Peter Webb, South Australia and Northern Territory Regional Meeting

Some Friends may remember that I was commissioned by SANTRM to write some music for the 2010 AYM, which was held in Adelaide in January of that year.

As things turned out, I produced two sets of songs. One, called Kumangka ngadlu kumanendi (Together we become one) was a reflection on the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, and the second was called Walk Cheerfully, a set of six songs for soprano voice, oboe, and string quartet, reflecting on the Quaker Testimonies of Simplicity, Justice, Truth, Equality, and Peace, preceded by the “Walk Cheerfully” introduction.

These two sets of songs were duly performed at the 2010 YM, recorded a month later, and CDs were made available to interested Friends.

After some years, one of these CDs found its way to Richard Simpson, a regular attender at High Wycombe meeting in England. Richard is the Principal Oboe of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He took a liking to these songs, and, along with Val McFarlane, Chilterns Area Clerk, a performance of Walk Cheerfully was arranged for the evening of March 9th, 2016, in the Jordans Meeting House (built in 1688), which is part of the Chilterns Area meeting.

The performers were Lottie Greenhow, professional opera and oratorio soloist, Richard Simpson on oboe, and the Aylwin String Quartet, all of whom were colleagues of Richard from the BBC SO.

The rain poured down outside, but over sixty people filled the Jordans Meeting House, and Walk Cheerfully was duly performed, after Richard and the quartet had done an enthralling performance of the Oboe Quintet by Sir Arthur Bliss.

Peter (centre) with Richard Simpson and Lottie Greenhow

Julie and I attended that performance. At the end, the audience, mostly but not exclusively Quakers, gave it a most gratifying reception. Then, in the manner of Friends (I suppose one could say), they stayed in their places, and various people stood and gave their impressions – all of them favourable, I’m glad to say – about the work and the performance. We all then retired for supper, and eventually headed home.

Julie and I had been invited to stay with Val and her husband, Ian, at their home in nearby Beaconsfield. As is the way of Quakers, they treated us with great hospitality and loving care, and we consider them to be close friends.

That, however, is not the end of the story. Unbeknown to us, Val had been advocating the Walk Cheerfully songs to various meetings in England; and, earlier this year (2017), we received another email from Val, telling us that the songs were to be performed again, this time on Sunday afternoon, October 8th, in the Hertford Meeting House.  (Built in 1670, this is the oldest purpose-built Meeting House in Britain which has remained in continuous use.) Julie and I were invited to be present again, and, of course, to stay with Val and Ian. So, at short notice, we booked flights, arrived two days before the concert, and, on the due date, were driven by Ian and Val to Hertford, where we attended the morning Meeting for Worship, were taken out to lunch in Hertford, and then went to the concert.

Lottie Greenhow, with Richard Simpson and the Aylwin Quartet, rehearsing Walk Cheerfully in the Jordans Meeting House

Once again, it was Lottie, Richard, and the Aylwin Quartet; but, this time, we heard various combinations of those players performing works by Purcell, Vivaldi, Bax, Webern, and Vaughan Williams. I was invited then to introduce the Walk Cheerfully songs before they were performed. It was a wonderful event, with the playing and singing of some of England’s foremost professional musicians enhanced by the truly lovely acoustic of the Meeting House. The whole concert was a joy and a privilege for me, while remembering that the songs are intended to be less an up-front concert work, and more a creative ministry.

Again, the reception from the audience was gratifying, and we returned to the McFarlane home to warmth and companionship in the best Quaker way.

We spent a short time in the U.K. afterwards, catching up with rarely-seen family, and then flew home by way of Vienna, where we met our newest grandchild – five-week-old Mika, first son of the oldest of our four children, Jonathan, and his Austrian wife, Julia. Three days there were not enough.

From SARM’s 2010 commission to Jordans and Hertford – who would have thought? A life in music has given us great joy around Australia, in our Adelaide home, amongst the community of musicians and audiences, and taken us to many places around the world. We have been privileged indeed to lead such a life.

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