Music, Environment, and the Craven Camerata

Len Moody

 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

The account (near by) of the visits of Leeds Parish Church Choir, under the Trust's auspices, to give an Epiphany recital in one of the Yorkshire Dales Churches (which includes chapels, etc.) suggests that some attention is due to a complimentary musical event, which is also becoming "traditional".

Since 1981 the Trust has also sponsored a Springtime recital somewhere in the same area by the Craven Camerata. This has always taken place during the last week or so of April. This event looked forward to and well supported by members of the Trust, is, it must be said, very much the creative effort of Sheila Haywood. Sheila, an experienced music teacher and lecturer, had the excellent idea of coming to spend her retirement years just alongside the Pennine Way in upper Ribblesdale, and in tune with the ethics (or should it be metaphysics?) of music has made a resounding contribution to many other local activities.

Sheila contributes the following account on the origins and aims of the Craven Camerata:

"I joined the committee of the Heritage Trust after the A G M in 1980. At that time we were raising money to fund the museum, and each member of the committee was responsible for putting on a fund raising event. The museum committee were engaged in setting up the exhibition about Elgar's connection with Craven, and Marion Walker suggested that I might put on a concert of Elgar's music as my activity. This resulted in the concert performed in the recital room at Giggleswick School in April 1981. Unfortunately, I did not keep details of that concert, but I remember that it consisted of some part songs, the Serenade for Strings, a Gavotte that Elgar had written for Dr Buck, and (a bit tongue in cheek) "Land of Hope and Glory". I know there were 16 people in the choir and that Ann Read, Pat Simpson, Carol and David Butcher, Roger and Laraine Attwood, Margaret and Norman Clark, and I think, David Fox and Terry Atkins were amongst them. I would be glad to be reminded of anyone else who was in that first concert. After it was over, several people said that they had enjoyed it and could we do another. Therefore, in 1982 we decided on another fund raising concert, this time in Giggleswick Church. The main work was Stanford's "Songs of the Fleet" with Roger Attwood singing the baritone solo. Unfortunately, when we were well launched on rehearsals and it was too late to change the programme, the Falklands war started and the somewhat jingoistic nature of Newbolt's poems, "Stand by to reckon up your battleships, Mother we salute thee from the dead" etc.: was something of an embarrassment, We gave it very serious thought, and decided in the end to go ahead with the concert, and dedicate the event to everyone on both sides who had fought in the war. Another item on the programme was Bach's 4th Brandenburg concerto, with Susannah Glanville as one of the soloists.

As we came out of that concert, Val Leigh asked me if we would do one in Langcliffe Church the following year. The singers were also asking what we would be doing next, and so the choir became a regular activity. When we came to the concert in Kirkby Malham in 1984 the urgent need for funds for the museum had ceased, and it was the Civic Trust's Christian Heritage year. The Heritage Trust decided to set up it's own Historic Churches fund to mark this, and that is when the proceeds from the New Year Recital and the Camerata concert started to be put to that use. The original idea was that the fund should build up a capital sum and that the interest should be given to local churches who needed help in conservation work. However, as the capital sum has grown too slowly to produce a worthwhile amount of interest, donations have latterly been made from the capital sum.

The name Craven Camerata was chosen after much discussion in our third year of existence, and was designed to reflect the area, and the fact that concerts consisted of the choir and sometimes included an ad hoc instrumental group. The word "Camerata" in this context suggests a small chamber group.

The instrumental group has varied according to the works to be performed, the space available in the church where the performance is to take place, and requirements to make an interesting programme. Ann Carr, Ann Wood, Don Whitehead and Stephen Robinson have been regular players, and many of the young musicians from the High School and Giggleswick School who have been of a suitable standard have taken part over the years. Valerie Baulard was a regular soloist for years, and David Fox, Roger Attwood, Joyce Hartley, amongst others, have given much pleasure with their solo singing. Laraine Attwood has been a tower of strength as accompanist since the beginning. Without her it would have been difficult to keep the choir together for so long. We have also been very fortunate in having Hugh Stalker to play the organ (and sometimes harpsichord) for us for the last 10 years. His encouragement and support has been invaluable. All the singers, instrumentalists and soloists have given their services free and proceeds from all concerts have been shared between the host church and the Trust's Historic Churches fund.

