great rehearsal last night with the LGSO, we spent the whole evening concentrating on the wonderful Enigma Variations. I love Elgar, I know some dismiss his talents as "cowpat music", well I suppose they are entitled to their opinion, even if they are wrong.
I was reminded of story from my dim and distant youth, I got it a bit wrong, but with a little research I think I may have it right now. Back in the days when I was still a "Yuff" I played in the Croydon Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, we were a pretty good outfit, indeed for their first series of Great Orchestras of the World the BBC choose us as the Youth Orchestra, while I was with them I played for Sir Arthur Bliss, and with Lady Barbirolli, we also had some pretty impressive tutors such as both the Civil brothers Godfrey Kneller and other experienced professionals and up and coming stars. One of the more impressive tutors was James (Jimmy) Blades. By the time we knew him he was already a little old man (to us teenagers anyway) so it was interesting to juxtapose the man we knew with the J Arthur Rank image!
Anyway to get back to the Enigma, in variation 13 there is a section where the Timpani is asked to play with side drum sticks, the idea is to emulate the distant sound of engines on a cruise ship or liner. Apparently it is very difficult to achieve the desired effect so percussionists quickly came up with the idea of playing this roll with a pair of Old Pennies. I'm not so old as to remember this by the time I first came to play the piece we had gone decimal and 50p pieces were being used. Jimmy quipped that the way inflation was going he had already started teaching his students to use £1 notes! Last time I played the enigma I checked behind me to see the timpanist was using two £2 coins