Betty Roe - Musician
Composer, Performer, Teacher, Adjudicator
Introduction by Betty Roe
Those who know something of my music are most likely to be familiar with the solo songs, choral music or musicals, and entertainments for children. I recognise myself as a miniature, and have been described as a natural word-setter.
I began writing music early in my teens when, during the 1939-45 war, I found myself helping out at the local church with the choir practices. Very soon I had my own boys' choir and was forever searching for appropriate music for them to sing. The more so when I had an adult choir. It seemed quicker to compose the necessary piece and tailor it for their specific needs.
Simultaneously, and later, in the 1950s, I was involved with a small drama group who wrote their own intimate revues - a popular entertainment of the day - and set lyrics to music. The church influences, alongside the witty and quick revue-type humour, gave me a very keen sense of how to time the the musical points, as well as how to enhance the words. In the case of the humorous items I learned how to highlight the punch-lines without them being blatantly obvious. The element of surprise must prevail. I think this has always stuck with me.
My composing life started by accident, around the people I was singing and playing with at the time. I loved the music of Peter Warlock, Benjamin Britten, Bach, Monteverdi, Purcell, Quilter, and eventually recognised my love for English music, particularly of the 20th century.
I don't enjoy big music - I find large scale orchestral works overwhelming and frightening to my ears, so it is unlikely that I will ever compose a symphony. Strangely enough, I do like jazz and the big-band sound.
My favourite singers are Peter Pears, Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, James Bowman and Emma Kirkby - again the English sound. I do not like vibrato in voices; well, just enough to keep them interesting, but not so much that I cannot define the actual pitch of the note they are singing,
I love writing instrumental music, and hope to do more, but I am clearly type-cast as a composer and commissions are usually to set words. I involve instruments whenever possible and hope to write a string quartet in the not too distant future.
My musical style is not way-out, although I can do that very easily, and sometimes do so as a point of humour. The most 'difficult' published works are probably the songs for voice and clarinet - all "death" songs - Verities, which I composed for myself and a clarinet-playing friend fairly early on in my writing years, and the saxophone and piano piece Overtones. In the case of setting words I read the poems very quickly, and let the natural rhythm of the spoken words directly influence the musical rhythm. Usually I allow singers plenty of room to move, and encourage them to learn carefully what I have written, and then make the song their own,
I very much enjoyed writing the operas (Gaslight ,Canterbury Morning and A Flight of Pilgrims), and hope that they will get more of an airing in the future. Hopefully they will be in print and available in my lifetime. There is also Chelsea Charivari, a short character ballet (with optional narrator) in manuscript. I hope that this also will get more performances, and I aim to publish it, time permitting.
I have written for a great range of voices and instruments, so please browse my catalogue pages. As a taster I suggest the following:
For Young People: Songs from the Betty Roe Shows (four volumes)All are available from THAMES PUBLISHING at William Elkin Music Services (see Links).
I hope you enjoy my (usually) tuneful and interesting music, and that much of it will bring a smile to the faces of you and your audiences. I aim to entertain.
This page updated 23rd October 2008