I’m not often compelled to write about the royal family, and this website is, after all, a piano and music education blog. However, the past week has been rather surreal for those of us here in the UK. It’s as though time has stood still. We knew that the late Queen’s time was limited and impending death sadly couldn’t be too far away, but, similarly to the mourning of Princess Diana over twenty-five years ago, whenever a member of our royal family dies, for many, the sadness and loss is personally felt.
On September 8th, we not only lost our longest reigning monarch, but someone on whom the country had come to rely. She was our rock, our mainstay, throughout numerous important events and milestones during both the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries, and I, like many others, have never known anyone else on the throne. Irrespective of whether you believe in the concept of monarchy or not, you surely can’t help but have been impressed by Queen’s vigour, determination, dignity and total devotion to the job. She kept her vow to serve the country until the day she died.
Windsor Castle was the late Queen’s favourite royal residence, and it was where she had based herself since 2011. As a Windsor resident, I have the opportunity to regularly witness the pomp and ceremony of royalty. I see it every day in the changing of the guard; an ancient but beautifully choreographed affair mainly enjoyed by the innumerable tourists who descend on the town each week.
My daily walk usually incorporates the Long Walk – an impressive tree-lined avenue which stretches three miles from the castle to the Copper Horse – a bronze equestrian statue of George III. Erected in 1831, this statue was designed by Richard Westmacott. It’s from here that I frequently saw the little black helicopter rise above the castle, transporting the Queen to one of her countless engagements. At 96, how did she find the energy to undertake these engagements day after day? It’s true that, due to her unusual position, she had a whole bevy of staff and plenty of funding making the task somewhat ‘easier’. But at the end of the day, one still needs to acquire the dedication, motivation and sheer tenacity to continue working at that great age, and to feel that ongoing desire to make a difference. It’s for this reason that I admired the Queen.
Those of us who live in Windsor always knew when Her Majesty was in residence – the flag would fly high over the castle. Windsor Castle is a truly majestic site and if you haven’t had the opportunity to visit, I highly recommend spending a day here. The castle was where the Queen lived as a child, during the second world war, which possibly explains her love for the place. The longest serving royal residence in Europe, parts of the building date back to the eleventh century, when it was built after the Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror. I have recently been exploring its background for a new piano book which will be published by Schott next year. My forthcoming publication features the phenomena of the paranormal; the occult is a subject which deeply interests me, and this volume will focus on ghostly apparitions and supernatural places and events from around the world. The research has been illuminating!
One of the many fascinating facts about the castle is that it supposedly houses over 25 ghosts. We may expect such a grand residence to house ‘royal’ spirits, especially as quite a few of them are buried within the grounds, but Windsor Castle is considered one of the most haunted places to visit in the UK. Sightings have included Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, Charles I, and Queen Victoria. Allegedly the late Queen and her sister, Princess Margaret, often witnessed the presence of these spirits.
One of my favourite ghostly tales centres around Queen Victoria, who, according to British Paranormal, apparently ‘objected’ to alterations being made to the gardens at Windsor by her great grandson, Edward VIII. Edward set about removing spruce trees planted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. However, the tree removals never took place as, in 1936, workman were plagued by mysterious ‘phenomena’; they also claimed to have seen the ‘ghostly’ figure of the queen herself, stomping towards them ‘waving her arms and moaning loudly’. I haven’t been privy to any such spiritual encounters during my many occasions teaching the piano within the castle, but from copious reported sightings, I have no doubt that they exist!
St. George’s Chapel, within the castle grounds, was the venue for Prince Phillip’s funeral last year. It was here that we witnessed the Queen in such sorrow as she sat alone in the pews. Tomorrow, the funeral will be watched by millions the world over. The media have already assumed their places around Windsor; media stations have been set-up at strategic points around the town, in a similar vein to those prepared for the Royal Wedding four years ago. The Queen’s committal service will be held here after the funeral at Westminster Abbey in London, and she will be buried King George VI Memorial Chapel where she will rest alongside other members of the royal family. As we enter this new Carolean era, may she, unlike some of her predecessors, rest in peace.
Find out more about Windsor Castle, here.
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
For more information, please visit the publications page, here.