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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.

Members have 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)

We 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. . . . .

You wrote:-

. . . . 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. . . . .

Our comment:-

We 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.

You wrote:-

. . . . (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".

Our comment:-

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.

You write:-

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 Department.

Our comment:-

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 taught in'.

You write:-

. . . 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 Director of
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.

How 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? . . . .

We comment:-

Quite 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.

Our further comment:-

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 public money.

You write:-

£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?

We comment:-

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?

You write:-

. . . . 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.

Our comment:-

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 well?

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.

Cornelia Parker 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 War".

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, and
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?

Yours sincerely


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.

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