The Blockley Blokes Choir are a cheerful lot.  They arrive for the concert in ones and twos, smiling and greeting each other like long lost friends.   In May, this was their second visit, and how many are actually in this choir is still a mystery for this writer, but for the concert in hand there were 22 Blokes who fitted themselves into the small but perfect acoustic space that is the Methodist Church in Shipston.  

Their Musical Director, Martin, is a talented man with a drole sense of humour which showed itself throughout the evening.   The first half began with “Send down a song for me” which perfectly reflected the evening’s intention to show the range of a “blokes’ choir”.   “Tebe poem” sung in its original Slav language came next and we are pleased to say they got every word correct.  This was followed by a Welsh hymn sung in Welsh in honour of one of their founding members who had sadly died recently.  “Flow gently, sweet Afton” and”My Love is like a red, red, rose” both with words by Burns were sang beautifully with some good harmonies on show.   The song “Linden Lea” which originated in Dorset came next and no doubt transported many in the audience to their school days.  The half ended with “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” made famous in the 1960s by the Hollies, and with words that bring tears to the eyes.

After a jolly interval, the second part of the evening took us to the US, beginning with a wonderful medley of songs made famous by Al Jolson which were a joy to hear.   A barber shop song from 1926 “Peggy O’Neill” came next and then we went to the classic musical era with “Almost Like Being in Love”, and “Some enchanted evening” which once again showed off some lovely part singing and harmonies.

The evening ended with Aznavour’s “She” and the rousing “When the Saints Go Marching In” as a stirring finale.

It was a merry evening and the choir went off as cheerful as when they had arrived – and the applause of the audience showed they felt the same.     I’m sure Blockley Blokes will be back again in the future, and it’ll be well worth spending some time in their company.

One of the pleasures of being a long-term member of the Music Society is the fact that from time to time you see returning musicians.  When that musician happens to be a child and they return several times as they grow up, you see their progression and maturity developing and it is a delight. 

In April this very thing happened and, in front of a large audience which included members of his Shipston based family, what a treat of an evening it was.

George originally played at one of our annual Young Musicians’ concerts some years ago as a young schoolboy.  Since then, he has been back from time to time and he is now a postgraduate music student studying in Brussels, so we were more than delighted to be able to take advantage of his Easter break to invite him to plays in our April concert.

His programme opened with Dvorak’s Waldesruhe op 68 no 5 an evocative and descriptive piece reflecting the “Silent Woods” of the composer’s homeland.  Next came the Bach Suite no 1 in G major which will have been well known to many in the audience, and allowed us to truly appreciate the player and his instrument as he progressed through the seven parts of the Suite, ending with the lively Gigue.  

The second half opened with Beethoven’s Cello Sonata no 4 in C major.  This piece which comprises two movements perhaps unexpectedly appeared to give almost equal prominence to the piano, played by Charles Matthews, alongside the cello.

Finally, we heard Ernest Bloch’s three pieces which make up his From Jewish Life movements. These were played in the order Prayer, Supplication, Jewish Song.  The cello reflects so well the emotions contained in these pieces and the audience could not fail to have been moved by the melancholy of the music which resonates so much in these troubled times.       After some prolonged applause, the audience were treated to Vocalise by Rachmaninov, again a deeply emotional piece for cello and piano.

It was indeed a pleasure to welcome George Wilkes back to Shipston, this time so ably supported by Charles Matthews on the piano, and we look forward to reprising the evening in the future and of course to watching the career of this brilliant young musician.

At the March recital our guest performer was Samantha Oxborough, a very talented young mezzo soprano from Birmingham. She has already won numerous awards since graduating from the Birmingham Conservatoire and was asked to sing the National Anthem at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Viewed by over a billion people worldwide she was then invited to meet Prince Charles and has since been a popular choice to sing the ‘new’ “God save the King” at football and rugby matches. She has received national newspaper praise for her opera performances and recently won the Geraint Morris Award in Cardiff.

