Thursday, 20 September 2012

Peter Jenkyns and Percy the Porcupine

The writer par excellence of perfect little art songs for the under 12's is Peter Jenkyns. My concert announcers are always sure of having to tell an eager audience that young X will be singing another song by Mr J, and the listeners are assured of a delightful gem, perfectly composed for small and slight voices, and a sweet story centred around a naughty tiny rodent, a sad snowman or some ferociously protective parent owls !

This week I have given three songs out to my pre teen pupils, and highly delighted they all were with these gorgeous little jewels.

The Owls was a hit with a small girl of 10, who really liked the slightly spooky To Whoo's, and the especially strong words of the poem when he talks about 'The murderer foul, the hunting owl.....', yummy minor key and lots of consonants!

The second was to a smaller girl who had her very first PJ song. I most often choose The Toy Soldier for first timers, it is simple, in a great key for small voices, all topped off with a smart military marching beat. She thought it was wonderful, and SO grown up!

The third was one of my favourites. Percy the Porcupine, like the last song, from a little collection of songs called Fancy Fair. Percy never fails to engage and delight little singers. It has a lilting 6/8 beat, and such a joyful melody, combined with witty words, which even the youngest singer finds funny. Little J who was given Percy today, laughed out loud at the words, and left her lesson with the broadest grin.

Quite what a classical singing teacher would do without Peter Jenkyns songs I don't know! So much which is supposedly composed for youngsters under 12 is so very wrong for delicate voices, so often set to inappropriate words, even, I am sad to say, with innuendo in the text, and, it seems to me, all in the vain hope of being cool, and appealing to the already too fast developing and overly exposed babes.

I have tried in vain to google Peter Jenkyns, and all I have managed to find out is that his dates are 1921 - 1996 and he was Canadian. Well - even that seems a bit iffy ! I am slightly astonished that a man whose compositions are staples of the concert world and all the examination boards has no trace of a life when one follows the usually successful sleuthing via the google digital detective agency !

Somebody somewhere must know who he is, and something about him, but sadly it is not yours truly. However, his monumental legacy is in his beautiful songs which make children smile, and give them their first taste of the Art Song. Can't be bad I think.

Rock on PJ, we love you.

This MUST be Percy don't you think?!

9 comments:

  1. As my daughters have progressed through their singing education I have enjoyed hearing them learn the same songs I leaned. The Owls, Bessie the Black Cat, The Little Spanish Town, Cook's friend Emily (Not PJ but still an old favourite!). Now they have long surpassed me and they sing things I have only listend to on records and latterly CDs and iPods. Today as I listened to them in their lessons I was proud of their more mature voices, but still have such fond memories of their early musical steps.

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  2. You definitely cannot beat these songs, and I am sure your daughters will also have such fond memories of them throughout their lives. I love teaching them and only wish I started singing early enough to have sung them myself! I feel deprived! Ann

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  3. My daughter Megaera chose "The Owls" for a vocal performance she is doing for her class at Rosedale School for the Arts here in Toronto. She had to provide some biographical info on the composer, Peter Jenkyns,and this is what she found, (including a quote from your blog, if you don't mind). She even found a couple of photos.

    Peter Thomas Hewitt Jenkyns (1921-1996)
    English Composer

    Peter Jenkyns was an accomplished singer, composer, conductor and musical director.

    He served as headmaster at the Fleetville and Oakwood Schools in St. Alban’s, in Hertfordshire, north of London in the 1950’s. He wrote songs for the choirs at those schools to perform at the annual St. Alban’s Schools Music Festival.

    In the 1960’s Jenkyns played leading roles in various Gilbert & Sullivan productions for the St. Alban’s Operatic Society.

    He founded the Putteridge Bury Gilbert & Sullivan Society in 1971.

    Peter Jenkyns was highly regarded in the British music industry and by professional musicians. He was an excellent singer of Gilbert and Sullivan baritone patter roles, and was asked to work with the world-famous D’Oyly Carte Theatre in London.

    He also composed classical pieces for the harmonica, and some of them are available on an lp by Douglas Tate.

    Some of his best-known compositions for young people are often sung in competition to this day, including:

    Bessie The Black Cat
    The Owls
    Percy the Porcupine
    The Kangaroo
    The Wizard
    The Tiger
    The Crocodile
    The Bats
    Rumba
    The Wizard
    Little Spanish Town

    “The writer par excellence of perfect little art songs for the under 12's is Peter Jenkyns. Quite what a classical singing teacher would do without Peter Jenkyns songs I don't know! His monumental legacy is in his beautiful songs which make children smile, and give them their first taste of the Art Song.” quoted from “The Singing Teaching Blog”

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  4. Thank you for the info ! I do hope your daughter's performance went well. I am touched that she quoted my honestly meant words. I have taught for many many years and his songs are just wonderful! Kind regards Ann at STinP !

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  5. Peter Jenkyns was the musical director for the St Albans Operatic Society when I was living there in the mid-sixties. I sang in a production of "Princess Ida" in 1967. I remember him as a delightful, unassuming person and an excellent musician.

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  6. Peter Jenkyns was the musical director for the St Albans Operatic Society when I was living there in the mid-sixties. I sang in a production of "Princess Ida" in 1967. I remember him as a delightful, unassuming person and an excellent musician.

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  7. Thank you for the comment, and how wonderful that you remember him, there is almost nothing known of him in the world,of musical history ! I am so glad he liked Gilbert and Sullivan too !

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  8. I went to Oakwood School from the age of 6 and was so lucky to have PJ as headmaster. He shaped my love of music that has lasted a lifetime. He made music such fun. PJ had a very musical daughter, Glynis. I wonder if she can tell us more?

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  9. I also went to Oakwood School from 1958 to 1963, Peter Jenkyns was headmaster throughout this time. He was a wonderful man, who encouraged every pupil to play an instrument and to sing. He taught us to read music and to appreciate many different composers. I was part of an orchestra and a choir both managed by Peter. He composed a special song for us, which we sang at a concert, it was called 'How Still the Night' and I remember the words and music to this day:

    How still the night, earth lies in it's spell,
    Silent the hours will be for sleeping
    And dreaming of the day that died.


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