Nowadays, after the annual Spring concert, the choir meets at fortnightly intervals from May to July and September to December, to sight sing and to study works which we do not intend to perform. New members are always welcome. There is no subscription as such, but a small charge is made to cover the cost of renting a rehearsal room and borrowing music from the library. For many years, when there were no meetings between concerts, rehearsals were held at Linton Court, and we were very grateful to Ann Carr for her hospitality. Recent practices have been held at St John's Methodist Church hall, which has comfortably accommodated the rather larger number of members.

It can be said that the contributions of the Craven Camerata to local musical and social life have been no less appreciated than those of Leeds Parish Church Choir. While the Leeds recitals could perhaps be categorised as "professional", the Craven Camerata events have revealed the range and strength of "amateur" resources: it has always been pleasing to note the balance between singers and instrumentalists of indigenous origin with those of settlers from elsewhere. Sheila has been particularly successful in attracting musicians from all parts of the area, some of whom have travelled considerable distances for rehearsals during the early months of each year. The Camerata has never been constituted as a formal "society", and most of the creative administrative work has been undertaken by Sheila, though volunteers have always been forthcoming for specific purposes when needed. Formal records have not been kept: however, as far as can be recalled participants have come from as far afield as:-

Austwick, Airton, Bentham, Burton-in-Lonsdale, Clapham, Clitheroe, Denholme, Embsay, Giggleswick, Grassington, Horton-in-Ribblesdale, Kirkby Malham, Langcliffe, Long Preston, Hellifield, Rathmell, Settle and Skipton. The Spring recitals, like the Epiphany events, have followed a peripatetic pattern around the Craven district, introducing folk to notable areas and historic buildings they might otherwise never have got to know. The list of sacred buildings where recitals have been given constitutes quite a cross-section of Christendom:

1981    Giggleswick (Giggleswick School)

1982    Giggleswick (St Alkelda's Church)

1983    Langcliffe (St John the Evangelist's)

1984    Kirkby Malham (St Michael the Archangel's)

1985    Clapham (St James')

1986    Horton-in-Ribblesdale (St Oswald's)

1987    Austwick (Church of the Epiphany)

1988    Long Preston (St Mary the Virgin's)

1989    Burton-in-Lonsdale (All Saints)

1990    Horton-in-Ribblesdale (St Oswald's)

1991    No performance, owing to indisposition

1992    Eldroth (formerly a school; in use as a church since 1947; extensively refurbished 1990/1, not yet formally dedicated).

1993    Low Bentham (St John the Baptist's)

1994    Giggleswick (St Alkelda's)

1995    Settle (St John's Methodist Church)

In an account such as this, it is scarcely feasible to give full details of all the works performed over the past 15 years. It can certainly be said that representation has been given to a good range of international and British composers. As if to, in the words of Dr Nicholas Brady author of the text for Purcell's 1692 Ode on St Cecilia's Day, "make the British forest prove as famous as Dodona's vocal grove"—

(Dodona—traditionally the site of a grove of oaks in ancient Epirus famous for containing an oracle of Zeus).

So composers whose works have been performed in Craven for Craven people have included:-

Paul Hindemith Gustav Hoist Thomas Morley C Hubert H Parry Francois Poulenc Franz Schubert Igor Stravinsky Antonio Vivaldi Ralph Vaughan Williams Peter Warlock J S Bach Frank Bridge Benjamin Britten Frederick Delius George Dyson Edward Elgar Gabriel Faure Gerald Finzi G F Hand Joseph Haydn. Followers of the Craven Camerata activities have been struck by Sheila's musical scholarship in building up programmes which have sometimes been quite unexpected, and yet absolutely appropriate for the season, the place, and the resources available. Those who have sung or played under her direction have appreciated her skill in helping performers to understand and enjoy unfamiliar works. Her special knack of taking a work to pieces and building it up a bit at a time, reconstructing the original creative sequence,—indeed, often learning a work from back to front,—has created great confidence in her musicianship. We have all probably at some time come across the conductors who pride themselves on their wit and sarcasm; Sheila's method gets results because she understands the difficulties which performers may experience, and devises ways of helping to overcome them.

