isles home to the distinctive Celtic music genre, but they are also home to a host of amazing composers and musicians. Henry Purcell, C. Hubert H. Parry, Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, and Benjamin Britten are just a few of the talented music-makers Britain calls its own.

Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell, born in 1659 in Westminster, England, is one of the oldest of Baroque composers. He was closely associated with Westminster Abbey, not only because he was born near it, but also because he began work as the abbey’s organist and composer at an extremely young age, positions he held for almost his entire life. As his fame grew, Purcell began to compose works commissioned by Charles II, James II, and William and Mary. Many of the pieces Purcell composed were incidental music (works created for specific occasions), but as the 17th century began to draw to a close, Purcell began writing operas, the most famous of which is Dido and Aeneas. Other notable works by Purcell include the two semi-operas King Arthur and The Fairy Queen. Even after his death in 1695, Purcell remained the foremost British composer until the late 19th century.

Charles Hubert Hastings Parry
Charles Hubert Hastings Parry

Though not as famous as Purcell and other British composers, Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (often abbreviated C. Hubert H. Parry) is one of the most influential English composers. Parry was born in 1848 in Bournemouth, England. He began studying music—the organ in particular—during his years at preparatory school, and he amazed his teachers with his compositional skills. At his father’s wish, Parry read law and studied modern history at Oxford and then began work in the insurance business. He continued to improve his musical skills, however, and around 1875 Parry began writing influential articles about music. About the same time, Parry’s compositions began to be performed in England, and he quickly grew in fame due to his settings of poems by popular writers like Milton, Shelley, and Tennyson. His most famous compositions are the choral works Blest Pair of Sirens, I Was Glad, and Jerusalem. Parry’s most lasting legacy, however, was his teaching of composition students at Oxford and the Royal College of Music, for he instilled in his pupils a love of the choral and British symphonic traditions.

Edward Elgar
Edward Elgar

One of the composers Parry influenced was Sir Edward Elgar, born in 1857 in Worcester, England. Elgar received most of his musical education from his father; he never attended a conservatory, but rather worked from a young age performing, conducting, and composing. Later in his life Elgar declared that C. Hubert H. Parry’s writings contained in the Dictionary of Music and Musicians were of great influence on him as a musician. In 1899 Elgar composed one of his most famous works, the Enigma Variations. The 15-movement work is an “enigma” because the theme on which the variations are based is a counter-theme to an unknown melody. The Enigma Variations is an extremely moving piece and the ninth variation—nicknamed “Nimrod”—is famous for good reason. Elgar composed his most popular work, Pomp and Circumstance No. 1, in 1901, and it is often heard at graduations and other ceremonies. Because his education was based on his experiences as a musician and conductor, Elgar’s compositions are very much written in his own style. Nevertheless, it is impossible not to notice that the regal sounds of Elgar’s music hearken back to the anthems written by C. Hubert H. Parry.

Gustav Holst
Gustav Holst

Gustav Holst was yet another British composer influenced by Parry. Holst was born to a family of musicians in 1874 and began writing music as soon as he was able to hold a pen. When he was old enough, Holst attended the Royal College of Music, and there he was taught by Parry in the art of composition. After graduating, Holst began to teach at different schools, but he continued to compose, and by the time he died in 1934 he had written about 50 works. Many of his compositions were for choir, but his most famous piece is “Jupiter,” from the orchestral suite The Planets. This massive work is certainly more modern sounding than many of the compositions of Holst’s predecessors, but Holst nevertheless managed to write grand, melodious themes that often sounded very traditional. Indeed, he was considered old-fashioned by his peers because he refused to be influenced by the other works composed in his era.

Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten, born in 1913 by the North Sea, brought British music full circle through his most famous work The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, where he used a theme by Henry Purcell. Though this work can occasionally sound rather random—Britten was, after all, demonstrating the sounds of a lot of different instruments—the overall effect is very majestic and well-orchestrated, especially the “Fugue” and recapitulation of the theme at the end. Britten often used music as a vehicle for Christianity, and wrote a number of works for the church, most notable of which is A Ceremony of Carols, a work for choir and harp.

Music has always been important to the people of Britain. From ancient times to the present, Britons have used music to narrate stories, to express their love for their homeland, to tell others of their faith. The British Isles have turned out more composers than just Purcell, Parry, Elgar, Holst, and Britten—there are William Byrd, Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Rutter, and Patrick Hawes, to name a few more—and the styles of music written by the composers vary. Yet British composers always seem to capture the beauty of Britain in their music, and because they learn from one another, study one another, and imitate one another, they craft a beautiful musical tradition for their beloved homeland.



