The following article, written
by Allie Fox of fox & fox music international, appeared
in the Winter 2001-2002 edition of the Opera for Youth Journal.
Malcolm was a leading composer of children's opera (Sid the Serpent Who Wanted to Sing, The Iron Man) and is already well-known to many of you. Since his death in 1997, I have wanted to ensure that his music lives on and reaches a wider audience. In 1999 I set up a company called fox & fox music international, based in the Scottish Borders, to concentrate on this task.
The last two years have been spent recovering and cataloguing manuscripts, academic writings, scores, manuscripts and recordings. I am currently working through Malcolm's tapes and cassettes, archiving them and looking at the viability of using some of the recordings for commercial release on my record label, Vixen Records.
I, too, am a musician and I have spent over 30 years working in the field of music, either professionally or semi-professionally, both as a performer and a teacher. But before I tell you more about myself, let me tell you more about my brother, as without him or his significant contribution to the field of youth opera, I would not be here today introducing myself to you.
Malcolm will be most known to you as the composer of such popular children's operas as Sid, the Serpent Who Wanted to Sing and The Iron Man. But there is more to this story, as I will reveal.
Malcolm John Fox was born in Windsor, England in 1946, five years before me, his only sibling. We were not privileged children in terms of income or class, but we were extremely lucky to be born to loving parents who encouraged and supported our academic and musical aspirations, and who did everything they could - in spite of their limited means - to send us off to University and give us a good start in life.
Malcolm studied at the Royal College of Music (London) and the University of London and he went on to become Director of Music at one of London's leading arts-in-education centres, The Cockpit Theatre. In 1974 he moved to Australia to work as a Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Adelaide. During his time there, he became a leading authority on Wagner opera and established the first Australian Wagner course at Adelaide University. As Chief Examiner for Matriculation Music, Malcolm was responsible for major curriculum development, both at secondary school and degree level. In 1997 he was due to return to England as Head of the School of Music at Bretton Hall, University of Leeds but he died before taking up this position.
Malcolm's compositions encompassed solo, chamber, choral and orchestral works, electronic and ballet music, in both avant-garde and traditional styles. His violin concerto In Memoriam was composed for the prestigious John Bishop Memorial Commission in Adelaide in 1980, and his Pathways of Ancient Dreaming which was commissioned by the Stuttgart Arcata Orchestra and Australia Council was performed and recorded at Sydney Opera House in 1990.
But it is his contribution to children's opera that is of most interest here. Malcolm's links with Opera for Youth go back a long way and I know for sure that Malcolm would have been very touched to see himself described as "sadly missed old friend" in the recent Summer Journal. The proliferation of performances of his operas in the USA over many years owes much to Opera for Youth's continuing appreciation of his work.
Sid the Serpent Who Wanted to Sing was his most popular children's opera and in 1984 was ranked as the third most frequently performed contemporary opera in the USA. It has had over 4000 performances worldwide since it was commissioned by the State Opera of South Australia in 1976 and is published by G Schirmer, Inc (New York). It tells the story of a serpent in a circus who really wants to sing; he tries to learn opera in Rome, music-hall in London and rock in New York, often with disastrous results. Happily, Sid learns that he can actually sing very well if he sings in his own style, and this charming opera gives young audiences the opportunity to learn about music and opera in a very entertaining way.
As with all of his operas, Malcolm collaborated with Australian-based librettists Sue Rider and Jim Vilé and the next opera was The Iron Man (G Schirmer, Inc 1987). Based on the award-winning short story by the late English Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, the opera is a science fiction myth of epic proportions. It tells the story of how an Iron Man arives in an English village and ultimately saves the world from destruction by a colossal space being which lands in Australia. In the final scene, the Space Being agrees to orbit the world singing the Music of the Spheres, and the enduring message of this opera is that through the power of music, peace can reign on earth.
Zoggy, the Time Traveller was composed in 1987 and is a bizarre comedy, reflective of the unreal worlds of 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Peter Pan'. Zoggy, a modern girl working in a recording studio, travels through time. She arrives in the land of Musiciana, where she encounters Anne Dante, Al Egro, Boy Minor and the Major, but finally gets back home by solving a riddle with the help of the audience.
The Silence Tree is a more gentle opera, starring Trimble, a shy forest creature who has a special tree which grew from a seed which his dying mother gave him. But the tree has never flowered, at least not until the appearance of Silence, a mischievous clown-like being. Events shock Trimble out of his shyness and the Silence Tree finally flowers.
Back in 1987, after The Iron Man had been premiered by State Opera of South Australia, Emily Hamood and Lucinda Lippert wrote in Opera for Youth News "The various themes move musically and dramatically from earthbound expressions of despair and yearning for a better world, through chaos and strife to cosmic serenity. The enduring values of these themes will appeal to young audiences, and their musical and dramatic realization in this opera should remain in their minds and hearts long after they have experienced the opera in performance."
I hope that these wise words will be true of all of Malcolm's compositions for young people, and that the impact of his life in music will endure, even though his life itself has ended.
My musical journey has taken me in a different direction from Malcolm's. Having struggled unsuccessfully with violin and piano as a child, I accidentally stumbled upon a pile of old folk and blues LPs at the age of 11 and began a lifelong love affair with the acoustic guitar and American music, especially traditional blues and the great American singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. This was the 60's, after all! The love affair has continued unabated and I have now been performing for well over 30 years. I released an album of my songs in 2000 called Diving for Pearls and a follow-up is planned for next year, which will be a collaboration with classical composer Gary Carpenter. I also teach guitar and singing, and run voice workshops for people who believe they can't sing.
Although Malcolm and I were working at opposite ends of the musical spectrum, we had a deep respect for each other's work. As far as we were concerned it was music that mattered, not categories. I attribute this open attitude to the fact that we were brought up in a home where music of all kinds was heard - anything from Beethoven to the Beatles, from Tchaikovsky to Thelonius Monk, from Caruso to Nat King Cole. This healthy eclecticism left both Malcolm and I with a total lack of musical snobbery, something for which I am eternally grateful to my parents. Even now I wonder at the strange term "serious" music. Can this really mean that all other forms of music are not to be taken seriously, I ask myself?
This is a real clue to Malcolm's instinctive abilities both to relate to children and to create a musical style that they can enjoy and have fun with. Malcolm genuinely wanted to enable children to understand music, without patronising them, and Malcolm's zany humour, which owed much to British comedy classics such as The Goons and Monty Python's Flying Circus, ensured he was on their wavelength.
I am delighted to be continuing
the connection with Opera for Youth, and will do my best in
bringing you up-to-date information on what's happening in the UK.
I have set up a special Opera for Youth page on Malcolm's website
including a Message Forum. I hope that this will, in some small way,
provide a focus for composers, librettists, schools, communities,
individuals and organisations in the UK who are committed to creating
and promoting youth opera, thereby drawing attention to the international
work of Opera for Youth.
Also, if anyone has any reviews, photos, recordings or video footage of any performances of my brother's operas, I'd love to add them to my archive.
In the words of Kodaly "Music belongs to everyone, and is, with a little effort, available to everyone." Thanks to the dedication of Opera for Youth, young people everywhere are finding that music does indeed belong to them.