John Wheatcroft explains why he commissioned composer Steve Crowther to write a piece of music dedicated to his mother
My mum, Ada Wheatcroft, lives in a nursing home. She suffers from dementia and has been in a world of her own for the last two years.
When I visit her, I still talk to her about the people, places and things she has loved. And outside her family and friends, the things she loved most were music and literature.
For many years, Mum had a season ticket for the Hallé Orchestra at the old Free Trade Hall in Manchester and one of her greatest memories was seeing the incomparable contralto Kathleen Ferrier.
Curiously, she rarely listened to music at home. She had no interest in music as background noise and any spare moments she had were reserved for her other great interest, reading, which demanded total concentration.
If, as a young woman, Mum had been able to study for a university degree in English and music, she would doubtless have thought she’d arrived in heaven. A career teaching those subjects would have suited her down to the ground.
Mum started life in Gorton, a working-class district of Manchester. My grandparents had many wonderful qualities, but they never quite grasped the idea that girls are as entitled to an education and a career as boys.
So, despite being in the top stream at high school, she left aged 15 without taking the 1940 equivalent of GCSEs, for an office job.
She was never bitter. In fact the only thing she held against my grandparents was their choice of name. “Ada was going out of fashion when Dickens died,” she once said.
Composer Steve Crowther says: “I’ve never met Ada so this piece, commissioned by John, is a response to this touching narrative. Songs For Ada, scored for soprano saxophone and piano, is (loosely) based on a Theme with five Variations.
“Variations one, three and five are emotional responses, while two and four are more objective. The piece closes with a song of displacement, of loss. It is dedicated to Ada Wheatcroft.”
Songs For Ada will be performed by Sam Corkin (saxophone) and Timothy End (piano) at the Unitarian Church, St Saviourgate, York on Saturday, April 5.
They will be joined by Sinead O’Kelly (voice) in a cabaret-style concert celebrating the music of Richard Rodney Bennett.
The Late Music programme will also include music by Britten, Stephen Sondheim, Gershwin and a new work by David Lancaster, who will also give the pre-concert talk at 6.45pm. The concert itself begins at 7.30pm.
For further details visit the Late Music website.