Breathless - The Churchill Society Responds
To the Editor
Re the V&A commission of a so called 'work of art', for which
they paid Cornelia Parker fifty thousand pounds to have crushed
fifty four brass band instruments.
drawn our attention to the article re the above on your website. (http://www.4barsrest.com/articles/art104.asp)
and also on:-
Artnet News Website.(http://www.artnetweb.com)
comment as follows:
The Chairman of the Trustees of the V&A wrote
to the society on 11th November:-
. . . . I think it will come to be seen
as an important work of art which pays tribute to the disappearing tradition of
the brass band in Britain. . . . .
. . . . it
must be stated that both the Museum and the artist made very proper and thorough
investigations to ascertain that the instruments themselves were destined to be
scrapped by the organisations that were
approached and were beyond economic repair. . . . .
have spoken to the people who sold the instruments. They confirm that no examination
of the instruments was made by any restorer. That they were sold; and that they
declined to say for how much money. They confirmed that they did not inform anyone
in either the British Legion or the Salvation Army.
. . . . (The work) described by the artist herself as "A vibrant working
class tradition has been brought into the British Galleries in the guise of a
heraldic ceiling rose. I wanted to create something that would explore the ideas
of duality: light/dark, silence/noise, upper
class/lower class, the North/South divide, black cloud/silver lining, death/resurrection.
I see the work as a ghostly last gasp of the British Empire".
Pretentious publicity seeking nonsense, thought up by her
and the Trustees after she, and they, suddenly learned to their shock and too
late, that the Brass Band world was very much alive.
The truth is more
likely that Paula Ridley and her V&A committee were so shocked to learn from
our letter of their mistake about 'the declining tradition in the UK of Brass
Bands' that they sat for a long time thinking how they could explain the inexplicable.
Cornelia Parker stated that the artwork had not deprived any
children of needy instruments and that the decision to scrap them was taken by
the organisations involved. This is challenged by the Churchill Society Music
The Society's Music Department challenged
it because (a) the statement was untrue and (b) it hears frequently of how children
have to share instruments.
Edmund Whitehouse (music author) wrote to the
Trustees of the V&A , The Arts Council, and The Arts Minister re this matter
and sent us a copy of his letter which reads:-
'I can do no more than agree
totally with the attached outraged letter from a musician. There was never even
a fraction of the needed musical instruments available at any of the schools I
. . . however, the fact remains that
Cornelia Parker undoubtedly purchased the instruments and that the organisations
involved freely accepted the payments for them. If, as has been stated by the
the British Legion, there are weekly pleas for old instruments, how come they
were not handed directly to the Legion to be disposed of before Cornelia Parker
purchased them, or why weren't the Legion made aware that a request to purchase
them was being made and that whether or not the organisations involved could sell
them or whether they could be disposed of without financial recompense.
come Cornelia Parker and the V&A get all the grief then? What about asking
a few questions of the organisations that found themselves in a position that
they just happened to have instruments to sell but not to give away despite weekly
pleas from their own Director of Music? . . . .
so! But would it not have been more professional journalism on your part had you
made these enquiries yourself before rushing into print?
The answer is,
as ever, money changed hands: (not with the organisations involved), but with
individuals acting alone and who stated to us that they had not consulted with
their seniors as to whether the instruments should be sold.
It is interesting to observe that the V&A is a Charity
'Exempt from Registration'. Had it been a registered charity, they could not have
spent such a huge sum of money in this manner. We hold that the Trustees
of the V&A should be held personally responsible for refunding the V&A
for this vast sum of wasted money - just as are County Councillors who squander
£50k is a great deal of money, but in the great scheme of things it's peanuts
compared to say the £12.5 million pounds that was spent by the National
Lottery Heritage Fund to purchase the "Churchill Letters".
. (and further on) . . . . Now you get a better picture of where they (this society)
are coming from don't you? Not the most liberal sympathetic attitude concerning
sexuality or nationhood is it?
Here you mean THE
CHARTWELL PAPERS. Hardly relevant to the discussion especially as you failed to
ascertain the society's views on that deeply shaming matter. (See http://www.churchilll-society-london.org.uk/secrtry.html)
£50,000 is a vast sum of money. Why could not the V&A have spent
a portion of that sum recording performances of some of the wilfully neglected
work of British composers?
. . . . The brass band
movement needs to be brought screaming and kicking into the 20th let alone the
21st century in many ways, and the work at the V&A has shown that when it
comes to progress the banding
movement has a singularly "Luddite" mentality. The work will be on show
for many years and thousands will enjoy it. With friends like the Churchill Society,
Miss Parker's prescient interpretation of the work as
"a ghostly last gasp of the British Empire" runs depressingly true.
As you admit everyone in the brass band movement and
its press deplores what was done by the V&A is it not odd that you alone are
out of step? But to write that the Brass Band Movement is 'Luddite' . . . . 'it
should be brought screaming and kicking into the 20th let alone the 21st century',
you surely cannot be serious when they play so much modern music so wonderfully
The great George Thompson - creator and conductor of Grimethorpe
Colliery Band's vast fame was fond of relating how brass bandsmen had memories
like elephants. They will remember this comment of yours and do not think you
would have made it had your WWW 'magazine' been a commercially published one in
competition with the established brass band magazines.
suddenly changed her story when she realised her original description of her work
was complete nonsense and a ghastly mistake.
Nor did Britain ever have
a "ghostly last gasp over the British Empire".
Both your, and
her knowledge of history is poor. We quit the Empire when - as Enoch Powell said
to us at a Society banquet . . . . .
"but Churchill - the wartime
leader who refused to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire, found
it possible, along with his fellow countrymen, to do just that; and to do it upon
the whole with dignity and without dishonour in the aftermath of the Second World
Unlike the late Enoch Powell - this society believes very strongly
in the Commonwealth ideal.
Why did you as editor - along with the V&A
Trustees, newspapers and radio, fail to point out that Cornelia Parker need never
have crushed the instruments - she could have polished them up, lacquered them,
suspended them in honourable retirement - a proper tribute to the (very much alive
and modern) brass band world.
In quoting from Rutherlyn's 1996 Christmas Lecture.
(http://churchill-society-london.org.uk/ChLect96.html) I note you also failed
to mention that the society's music department (led by the composer James Stevens)
is therefore qualified to challenge the perpetrators of this (unwillingly subsidised
by the tax payer) act of
Your introduction of Enoch Powell into the debate reveals your
prejudices - not ours. Did you know that he played the clarinet as a young man?
The Churchill Society London
c/o 18, Grove Lane Ipswich Suffolk England IP4 1NR
Telephone & Fax: (0044) 01473 413 533 (2 lines)
A bit of an old "V" sign from the Churchill Society then to our opinion.
As always we stick by what we said about the work of art and the way in which
it came into being. We are appreciative that the Churchill Society has taken the
time to comment at length about the issue, but we feel they reveal a Society out
of touch with current artistic, musical and political opinion.
We will have to agree to disagree on this one, but we do respect the Society and
their opinions. We feel however that they are opinions that we strongly disagree
with, not just on the topic of Cornellia Parker's fine work also their wider opinions
on political and musical issues.
We hope that everyone takes the opportunity to go and see the work and make up
their own minds.