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Duration therefore has no influence on the quality of a composition. Greatness in composing, as somebody once remarked, lies not in knowing how to start, but when to stop [listen -- CD2 track 15, 2:49-4:06].

After a composition tutorial with a modernist student in an American university, Vaughan Williams reputedly said, 'If you ever happen to think of a good tune, don't forget to write it down, will you?' What a pity that Vaughan Williams seems not to have tutored many composers of light music. The point is, that tunes-with-accompaniment are the only things that light music has to offer, with the exception of 'Aaaaaarghh!', Ketèlby, who has nothing to offer.

A formula now emerges for producing light music clones. Each clone must occupy between two and five performance minutes. It must consist of tune-and-accompaniment. It must use a limited form of diatonic harmony throughout. The orchestration must similarly make no demands on players beyond the normal range of their instruments. And the scoring must usually be for small orchestra although, as on these two CDs, larger forces could be used.

Each item of light music has a title suggestive of a programmatic background, such as town or country landscapes, or an imitation of machinery such as steam trains, clocks or windmills. Waltzes, galops, jigs, and dancing insects gives audiences what they want. Nostalgia and other sentimentalities, otherwise propagated by chocolate boxes or snowy Christmas cards, cater for what Dorothy Parker once called the 'gamut of emotions from A to B'.

There is not much that counsel for the defence could say in mitigation of light music's cultural crimes against humanity. However, the jury should consider the circumstance surrounding light music before invention of the microphone. In those days live music of many sorts was available, small orchestras for the comics singing music hall ditties, while brass bands blew their faces red in summer parks, as their military equivalents marched down the street. Up-market restaurants and hotels had their Palm Court Orchestras which, whilst playing during luncheon, afternoon tea and dinner, had their repertoire muffled by the hubbub of table talk.

At least light music's decibels did no permanent damage to audience ears, unlike the cosmic acoustic storms which pass as popular music today.

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Copyright © 20 March 2007 George Balcombe, London UK


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