JENNIFER JACKSON’S PORT TOWNSEND NEIGHBOR COLUMN: Father’s music path to Pennine Way

IT STARTS DRAMATICALLY with a clash of cymbals.

Then the drums set the pace, echoing the tramp, tramp, tramp of footsteps — soldiers and Scouts, tinkers and travelers — who have followed the old way through the ancient Pennine Hills of northwest England.

As the path winds higher into the hills, heading for the Scottish border, the music intensifies, then reaches a level stretch, heralded by a flutter of trumpets.

On Sunday, the Port Townsend Summer Band will play “Pennine Way” as part of its free outdoor concert at Chetzemoka Park.

Composed for British brass band, the march is a dramatic, moving piece of music that, like the stones marking the way across mountain and moor, has withstood time.

But the march is particularly stirring for Val Johnstone because her father wrote it.

And because last week, when conductor Karl Bach rehearsed the summer band for Sunday’s concert, was the first time she had ever heard it.

“This is the first time I have ever heard his music played because I didn’t grow up around him,” she told the musicians.

Val’s parents divorced after she was born, her father, Maurice Johnstone, remarrying and moving on.

She grew up in London, and remembers being taken to meet her father once, when she was 17. Other than that he was music director for the BBC, she knew almost nothing about her father, who died in 1976.

But after getting in contact with a half-brother in England, she learned that her father was a composer for brass band and orchestra.

Approaching Bach four years ago, Val asked if he would consider playing a piece her father wrote if she could get it. It took several years to find a publisher who still carried her father’s music, but she discovered one that carried a march, “Pennine Way.”

“It was the last piece of his brass band music still in existence,” Val said.

So late last year, she received a small, square box from the publisher.

Inside was a package of cards, which turned out to be the march card version of the piece — music that fit on the holders of marching band instruments.

Bach took the cards, and using a computer program, created musical scores for the summer band. Because the summer band is a concert band, he had to add arrangements for the extra instruments.

“This is a rugged march,” Bach said as he took the band through the first rehearsal last week.

Comparable to the Appalachian Trail in the United States, the Pennine Way is considered the most challenging long-distance walk in England.

From the traditional starting place, The Old Nags Head in Edale, east of Manchester, it winds 268 miles, passing through the Peak District in Derbyshire, the Yorkshire Dales, over Hadrian’s Wall and into the Cheviot Hills, ending at The Border Inn in Scotland.

According to the official trail website, the hike takes an average of 16 days to complete, reaching almost 3,000 feet at Cross Fell, and has 287 gates, 249 timber stiles, 183 stone stiles and 204 bridges.

The list of geographical features has a Tolkien ring — Cauldron Snout, Fountains Fell, Elslack Moor, Knock Old Man.

Val said she has never visited that part of England except during World War II, when she was evacuated by train from London at the age of 4 and sent to the Lake District.

But her father, she learned, spent a lot of time in the hills near his childhood home.

Born in 1900 in Manchester, Maurice Johnstone studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music, then worked as a shop clerk and journalist until he was hired as secretary to Sir Thomas Beecham in 1933.

A composer and conductor, Beecham founded the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1932 and was artistic director of the British National Opera Company.

As Beecham’s secretary, Maurice prepared music and marked musical scores, according to Philip Scowcroft, author of “British Light Music Composers.”

In 1935, Maurice went to work for the BBC’s music department in London, according to his biographical information, then moved to Manchester in 1938 to serve as head of BBC’s northern regional department of music.

In 1953, he returned to London, where he was director of sound programs at the BBC until retiring in 1960.

He is known for compositions based on regional folk songs that invoke local places: “Tarn Hows: A Cumbrian Rhapsody,” “The Oak and the Ash,” “Welsh Rhapsody.”

His works are still available on two CDs from Arkiv Music, “The Best of British Light Music.”

Val Johnstone has her father’s musical aptitude — she sings with the PT Songlines Choir — and also has snapshots of her father at family events, courtesy of her half-brother.

He also sent a photograph of a portrait of their father, a serious-looking man with floppy white hair.

From her newfound sibling, however, she learned that appearances are deceiving.

“He had a wicked sense of humor and liked to play practical jokes,” she said.

Bach presented a copy of the “Pennine Way” score to Val at the rehearsal last week, and will also recognize her at Sunday’s concert, which starts at 3 p.m.

It includes a jazzy Cuban number, “Siboney,” with Susie Thrune of Sequim playing the castanets and Cheryl Smoker of Port Angeles providing the sinuous trumpet solo.

“Bronze Horse Overture” is a regal march to the tempo set by Daria Frank of Port Townsend on snare drum.

The band also will play a Scottish march by Bach, the tune of “Highland Laddie Gone” woven into the middle, and “Army of the Nile,” a march dedicated to Gen. Archibald Wavell for halting the advance of enemy troops in Egypt that was written in 1941 by Col. Fredrick Joseph Ricketts, “The British March King.”

After side trips to the South with a Hoagy Carmichael medley and “King Cotton,” it’s back to England for “My Fair Lady” tunes.

The concert concludes with a march, “El Capitan,” by John Philip Sousa.

Val is having Dennis Danneau videotape the summer band rehearsing and playing “Pennine Way” to send to family members in England who share the memory of her father’s life and music.

________

Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or e-mail jjackson@olypen.

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