Samantha began her programme with three songs by English composers, “Silent Noon” by Vaughan Williams, “Music when soft voices die” by Roger Quilter and “King David” by Herbert Howells. Immediately one was impressed by the rich tone quality of Samantha’s voice and her admirable breath control. The following two folk songs, “The Sally Gardens” (Irish) and “Blow the wing southerly” (from Northumberland) were a good choice to provide contrast with the previous songs and the two which followed -  “ Must the winter come so soon” by American composer Samuel Barber from his opera “Vanessa” and “Voi che sapete” from “The Marriage of Figaro” by Mozart.

During the interval the refreshment room was buzzing with excitement at the programme so far; obviously the audience was most impressed by our performers.

The second half began with “To Music” by Schubert, “It breathed a gentle scent” by Mahler and “Dedication” by Schumann and were followed by four songs from musicals. “We’ll gather lilacs” from “Perchance to Dream” by Ivor Novello, “Someone to watch over me” from “Oh, Kay!”, “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess” and “The man I love” from “Lady, be good” all three by George Gershwin. These were all beautifully executed with great attention to the necessary style that each required.

Finally, Samantha sang “Danny Boy” – a traditional Irish song and for a fitting conclusion followed it with “Habanera” from “Carmen” by Bizet. This was sung with all the necessary inflections and nuances from the swaggering female worker in the cigarette factory! What a fantastic performance! I am sure she will enjoy a successful and rewarding career in the future. However, this wonderful evening’s music would not have been possible without the superb accompaniment of Charles Matthews. As many will already know he is a very busy man; an organ tutor at the Conservatoire, an accompanist for many of the students there and for many other performers in the Cotswold/Birmingham area. He is of course the Patron of our Music Society and we were delighted to see him “in action” this evening.

For our October recital we were delighted to welcome Madeline Kirby who is a freelance harpist based in Worcestershire. She plays in concerts as a soloist and with orchestras and other ensembles. She is also a teacher and offers lessons on the harp, piano and classical singing. Madeline also enjoys playing for special occasions including weddings and corporate events. Born in the South West she started studying music at school, achieving three ABRSM Grade 8 distinctions for Harp, Piano and Singing. She then went to Birmingham University to study Music and Modern Languages and played the harp in both orchestras. She was awarded a Dip.ABRSM Diploma and graduated with a 2:1. Since graduating she has remained in the Midlands and works throughout Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Leicestershire and further afield.

Madeline began her recital with “Watching the Wheat” a traditional Welsh folk song followed by a set of three traditional Welsh Airs arr. by Samuel Milligan. Immediately one was captivated by Madeline’s ability to produce a performance with the melody always played with great attention to the phrasing etc. whilst adding with such ease, the accompaniment of scale passages, arpeggios and chords, which are such a feature of harp music.

Then followed two pieces by Ailie Robertson, a multi- award winning composer and harpist from Scotland. Firstly, “The Boatman” a traditional Gaelic melody arranged by Ailie and then “Haar”, one of her own compositions. This piece had a haunting theme and a recurring rhythmic pattern rather like the tolling of a bell. It was very atmospheric.

“Three Magical Pieces” from “Suite for Celtic Harp” by Fabio Rizza came next. 1) ”The River’s Dance” with a lilting rhythmic melody above strummed chords was a delight, as was 2)“The Enchanted Mill” a dreamlike contrast.  3) “The Faun” began gently but, with each variation (or verse?) becoming more powerful, it built to a strong climax.

The recital ended with three pieces by Alfredo Rolando Ortiz, an internationally acclaimed soloist of the Paraguayan harp and a composer, author, educator and recording artist. He was born in 1946. “Once on the Mountain” was very rhythmic with a strong South American influence, “Waiting” in contrast, was more subdued but “Milonga for Loving” was again a reminder of the influence of the composer’s nationality.

After much enthusiastic applause Madeline spent a few minutes explaining a little about her magnificent instrument and the basics of playing it and was rewarded with yet more applause. It was an evening of rarely performed music brought to us by a most talented exponent of the genre.

The 2023/2024 season of the Shipston Music Society began on September 15th with a celebration of younger performers who all live, or attend school in the area. The evening began with Julian Halota. He chose three pieces: “Rondo a la Turca” by Mozart, “Opening Night Jazz” by Martha Meir” and “Rumba Toccata” by Paul Harvey. Julian is a confident pianist who can happily switch from the classical era of Mozart to the jazz idioms of the late 19th and early 20th century. His playing showed a developing maturity and understanding of the necessary elements required for performance.