Performers and patrons of the Craven Camerata will each have their favourite memories. Eminently appropriate in a rural setting in 1987 was Vaughan Williams' "Cotswold Romance", counterbalanced by Parry's "Blest Pair of Sirens" (voice and verse). Then, in 1990, given the increased attention being given to the environment and its conservation, Haydn's great "Creation" dramatising the narrative of the "glorious work" recorded in "Genesis", was very timely. In 1992, soon after much loving care had been put by local people into the refurbishment of the Church at Eldroth, the programme of music and readings ("voice and verse"), under the title "Summer is Acumin In" was greatly appreciated. In 1993, to mark the building of a new organ in Low Bentham Church, the appropriate musical offering (in the St Cecilia's tradition) was the performance of two contrasted settings of traditional "Gloria". The programme note for this recital written by Sheila herself is worth perpetuating:-These two settings of the "Gloria" are separated by a period of nearly 250 years, but they offer a fine illustration of the eternal nature of the Christian message, and the common understanding of both composers of the depth of this message.

Vivaldi was a priest who moved in the fashionable world and wrote secular music, but who remained true to his religious vocation. His "Gloria", first revived in modern times in 1939, is typical of the style of the Baroque period, but the use of the harmonic material gives an emotional and spiritual impact which is as compelling today as it must have been in 1715 when the work was composed.

Poulenc was one of the group of French composers known as "Les Six", who worked in Paris during the first half of this century. In principle he was anti-romantic, and his music explores the chromatic harmonies which expressed the cynical and pessimistic ideas current at the time. However, in 1961, at the end of his life, he used these harmonies to produce the "Gloria", a religious work of great depth of feeling and spiritual impact which, in spite of much dissonant and astringent harmony, has a richly romantic flavour.

The greatest challenge faced by the Camerata and its director so far has probably been the dynamic and poignant "Symphony of Psalms", by Stravinsky (1930). The sensitive choice of supporting works leading up to that taxing climax included Hoist's choral setting of the "Old 124th" to the solemn words "Turn back, O man, Forswear thy foolish ways"; a Dvorak Serenade for wind instruments; and an exceptionally delicate "Cantique de Jean Racine" by Faure (1865). Appropriately using the words of the 39th, 40th and 150th Psalms, Stravinsky had undertaken to suggest "an anguished cry for help from the human spirit in the process of being crushed by a menacing force which threatens to overwhelm it", but ends (in the words of the programme note) with "a solemn reverence, with which the Lord is praised".

The programme for the 1995 recital will no doubt seem more confident, more assured, than the 1994 one, though not without its glimpses into some of the dark corners of the human spirit. However, it will be a great privilege, a great opportunity, to listen in a congenial setting, to a selection of works by Henry Purcell and by Benjamin Britten, which span the last three hundred years.

It has to be made clear that these notes on the Leeds Choir and the Craven Camerata by no means exhaust all the worthwhile music which has been produced in the area. There will be many folk around who will wish to refer to the achievements of the Settle Operatic Society, the Settle Orchestral Society, the various church and chapel choirs over the generations, the Langcliffe Singers, the music-making of many schools (both private and "maintained"), ... as well as the heroic achievements of individuals and families. Can there be something in the landscapes we dwell among, in the great cycle of the seasons, in the sights and sounds of the countryside, in the air we breathe, which finds an appropriate response in the creation of music? As has been recorded of Sir Edward Elgar, who spent significant parts of his life in this part the world:-

"He did not walk or cycle just for the good of his health. During these outings, he drew music from the very air about him." - W R Mitchell, "Mr Elgar and Dr Buck" (1991).