History of the Wansbeck Music Festival

Wansbeck Musical Competitions started in 1906. 2006 was therefore our Centenary Year although only the 94th Festival due to it's being suspended during the Second World War.

Woodwind performers with Adjudicator Liz Childs

The impetus came from Lt.-Col. William Orde of Nunnykirk, after he had visited the Music Competitions in 1905 in Kendal, where this great festival movement to develop and improve choral singing in country places was devised by Mary Wakefield. A Committee was formed, a schedule drawn up and the Wansbeck Musical Competitions made their first appearance on May l9th, 1906. Five schools took part in the first Festival, including Hartburn, Mitford, Stannington and Rothbury. School classes were held in the morning and Senior choirs in the afternoon.

The President was Viscount Ridley and Mrs. Orde acted as Honorary Secretary and Accompanist. The members of winning choirs all received medals and bronze medals were awarded to winners of solo classes.

Up to the First World War the Festival took place on two days only with the number of classes increasing yearly. In the early years 'Action Songs' by the children were a delight to watch but they were superseded by Singing Games and then by Percussion Bands. These disciplines have now vanished although school choirs are allowed to have this type of accompaniment if they wish.

Combined Music played a large part in the early days and the small village choirs much appreciated the opportunity to sing as part of a large choir, and so perform music which was not within their scope. Col. Orde would go round all the schools and choral societies and take at least one practice to ensure that the tempi and interpretation were the same. This music formed the main focus of the final concert which closed the Festival as well as performances by some of the solo class winners. The end of Festival Prizewinners Concert is still a highlight of today’s Festival.

Steel Pan Solo Performer

The great interest taken in the Festival in its earliest years is evidenced by the amount of space given to it by the ‘Morpeth Herald' which printed most of the Adjudicator's comments in full. Even the evening train from Morpeth was rescheduled from 6.20pm to 6.40pm on the days of the Festival. After the Second World War the Festival resumed in 1946 and by 1955 it had extended to a four day Festival.

Instrumental classes have expanded widely throughout the years and Ensemble and Orchestral playing have produced excellent standards in recent years which would have gladdened the heart of the Founder, Lt. Col. Orde, although it is difficult to envisage his reaction to present day Jazz & Keyboard sessions and possibly Samba & Steel Bands in future!

The first competitions were held in the Masonic Hall in Morpeth then in St. James' School. Later the Chief Constable of Northumberland gave permission for the Court House to be used. The Adjudicator sat on the Bench and many competitors had the experience of finding themselves in the Dock! Since then the Festival has been held in many varied venues, the Coliseum Cinema, the YMCA Hall, Chantry School, Ashington Technical College and Ashington Miners' Welfare Hall.

In 1980 Wansbeck District Council sponsored the Festival by placing the splendid Newbiggin Sports and Community Leisure Centre at its disposal. All evening and Saturday classes were then held in Morpeth Town Hall. Today, due to the increase in numbers and popularity, we use larger venues such as school halls and churches.

Many distinguished names appear on the list of Adjudicators to the Wansbeck Music Festival (below). Dr. Whittaker attended during the First World War, Dr. Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1922, Drs Bairstow, RR Terry and Armstrong Gibbs, Havelock Nelson, whose songs are regularly test pieces, Carl Dolmetsch, Avril Dankworth, Donald Maxwell Timmins and in more recent days Dr Vivien Pike (original voice coach to Lesley Garrett), Gareth Green, Andrew Padmore and many others whose constructive adjudications have helped teachers and participants alike to profit from the Festival. The Festival continues to employ Adjudicators of the highest quality and is a Member of The British and International Federation of Music, Drama and Dance Festivals.

In the 2006 Centenary Year the Festival played host to more than 1500 performers competing in over 120 classes during 9 full days and 6 evenings. By 2013 this had reduced somewhat to 6 full days plus 5 evenings. The Festival remains one of the largest music festivals in the North of England affiliated to the British and International Federation of Festivals of Music and Dance and Speech.

Our main sponsors were Morpeth and Ashington Town Councils. The Festival Committee is grateful to our numerous Individual and Business Patrons who also help fund festival activities.

The Festival operates as a Charity and all involved are volunteers. There is a main committee of 14 and about 20 active supporters who help with preparation and during Festival sessions.

Wansbeck Music Festival owes a debt of gratitude to all those who have served it so well as officers and committee members over the past century as well as all the teachers, advertisers, patrons and subscribers, and donors of trophies. The committee invites anyone with an interest in the festival to come forward as a supporter.

Former Adjudicators

The Festival has employed many well known and respected musicians as adjudicators over the years and the following list gives the names of some of the best known.

NameYear(s)NameYear(s)
W. G. Whittaker1915/1916Gareth Green1998/2006/2009
Dr Bairstow1917/1918Dr Andrew Padmore2000/2003
Plunkett Greene1919Margaret Venables2001/2005
Dr R. R. Terry1920/1921Jeffrey Wynn Davies2004/2012
Dr R. Vaughan Williams1922Colin Touchin2006/2008/2013
Herbert Wiseman1923/24/52Ray Farr (Brass)2006
Geoffrey Shaw1928/1939Dennis J. Taylor (Brass)2006
Thomas Dunhill1929/1930Marilynne Davies2007/2011
Dr Armstrong Gibbs1931/1933Alan Fernie (Brass)2007
Maurice Jacobson1953/60/62/66Dr Vivien Pike2008
Dr Herbert Howells1958Philip Dewhurst2008/2014/2017
Dr Sydney Northcote1961Brian Buckley (Brass)2008
Carl Dolmetsch1962James Stretton (Brass)2009
Lionel Salter1970Gill Johnson2010/2015
Dr Stanley Vann1973Joan Foster2010
Donald Maxwell Timmins1978/86/92/99Liz Childs2012/2017
Avril Dankworth1978/79/83Stephen Roberts2013
Layton Ring1991/1993Philip Robinson2014
Christine Ring1992/2002Margaret J. Smith2016/2017
Jean Allister1993