J. Alex Whyte

J. Alex Whyte was born with no aptitude for the musical arts, and no particular wish to perform them. But, like many others of his generation, his parents decided otherwise – at least, his mother did, the paternal element being somewhat engaged in winning World War II at the time of the crucial decision. Thus Whyte, at an early age, was condemned to piano lessons. This was particularly cruel; the rehearsal room window looked out onto the football field, where his friends were engaged in what to his mind were vastly more interesting pursuits.

His parents, however, had no musical ear. For as long as piano noises which sounded vaguely classical filtered through the closed door for a period of two hours or so, all was well, in parental estimation. Quite obviously, this situation would be mastered by today’s younger generation by switching on the musical computer attached to the hi-fi and, by careful randomisation, playing back a prerecorded practice session. No such solution was available to Whyte, because the equipment had yet to be invented. There was the gramophone, yes, but even the most trusting parents would have been able to distinguish between a vinyl of Paderewski playing his own interpretation of his Minuet in G and Whyte’s bumbling attempts to do likewise. Bowing to superior force, Whyte learnt to play the piano.

Compulsory military service eventually put an end to this musical martyrdom, but only provisionally. After the first few days in uniform, Whyte realised that on a conscript’s pay of not quite a dollar a week, and taking into account the efforts of the Army Catering Corps, the choices open to him were either of earning a little extra by playing piano in the Officers’ Mess or starving to death. He therefore quickly learnt to improvise and play by ear. A quick browse through the sheet music in the local music store (without purchase, of course, Whyte being of Scottish descent) provided the basis of the modern repertoire.

Demobilisation eventually put an end to this purgatory, and Whyte commenced the career to which his musical aptitudes had predestined him: forty years in a bank. About the only incident worthy of note during this period was his success in eventually catching a wife by an inspired performance of the abridged version of Rhapsody in Blue. This is really an extremely dangerous piece of music for a bachelor to play in the presence of pretty, young, French, music-loving females.

Then started an idyllic period. Whyte would stagger home from work and sink gratefully into his armchair, his slippers and his latest Asimov. This was on the evening when the wife and her friends disappeared off to the local choir practice. But one day there occurred an event which was to change the course of Whyte’s life. The wife announced, “We’re going to choir rehearsal.” After a mumbled and absent-minded, “Well, enjoy yourselves, then,” the Heavens fell. “That includes you, dear: we’re short of men’s voices.”

Readers will imagine the sequel. From background noise in the baritone collection, to section leader, to assistant choirmaster, to arranger, composer, conductor and so on. And all this under the continual menace of, “No music, no food.” This is particularly effective when married to a French wife whose cooking is excellent.

It goes without saying that Whyte tried to escape, first by pleading laryngitis, then by buying a French cookery book. The first chapter of this contained a recipe that did not look too difficult. The literal translation – “Eggs in their shell” – suggested a good starting point. The book at no point mentioned that one had to put water into the saucepan before bringing the eggs to the boil…

Eventually Whyte bought a music computer and merely suggested what notes it should use. Resultant works range from a negro spiritual to a masonic requiem. He even had the impertinence to compose a symphony (www.mercantour-musique.com). Fortunately, apart from a tryout of the first movement in Hollywood, it has been ignored by the orchestral world. This is understandable; after all, music should be left to proper musicians.


  WorkDurationPublishedPrice
FM202For Unbelievers
A Cantata on a text by the composer
for choir and soloists (SATB) with chamber orchestra
15 mins3rd July 2016
Purchase options
Words: J. Alex Whyte • Edited by Julian Cole
Forces: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, Choir (SATB), Chamber orchestra
FM201For UnbelieversSound
A Cantata on a text by the composer
for choir and soloists (SATB) with piano
15 mins3rd July 2016
Purchase options
Words: J. Alex Whyte • Edited by Julian Cole
Forces: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, Choir (SATB), Piano