Ronald Binge (1910-1979)
One of the most highly respected and successful Englishcomposers of his generation, Ronald Binge was born in Derby on 15th July 1910, the eldest of three children. His father was no mean pianist, but anyinfluence he might have had on young Ronnie came to an abrupt halt when he lefthome to join the army in 1914. He served throughout the Great War and did notreturn home until 1919. As a result of his wounds he died in 1920. This leftthe Binge family in poor financial circumstances, and though mother went out towork there was no spare money for music lessons for the children.
Fortunately for Ronnie, relatives and friends rallied round,his maternal grandmother helped financially, and at the age of seven he becamea chorister in St. Andrew's Church, Derby. Ronnie (everyone knew him as Ronnie,itself a sign of his endearing ability to be a friend to all) paid generoustribute to the organist and choirmaster of that church, William James Baker,from whom he took his first piano lessons and who gave him so much more thantechnique, his first insight into the art of music.
Setting his heart on a musical career, Ronald Binge'sdevelopment followed a promising pattern: another teacher for organ and anotherfor harmony and counterpoint. But no funds were available for completing hisstudies at a music college. Being the eldest, it was up to him to find a job tohelp his hard-working mother raise her growing family, so at the age ofseventeen he obtained employment as organist in a local cinema.
Those were the days of silent films. The image usuallypresented of those days is of the ubiquitous pianist improvising away tocapture the mood of the images on screen. In reality it was normal for cinemasto offer live orchestral incidental music. Even a small-town cinema would havea little orchestra, using organ or harmonium to fill in for any missinginstruments. The library of such an orchestra would cover everything fromsymphony movements to fox-trots; selections from operas were fertile ground forsnippets of this and that. In addition, special music of the "Dramatic Agitato","Heartbreak Melody" type was published in great quantities.
The practicalities of jumping from one piece of sheet musicto another the moment the mood changed called for the greatest ingenuity andsleight-of-hand on the part of the players. Sight-reading was developed to ahigh degree. After that kind of learning-process, challenges of film sessionsand recording and broadcasting must have held few fears for Ronald Binge in hislater career.
For an aspiring composer, having a real orchestra to writefor, small though it was, offered a great incentive, and from this time cameRonnie's fascination with orchestration. His instrumental colleagues were notslow to come forward with frank criticism, bringing home to him the need tohave detailed knowledge of every instrument, and, a particular interest ofRonnie's, the different techniques and styles of individual players.
The arrival of talking pictures made orchestras redundant.
Only the organist survived, and Ronnie was left alone to play in the intervals.
He was also much in demand playing for various local functions in restaurants,at dances and as a pianist and accompanist at concerts of all kinds.
In 1931 Ronald Binge moved farther a field, his first jobbeing as pianist in the orchestra at the East coast resort of Great Yarmouth,under the baton of John Russell. This was a time when light orchestras were anessential attraction of all seaside resorts. Such orchestras were of thehighest calibre, attracting musicians from London and other centres, whereconcerts in summer months were few and far between. Players were expected to beversatile. Flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon would double on saxophones, sothey were equally at home playing for concerts during the day and for dancingduring the evening. Ronnie learned that he was expected to double too, and hetook up the piano accordion, an instrument just beginning to grow in popularityas the advantages of having a 'normal' keyboard for the right hand melodies,rather than buttons, were quickly recognised.
As an experienced organist, he was soon able to do splendidthings with his right hand, despite the narrower keys, but he had difficultieswith the buttons for the left hand, some for bass notes, some for chords.
Still, anyone with the right kind of adaptability can make things work andRonnie managed pretty well after a few week's practice. Then disaster struck.
Ronnie awoke one day to learn that the pier had burned down. The concert halland all the orchestral instruments in it had simply gone up in smoke. Only thetwo trumpet players had insured their instruments, and Ronnie hadn't even paidfor his.
The people of Great Yarmouth came to the rescue of the orchestra,lending the players instruments of all kinds so they could continue their workin another hall - but no piano-accordion. In due course Ronnie obtained anotherone, but it took him a long time to pay for it as he was still having to payfor his first instrument too. At the end of this season he was encouraged bythe conductor and members of the orchestra to try his luck in London. It tooktime and a great deal of persistence on his part to find work, enough,eventually, for him to earn a reasonable living.
Ronald Binge was in fact a very fine player of thepiano-accordion, an instrument much prone to maltreatment at the hands of lessthan adequate performers. In the hands of a true musician it is an attractiveand versatile solo instrument. In his twenties Ronnie won several awards forhis prowess on that instrument. The accordion is also extremely useful in verysmall orchestras, able to take over the rôle previously allotted to harmoniumor organ, covering for missing solo instruments, providing handfuls of chordsto simulate the absent brass and so on. On accordion or piano he had a wide andvaried experience playing with orchestral combinations of many kinds. He alwaystook every opportunity that offered for orchestrating and composing.
It was in 1935 that Ronald Binge's association with Mantovanibegan. Mantovani, of Italian birth, started his professional career as aviolinist, playing the Bruch First Violin Concerto at the age ofsixteen. By the 1930s his interest in light music found him playing in thetheatre pit and elsewhere, and soon conducting. Mantovani's Tipica Orchestrawas formed and from 1935 Ronald Binge did all the arrangements. He alsocomposed a good deal of music in this period, some of which was recorded andbroadcast, and eventually wrote his first film score. This was a picture calledThirteen Men and a Gun, originally made in Austria, with Englishdialogue dubbed in afterwards.
On September 1st, 1939, Binge was working with Mantovani ona television production at Alexandra Palace, London. They had finishedrehearsal and were about to start the transmission when the fateful news camethrough: Hitler had invaded Poland. War was now inevitable and all televisionceased from that moment until the war was o