Molly Sharma was next on the piano stool with two pieces. “Ivan is very busy” from “The Adventures of Ivan” by Khachaturian, a Russian/Armenian composer (1903 – 1978) and “Prayer of the Matador” by N. Dello Joio, another American composer. The first, as the name suggests is a piece of perpetual motion which Molly was able to execute with ease, but then in contrast we heard a haunting melody (the matador’s thoughts?)  captured by Molly’s lovely legato playing.

Next, a change of instrument as Aaron Notley Jones came forward with his classical guitar. For his first piece he chose “Old Mountain Thyme” (a traditional Scottish folksong) which highlighted the use of the Scottish “snap”.  In contrast he chose “Mazurka Choro” by Villa Lobos. This was exactly what one would expect of a piece based on South American folk music. It was apparent that Aaron enjoyed playing it and the audience liked it too.

Philip Mitroi was due to play several duets with his sister but unfortunately she was unable to be with us. However Philip offered to play “Juin” from “The Seasons” by Tchaikovsky. This lovely piece is in the style of a barcarole with a serene melody played over gentle chords providing the harmony. This was a performance that demonstrated his ability to make the melody “sing”.

Freddie Charles was also prevented from performing for us this evening so Julian had offered to play two extra pieces. Unfortunately I mislaid the programme on which I had noted the titles. My apologies. However the enthusiastic applause also prompted the offer of another piece each from Aaron and Molly so our thanks to them.

Our final performer was Cameron Spruce who began with “La Cathedrale Engloutie” by Claude Debussy. This piece conjures up a submerged cathedral as in the old Breton legend of the town of Ys, once engulfed but now revealing, at low tide, the foundations… Cameron had no difficulty in creating the dark and forbidding atmosphere of the scene with the tolling of the cathedral bell. It was very atmospheric. In complete contrast “The Golliwog’s Cakewalk” transported the audience to a comic scene of golliwogs having fun. After the applause Cameron immediately put on his jazz hat with a rollicking performance of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer”. The perfect finale for a super concert by our young, local talent. My congratulations to Julian, Molly, Aaron, Philip and Cameron for a most enjoyable evening. THANK YOU.

October saw our annual Young Musicians’ concert and we were delighted to welcome back Jessica Madden, a young pianist currently at King Edward VI School, Stratford, who had played for us last year. Jessica had used the fee she received last year to purchase music by Clara Schumann, a composer who is enjoying a revival coinciding with the 200th anniversary of her birth this year, and this was an opportunity for her to play some of the music, which is not generally so well known.

Jessica’s performance last year was mature and confident and this year we could see how she had grown both as a musician and performer.   She opened her concert began with J. S. Bach’s Partita 5: Praeambulum BWV 829 played with brio and sparkle.  The tone changed with the delightful Three Sketches by Frank Bridge April, Rosemary and Valse Capriceuse written in 1906.  Jessica played with delicacy and sureness of touch, and afterwards informed us that, like Bridge, Jessica plays the violin as well as the piano.

Clara Schumann wrote Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann in 1853 and presented the music to him on his birthday on 8th June that year.   The first performance however was given not to her husband as one might expect, but to Johannes Brahms who was said to be deeply affected by it – and also by Clara herself with whom he had an affair!    It was also, Jessica told us, the last piece of music she heard before she died.  Jessica’s abilities thoroughly captured the varying moods of the variations. Following on from the Variations, Jessica performed Robert Schumann’s Romance in F sharp minor, followed by the powerful chords of Brahms’ Rhapsody in G minor.

On a lighter note, the concert ended with The Man I Love by Gershwin sensitively and beautifully played.

We were delighted to hear music both familiar and less familiar played by Jessica, who has just started studying at the Birmingham Conservatoire alongside her 6th form school studies.  Her enthusiasm for performing was evident throughout the recital, and we wish this talented young musician every good fortune in the years to come.