♪ Bamert, Matthias, Richard Hickox, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra. Parry: Invocation to Music / The Soul’s Ransom / The Lotus-Eaters / Blest Pair of Sirens / I was Glad. Chandos, 2006.

♪ Davies, Sir Colin and the London Symphony Orchestra. Holst: The Planets. LSO Live, 2003.

♪ Jarvi, Paavo and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Britten: Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra/Four Sea Interludes From Peter Grimes/Elgar: “Enigma” Variations. Telarc, 2006.

♪ Purcell, Henry. Essential Purcell. Hyperion, 1995.

The Benefits of Being a Bibliophile

One could say I am a bibliophile.  My earliest memories include Mama reading The Hobbit aloud, my family listening to audio books on road trips, and my struggling through Dick and Jane books.  Trips to the library posed exciting opportunities to explore new books and reread familiar ones.  Sometimes I perused books that Mama, my sister, or my friend Deborah recommended.  Other times I went rogue and read the books that caught my eye.  Beautiful picture books, fantasy, and fairy tales fascinated me, along with dragons and dogs.  Ever since I was little, books have formed an important part of my life, and reading has influenced me in many ways.

As Emily Dickinson notes in her poem “I Never Saw a Moor,” one can know how a moor looks, what a wave is, and where heaven is without having actually seen them.  Though she traveled little, Dickinson discovered and explored the world through books.  Reading books has instructed me in a similar way.  Books have taken me on boats to India, on camels to ancient Egypt, and in wagons across North America.  As a result, without putting one foot out-of-doors, I have traveled the world.

Statue of Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great

Reading books has also expanded my vocabulary, taught me about etymology, and increased my comprehension of foreign languages.  Stories set in the Middle Ages have introduced me to archaic terms like mickle, wassail, sumpter, and cantle.  Words which my reading has recently familiarized me with include vicarious, effulgent, sanguine, argentine, and miasma.  In reading about the laws of King Alfred the Great of England, I discovered that the Old English prefix “were” means man, hence the words wereguild and werewolf.  Though my English vocabulary has benefited the most from reading, I have also learned some French and Spanish words and phrases from books that mix these languages in with English.

Not only has reading taught me to understand the meanings of words, but it has also taught me to appreciate their individual and collective beauty.  A word can often have character, due to its denotation, connotation, appearance, and sound.  Though poets use rhetorical devices most often, all writers can use these techniques effectively.  As I have discovered from books I have read, the power of good sentences can come from many devices.  Some sentences stand out for their punchy nouns and verbs, for their rhythm, or for their structure.  In others, the author’s use of onomatopoeia, alliteration, consonance, assonance, similes, metaphors, and other rhetorical devices imbues them with beauty.

Far from the Madding CrowdBy exposing me to a wide range of writing styles, reading books has taught me writing skills and enabled me to become a better writer.  I have learned that a key to writing creatively and well is finding common ground with one’s audience and showing them something familiar in a new, crystalline way.  In a few short lines in Idylls of the King, Tennyson sets before one’s eyes a scene in Camelot and shows his readers that Gawain is renowned for feats of arms, whereas Modred is not.  Great authors can sculpt similes and metaphors that connect with readers, skillfully balancing creativity with clarity.  Thomas Hardy in Far from the Madding Crowd says of one elderly character, “He seemed to approach the grave as a hyperbolic curve approaches a straight line—less directly as he got nearer, till it was doubtful he would ever reach it at all” (Hardy 117).

Reading books has impacted me in many ways.  Through reading, I have expanded my knowledge and experience of the world, of language, of rhetoric, and of writing.  I have stretched and strengthened my imagination.  I have filled my mind with new thoughts and increased my understanding of history and the thoughts, feelings, and actions of mankind.  Great authors have taught me how to write well; mediocre authors have shown me styles and subjects to avoid.  Being a bibliophile has fired in me a desire to learn how to share with others the truth, beauty, thrills, laughter, and tears which so many books have brought me.  Reading, books, and knowledge have power to entertain, influence, and instruct, and ever since I began reading, books have influenced me and helped me grow.

Works Cited

Hardy, Thomas.  Far from the Madding Crowd.  New York:  Harper & Brothers Publishers, n.d.

PHD Humor

Created by a PHD student, PHD Humor gives a humorous look into the academic life. Discussing writing papers, Murphy’s law, eating Ramen, and many other topics that most college students on upward will find amusing, Jorge Cham weaves humor into the daily events taking place on a university campus. Great for a quick humorous jolt for your day.


This is a repost of a brief article I wrote on our sister site “Flint and Bone’s Comic Reviews“.

