As one of the lucky few who booked their tickets in time, (the festival was sold out after the first mailbag was opened) I'll add here a brief review for those who missed this.
The Festival of Village Carols was held at Grenoside Community Centre, near Sheffield, England, on 30th November 2002. The Festival has been held every two years since 1994 to celebrate the carol singing traditions which still flourish in the villages around Sheffield and elsewhere. It was organised mainly by Ian Russell, currently Director of the Elphinstone Institute in Aberdeen, with support from the Village Carols organisation, the West Gallery Music Association, and especially from local carol singers.
The day consisted of four workshops in which we learned to sing 16 different carols, all in four part harmonies, for the evening's Grand Sing under the patient direction of Ian Russell. The accompaniment was provided by an impromptu orchestra which had, among other instruments: 2 serpents, 2 huge, and heavy, bass concertinas, an alto sax and an alto clarinet, several fiddles/violins and one viola, 2 banjos, lots of penny plain concertinas, a bassoon or two, a trombone (I think), all of which played the 'symphonies' to the carols beautifully. It was hard work, especially as some of the carols were quite unfamiliar - particularly some from the Peak District. These however turned out to be real gems: T'Owd Virgin from Eyam, Prince of Orange from Castleton, and Rolling Downwards from Hathersage. We also sang three settings of While Shepherds Watched; to Liverpool, Lyngham (with a new symphony written by Ray Ellison of Grenoside), and finishing with a rousing Pentonville.
The atmosphere was very friendly, in spite of Ian's instruction that the fuguing parts should be expressed as a battle between the basses and the altos! and I thought there were some casualties after Tinwood and Mount Zion.
There was a large audience for the Grand Sing, including the Home Secretary, David Blunkett. The highlight of the evening however was the singing of the Glen Rock Carolers from Pennsylvania. This small town, only 60 miles from Washington DC, has for 155 years preserved carols from the Cheshire/Lancashire border all unknown to the rest of the world until about four years ago. They deservedly received a very warm welcome, and I hope they will take home some happy memories of their trip to England. [Visit their website www.glenrockcarolers.org * for some more information about this remarkable survival.] The only pity was that they didn't perform in their Dickensian costumes of capes and tall hats!
The Grand Sing finished at 11:30, by which time few of us had any voices left, but nevertheless I managed to join a small group of traditional carollers the next day in a village which I won't name here (not Worrall or Dungworth) for a wonderful finale to the weekend.
The next Festival is provisionally scheduled for 27 November 2004, but anyone who hopes to attend will have to be quick when the booking opens.
* For some reason I'm getting a DNS Error message when testing this link today, but it was working fine yesterday and should be back online sometime soon when the Carolers get home again.