In October we had our annual Young Musician’s Concert and this year we were delighted to welcome Jessica Madden from Stratford upon Avon.   She is currently a student at the Stratford Grammar School for Girls and has been studying piano with Lynn Arnold, herself a regular performer for the Society.

From the outset we knew we would be enjoying a very varied programme of music. The Holberg Suite by Grieg is well known as a piece for string orchestra but, as Jessica explained, it was originally written for the piano.  Jessica’s confident performance of it certainly gave members a clear idea of the piece as Grieg originally envisaged it.  From Grieg we went to Haydn’s  Sonata in C major a work in three movements and  Jessica’s performance reflected  an assured distinction between the different moods of legato and brio.

From Haydn we went to Scarlatti and Jessica played two Sonatas K259 and 260 (out of the 500 Sonatas that the composer actually wrote!)    Next was a piece less well known to members, the Lark by Russian composer, Mily Balakirev.  This was a piece was a transcription of a piece written by Glinka, The Farewell to St Petersburg, and reflected the sounds of Russia. Jessica’s right hand sang out during this piece and her enjoyment of the music was clear. The programme ended with a fast and exciting performance of I Got Rhythm by George Gershwin.

Jessica is clearly a taleted musician and has already achieved much, passing her Grade 8 with distinction and taking part in a number of events including the Young Musicians’ Platform at Bromsgrove and the Leamington Music Festival.  In addition she has played at Butlers Marston and at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.   Her assurance and confidence at the keyboard were very evident and the audience had to agree that she (like Gershwin) had certainly “got rhythm”.

We hope very much that Jessica will return to us to play again in the future, and in the meantime wish her every success in her studies both in music and elsewhere.

October saw our annual Young Musicians’ concert and we were delighted to welcome back Jessica Madden, a young pianist currently at King Edward VI School, Stratford, who had played for us last year. Jessica had used the fee she received last year to purchase music by Clara Schumann, a composer who is enjoying a revival coinciding with the 200th anniversary of her birth this year, and this was an opportunity for her to play some of the music, which is not generally so well known.

Jessica’s performance last year was mature and confident and this year we could see how she had grown both as a musician and performer.   She opened her concert began with J. S. Bach’s Partita 5: Praeambulum BWV 829 played with brio and sparkle.  The tone changed with the delightful Three Sketches by Frank Bridge April, Rosemary and Valse Capriceuse written in 1906.  Jessica played with delicacy and sureness of touch, and afterwards informed us that, like Bridge, Jessica plays the violin as well as the piano.

Clara Schumann wrote Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann in 1853 and presented the music to him on his birthday on 8th June that year.   The first performance however was given not to her husband as one might expect, but to Johannes Brahms who was said to be deeply affected by it – and also by Clara herself with whom he had an affair!    It was also, Jessica told us, the last piece of music she heard before she died.  Jessica’s abilities thoroughly captured the varying moods of the variations. Following on from the Variations, Jessica performed Robert Schumann’s Romance in F sharp minor, followed by the powerful chords of Brahms’ Rhapsody in G minor.

On a lighter note, the concert ended with The Man I Love by Gershwin sensitively and beautifully played.

We were delighted to hear music both familiar and less familiar played by Jessica, who has just started studying at the Birmingham Conservatoire alongside her 6th form school studies.  Her enthusiasm for performing was evident throughout the recital, and we wish this talented young musician every good fortune in the years to come

The Music Society was delighted to welcome the return of young cellist George Wilkes to the Young Musicians’ Evening in October.  George, who is a Music Scholar at Warwick School and now studying for GSCEs, has played for the Society a number of times and the audience were therefore able to see how he has developed as a musician and performer since he first came to us.   Despite his young years, he plays with great sensitivity and ever growing maturity and we will be watching as he undoubtedly goes from strength to strength in the future.

Superbly supported by professional pianist, Lynn Arnold,  who had given us such a wonderful solo performance in September, George’s programme of music was a delight with cello and piano in total harmony.  It included Vivaldi’s Cello Sonata no 6 in B flat major, Gustav Holst’s Invocation and Rachmaninov’s wonderful Vocalise.  The audience savoured the entire performance and once again appreciated the talent of this young man.

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