I have always had heroes. Some famous, some little-known, none of them perfect, all of them human, all of them flawed, but all of them extraordinary to me: people who have shaped the world around them for the good.
Here are three. Abraham Lincoln, who kept alive the American union through the civil war, and (in law at least) freed the slaves. Louis Armstrong, who more or less invented the jazz solo, and who still dazzles with his sound and his warmth and humanity. And JK Rowling, who has brought entire generations of children and adults to reading through Harry Potter and her transformative imagination.
But these are global figures. What about here in Herefordshire? There are so many—or how else would a county as small and dispersed as ours ever get anything done? Where would its extraordinary social capital, its friendliness and sense of community come from?
But here’s one local hero we should celebrate: Rob Strawson, musician, composer, arranger, band leader and co-founder of the Music Pool. He has performed quiet heroics over several decades to bring music and joy to people of every age and walk of life across the county, and he is—in theory at least!—retiring this week.
Rob started up in 1988, so this year marks 31 years of music making and community building in Herefordshire. With his colleagues Dennis Schiavon and Mina Nakamura, Rob and the Music Pool have been at the heart of a vast number of brilliant initiatives since then. The Garrick Singers, Livewire, Well Springs, Early Hurly Burly, the Voice Academy and Family Music Makers are just a few of them.
Perhaps the best known is The Gathering Wave, which brings choirs together from across Herefordshire with original programmes of songs and readings, most recently last year to honour the suffering of the First World War. I have seen the Wave at first hand, and believe me it is awesome.
And then there’s Bandemonium, the open-to-all folk and ceilidh band which Rob leads. At this point I should declare a personal interest; I am an enthusiastic but pretty coarse trumpeter, and I have been a jobbing member of the band since 2007.
They, and Rob himself, have been wonderfully tolerant of me these past twelve years. No more fitting testimony to one man’s kindness and generosity of spirit could be imagined. For this, and for so much else, on behalf of us all: thank you, Rob.