The Interview

The house was decorated in the sort of style that seemed intended to catch as much dust as possible. There wasn’t a single surface—and there were lots of them—unencumbered by a bowl of decorative baubles or a ring-around-the-rosy display of porcelain figurines. Mounds of fake flowers and ferns were heaped into ornate urns, artificial trees were shoved into corners, and top-heavy wall vases clung for dear life to the striped wall paper. It also seemed that no sculpture was complete unless it had a garland of musty roses draped about it.  Sarah Walker, seated on the edge of an overstuffed plaid couch, dressed in the entirely black, decidedly unelaborate and non-patterned official Blake School of Magical Security coat and boots, felt rather out of place.

This was certainly a far cry from the empty marble and glowing crystal interior Sarah had admittedly expected.  After all, Sarah felt the job posting had had that sort of wealthy recluse feel to it: Private, highly-exclusive employer seeks qualified individual to fill position of Magical Security Guard at remote, high-end estate. Position is security-sensitive and demands great discretion and good judgment on the part of the individual. Requirements: graduation from an accredited four-year university with a degree in Magical Security; at least three years experience at Level 3 Magical Security; ability to seamlessly carry out instructions exactly while adapting to unforeseen circumstances a must. To apply, please email your cover letter and current resume to ———–, along with proof of certification and at least three letters of recommendation. Should the candidate’s background be deemed an appropriate match, they will be sent a series of prescreening questions as part of a multistep interview process. Sarah felt that the term “high-end estate” should have at least protected the place from the faux-wood rabbit statuette perched on the end-table.

Sarah was currently attempting to distract herself from her slight case of pre-interview jitters by studying said rabbit, which was carved with such disregard for realism and such fondness for mass that great gaudy flowers bulged out from every inch the creature’s fur. Perhaps Sarah was imagining it, but there almost seemed to be a look panic in its flowery eyes. “Run!” the bunny seemed to scream. “You see what’s become of me! Run out the door and across the lawn and never come back, and be careful you don’t trip over the birdbath on your way out!” Sarah shut her eyes and looked away. She had worked too hard to land this interview to be thrown off by a misshapen bunny.

The man who had introduced himself as Mr. McHighmer reentered the room at this point. “Mrs. McHighmer will see you now,” he informed Sarah. “Thank you for waiting.”

“Not at all.” Sarah smiled. She rose and followed Mr. McHighmer through the kitchen, brushing off her coat and smoothing back her hair as she went, her advisor’s advice ringing through her head: “Don’t let the movies fool you. People like to see magicians on film with long, flowing hair, but in real life, put it back in a nice sensible braid. It’s much more practical, and gives people the sense that you’re ready to get down to business.”

Perhaps it was a bit too business-like, Sarah worried, as she followed Mr. McHighmer onto a sunny, gray-stone patio.  A rather short, curly-haired old woman, who otherwise looked rather like her couch, was seated next to a pitcher of what was probably iced tea.

“This is Mrs. McHighmer,” introduced Mr. McHighmer. “She’ll be conducting the rest of the interview.” He looked back to Mrs. McHighmer. “Is there anything else you need, dear?”

“No, that will be all, thank you,” sniffed Mrs. McHighmer, looking Sarah over with an unexpectedly critical gaze. “Have a seat, please, Ms. Walker. How are you this afternoon?”

Sarah awkwardly pulled the patio chair out, trying not to wince as it grated against the stone. “Very well, thank you. And how are you?”

“Very well, for now,” replied Mrs. McHighmer. “Well, first, I’d like to talk about you and get to know you and your qualifications a bit more, before we go on to talk more about the job details, as I’m sure you have a few questions.”

“The application process was just a tad secretive,” ventured Sarah, scrutinizing Mrs. McHighmer to see how this attempt at humor would be taken.

“Yes, I always pride myself on being very private and selective,” agreed Mrs. McHighmer, without an ounce of drollness in her tone.

Sarah attempted to salvage herself. “Well, for the past three years I’ve worked on a site that was nothing if not extremely private and selective,” offered Sarah. “So I like to think of myself as capable of great discretion.” Sarah mentally fist-bumped herself for so smoothly fitting the original advertisement’s language into her conversation.

“Yes,” mused Mrs. McHighmer. “You are a very recent graduate of the Blake School of Magical Security, are you not?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Sarah confirmed. “I graduated number two out of a class of two hundred.”

Mrs. McHighmer did not seem impressed. “I was admittedly a bit concerned when I noted that while you were technically a staff member at a Level 3 magical security site for three years, you were only in the midst of the action, as it were, for the last year.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Sarah admitted. “However, even when I was not in the ‘midst of the action,’ as you put it, I still held positions of increasing criticalness to the success of the protection of that site.”

