Last month was Remembrance Sunday. I was going to write about it but thought I’d combine the post with a video of me playing the piece of music that I most associate with the day. It has taken a few weeks to get chance to record the video so excuse the tardiness.
Remembrance day has featured prominently in my life. Throughout my teenage years, I was involved in a walk in the Yorkshire Dales on the Saturday before every Remembrance Sunday. It would start from the village of Starbotton in one of, if not the, most beautiful of all the dales – Upper Wharfdale. After parking in the car-park of the Fox and Hounds pub early in the morning we would head up the valley side to a point on the hillside just south of Buckden Pike. There stands a memorial stone dedicated to the Polish aircrew of a Wellington bomber which crashed in the January of 1942 in atrocious weather. The rear gunner of the aircraft Joseph Fusniak survived the impact of the crash, and although he had a broken leg was able to locate the rest of the wreckage. He found that the only other survivor was very badly injured. Joe needed to try to find help in the snow, but the blizzard made it impossible to see which way to go. After crawling around for some time dragging his broken leg, he eventually came across the tracks of a fox. Surmising that the fox might be heading towards human habitation he was able to crawl through the snow following the tracks until eventually his hunch proved true and he was led downhill to a house. Apparently the occupants took some convincing that he was Polish and therefore on the Allied side and not German, but eventually they believed him. The weather being so bad a rescue attempt for his crew member couldn’t happen until the new day, by the time they got to the wreckage it was too late. The memorial at the crash site features fragments of the wrecked plane, and poignantly, a fox’s head to celebrate the animal that certainly saved Joe’s life. At the memorial we would perform a short ceremony including two minutes silence and a bugled last post.
Because the walk was in November the weather was decidedly changeable. One year we did actually do the walk after heavy snow fall, although I can’t remember seeing any fox tracks. Whatever the weather we would always finish back down in the pub, which fortunately used to be fairly relaxed about the adults sharing their pints of beer with us kids. I think the law says that teenagers can drink alcohol so long as they are eating, but i might have made that up. It was here that I developed my lifelong love of Theakstons Old Peculiar. Probably my favourite beer of all time* At this time of year its dark malty rich taste is lovely to enjoy sat in front of the log-burner on a cold night.
One Remembrance weekend I remember as a small child, was spent at a friends cottage on farmland by the north Wales coast. It was here that one of the family left a gate open, so we had to spend a blustery evening trying to round up a field’s worth of sheep in the pitch dark; which was an interesting experience. The following morning was spent holed up in front of the fire watching the London Remembrance day parade service at the cenotaph. The service features some of the most sombre, atmospheric, and beautiful music. One of my favourite pieces that I associate with Remembrance is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Like many people of my generation I first heard this in the 1986 Oliver Stone Vietnam war film Platoon. A great movie that shows the horror of conflict. His piece Agnus Dei is the same tune, but arranged as a choral piece. I don’t have the greatest singing voice, but fortunately I do have some strings…. So below is a video of me giving it a go. It’s not perfect, and I was a little too concerned about getting the notes right so the dynamics didn’t come through as much as I would have liked, but I hope you like it. So sit down, turn up your volume, and spend 7 minutes either having your own Remembrance moment, or just enjoying the tune.
If you would like to play the piece yourself, this arrangement came from ‘Great Piano Solos – The Black Book’
*This post is not sponsored by Theakstons in any way, but if they do happen to read it and wish to send me a gratis case of Old Peculiar, I wouldn’t complain….