Sunday, June 08, 2008

Commitment to high musical culture

Saturday evening. I drove to a village in the northern half of the county, in the quiet countryside half a mile back from the cliff. The village is small, with a population of less than two hundred, and is very much a farming community (although one enterprising farmer has put oil wells on his property).

The landscape is mostly open with few concentrations of trees (a few copses of lime trees). No trace remains of the old custom of Jack-in-the-Green which was prevalent up until the 1920s (a youth would be dressed in leaves and carry a wicker basket or wicker platter of small loaves of beer bread through the village on St Albinus Day, followed by garlanded girls who would ask at each house for gifts in exchange for the bread). Lush roadside swards of wild flowers, plentiful lowland farm birds and a variety of distinctive moths give the area characteristics not found in neighbouring villages.

The main settlement is at the junction of three roads, which meet in a wide shallow dell overhung with specimen trees.

Above: the domestic architecture of the area is comfortable but undistinguished.

Above: the church is built of blue oolite, obtained locally (a farmer has a large round “reservoir” on his land which may be the pit the oolite was dug out of). The building was constructed in 1875 in a self-consciously 13th century Germanic style complete with saddleback roof to the tower. The churchyard is about fifteen feet higher than the road, and planted with conifers and yew trees so that it has acquired a forbidding aspect.

Above: the important families of the village seem to have been buried in the churchyard outside the east end of the building, where they no doubt hope to be among the first to see the Second Coming (a village imitation of the Mount of Olives?).

Above: I have been to the village several times, pursuing different strands of enquiry (historical, sociological, folklore). On Saturday I went to a concert which was held in the church at 7pm. As I approached the entrance porch under the tower I had to climb a flight of steps towards a tremendous door.

Above: inside the porch there was another daunting door to be opened, complete with heavy curtain (the Vicar has written about how off-putting this entrance can be for newcomers).

Above: the church is laid out on a “box plan” with everything in one big square room (no aisles or separate chancel). At the west end was the font - note the hassocks that show the font in embroidered form (“they were done by a lady whose two daughters were baptised here”). Cream walls.

Above: memorial to a casualty of the Second World War - well-known in the village when he was a child, and commemorated with a gunmetal portrait.

Above: the east end chancel area with the Victorian colour scheme of dark red and dark green.

Above: chief feature of the church is the 1875 Nicholson organ, recently restored (note the red and green chancel ceiling). 894 pipes, eight stops on the great organ, six stops on the swell organ, Bourdon stop with octave pipes on the pedal organ. It seems incredible that such a sophisticated musical instrument should have found its way to a remote farming community.

Above: the evening concert was a recital of organ music on the Nicholson organ. This tiny community has raised funds to endow two successive organ scholarships, supplying the Anglican church services with an amazingly high standard of musical accompaniment. This concert was the valedictory performance of the latest organ scholar who is going to Cambridge to study Music.

Above: I sat right at the front during the concert. The programme included classical pieces, folk music and original compositions. Vocalists accompanied the organist (although obviously the organ music was originally written to accompany the vocalists). From left to right you can see the Registration Assistant, Mezzo-Soprano, Soprano and Organist. Because the organist played behind the organ screen, a camera projected her performance onto a screen. I was very impressed with the quality of this performance, and also the commitment to high musical culture which has been created and sustained by the Anglican church in such a remote community.

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