Mrs. McHighmer nodded. “Yes, you detailed that in your resume. At any rate, your supervisors assured me that you were one of the foremost team members they employed, and certainly up to the task of embarking on a career in private security, which is what this position is all about. If you don’t mind, I’d now like to elaborate on what exactly this position entails.” She paused, and took a sip of her tea.

“Of course.” Sarah nodded.

Mrs. McHighmer gestured about her. “Well, first off, you should know that this is only a Level 1 security site, thank heavens. My husband and I purchased this estate about thirty years ago, and we have greatly improved it and we dearly love it. However, one thing that we simply cannot deal with ourselves is the positive infestation we have emanating from that forest over there.” She pointed across the rather extensive lawn and over a small stream to a clump of somewhat benign-looking woods.

“Oh?” Sarah responded, not sure of what reaction was in order.

“Yes,” insisted Mrs. McHighmer. “It may not look like much, but from it come all sorts of nasty creatures. Pixies. Gnomes. A hobgoblin or two. We even had a baby dragon here once, although that was many years ago.”

“I’ve dealt with a dragon before,” interrupted Sarah.

“Then you know exactly what trouble they are,” replied Mrs. McHighmer. “This patch of forest is the only one for miles and miles, and so all the creatures congregate there. I would have it chopped down, but that simply can’t be done. Something about environmental laws requiring at least one wooded section of terrain of some size every so many miles. Ridiculous, when it’s right in someone’s back yard, I say. Anyway, I’ve always tolerated it, but lately, Mr. McHighmer and I have taken to adopting cats as companions and comforts in our old age, and we would like to even adopt a small dog, one that wouldn’t be too much of a bother. But that simply isn’t possible while we’ve got the creatures from the wood coming down to catch and cook our cats every chance they get. We’ve already lost one or two of our poor felines.”

Sarah wasn’t sure what to make of this. “So, Mrs. McHighmer, if you don’t mind me clarifying, the position I would be filling is related to this…how?”

Mrs. McHighmer looked at her in surprise. “Oh, did I not make this clear? You would provide protection for our house pets. We do like to allow our pets outside upon occasion, but we simply don’t feel safe doing so knowing there’s a clan of hobgoblins waiting in the bushes. You would provided security by making sure that our pets can roam about as they like, unmolested. The gnomes also like to come in and steal the spoons, and I expect you would be able to take care of that issue too.” She stopped and looked at Sarah expectantly.

Sarah was not quite sure what to say. “Um, Mrs. McHighmer…” Several versions of what she knew she would have to tell Mrs. McHighmer flashed through Sarah’s head, some variations polite, others less so. Mrs. McHighmer, you mean to tell me that I completed a six step interview process to provide security for CATS and some spoiled TOY DOG? Mrs. McHighmer, I’m afraid this position is not exactly what I had in mind. Mrs. McHighmer, are you aware that at that Level 3 security site that you were so finicky about, I personally defeated a ghoul that was powerful enough to turn the site and everyone in it into dust with a wave of its hand? Mrs. McHighmer, I’m not sure I’m the best candidate for this position, especially as I’m afraid that I’m seeking a more active posting, a more, if you’ll forgive me, a more exciting position. Mrs. McHighmer, you are talking to a member of the team that defeated the dragon Petra, whom I’m sure you’ve heard of, and, yes, I was certainly very low on the totem pole for that operation, but I am still not a glorified cat-sitter!

Mrs. McHighmer, unaware of Sarah’s consternation, continued: “The hours, I am afraid, will be a bit odd, but I assure you, you will be well compensated.”

Despite herself, Sarah was curious what Mrs. McHighmer’s definition of “well compensated” entailed. “If you don’t mind me asking, Mrs. McHighmer, about how much were you thinking of paying?”

“Not at all, it is a fair question,” Mrs. McHighmer conceded. “This is an hourly position at around forty hours per week, possibly more as the case may be, at $250/hr.”

Sarah fairly stared. “Pardon me, $250?”

“Yes,” confirmed Mrs. McHighmer. “Good help is hard to find these days. Quality individuals are worth paying for, and, Ms. Walker, I believe that you are one such quality individual.”

Perhaps a nice quiet position like this wouldn’t be too terrible, thought Sarah. It’d make my mother happy. And even with my renown, I’m not likely to get a much higher-paying position straight out of college.

Though Sarah would never have admitted it to herself, much like the dragon she had once helped defeat, Sarah was rather fond of coins.

“Mrs. McHighmer, this position certainly does sound like an opportunity I don’t want to pass up.” A very glorified cat-sitter indeed.