Magdalen Farm Strings 2013
Our Sixth Successful Year
by Course Director Sarah Gleadell
This year, in response to requests from several of our 2012 participants and their parents, we decided to introduce chamber groups for the first time. In previous years we have divided our musicians into two groups, according to ability: this had worked very well but it was becoming apparent that being part of these relatively large groups did not necessarily give individual participants an opportunity to demonstrate how far they had progressed during the week. It being Britten's centenary year, his work was an obvious choice and our most senior players chose his Quartet in F (1928). The senior orchestral group played the Jig from Britten's Welcome Suite, Op. 95. The Britten theme continued with the choir singing several songs from his Friday Afternoons suite.
All participants were given the choice of taking part in a chamber group, playing a variety of pieces including works by Handel and Howard Blake. The children all worked incredibly hard to perfect their performances in time for the concert, many of them voluntarily choosing to practise in their free time.
Everyone arrived on Sunday afternoon, plunging straight into their first orchestral get-together immediately after tea and 'Magdalen cookies'. The fun started after supper with an 'orienteering' expedition around the farm in the gathering dusk. This has become a tradition at Magdalen Farm Strings and is primarily intended to help the new participants to get their bearings, and learn a bit about the farm at the same time. The 'old hands' have, of course, done it several times before, but it is a good way to break the ice and to get out and about after what has been a long drive for many of them.
As in previous years our tutors were headed by Brigid Kirkland-Wilson, our highly experienced course leader, who performs on both standard and baroque violin. Her teaching experience at Wells Cathedral School, Cheltenham Ladies' College, and the Royal College of Music Junior Department is invaluable, as well as coaching on NCO and Pro Corda courses. She is a perfectionist and our Magdalen Farm Strings participants respond incredibly well to her tuition: they respect her and like her enormously.
Lucinda Wright joined us again as our specialist cello tutor and Dalcroze Eurhythmics teacher. Both boys and girls enthusiastically take part in their daily eurhythmics sessions and each group created their own movement compositions. Polly Orr-Ewing and Katrina Thompson led the choir and the junior group as before. The choir was particularly impressive this year with several outstanding singers. Their concert performance of Britten songs and John Rutter's entertaining The Heavenly Aeroplane was greeted with much applause. Rebecca Palmer (Becks) our house-mother is also an accomplished musician and she was a most welcome addition to the team, providing essential support to some of the chamber groups.
Afternoons are spent always spent out of doors with the aim of getting in some physical exercise and fresh air, whilst having a great deal of fun at the same time. On the 'Farmers in Training' afternoon there was a litter of extremely cute black piglets to meet and one of the sheep obligingly gave birth to a lamb at the appropriate moment. Several children volunteered to feed the animals later in the week, which was a great help to Magdalen staff. On another day we all piled into cars to visit the nearby Deer Sanctuary where we met roe deer, sikas and a whole herd of white 'red' deer which had been bred from a rescued doe over the course of several years. Another excitement was meeting the actual deer from the television series Merlin. She was very happy to be petted and fed with carrots. On the percussion afternoon (see below), each group took it in turns to cook the supper, using as many organic ingredients from the farm as possible. Mary and Jan, the Magdalen kitchen staff, greatly enjoyed their sessions with the children. On one wet afternoon, after some energetic team games, we all went up to The Nest, a large circular wooden hut, where we tried out hands at fire lighting using cotton waste and flints. Another afternoon was spent on the‘Low Ropes Course, taking part in some very complicated team building activities.‘Capture the Flag, a wild and rumbustious game in the woods which involves tribal face painting and some rather dubious rules, was – as ever – a highlight of the week.
Our evening entertainments are always eagerly anticipated. Our visiting musician was a young percussionist, Genevieve Wilkins, who appeared with her husband and extremely cuddly baby. She also brought along a huge variety of percussion instruments. The afternoon was divided between the two groups who then came together for an immensely noisy and stunningly creative session. Genevieve introduced a couple of African dances that everyone enjoyed so much that we decided to include them in the concert. This year we also welcomed a delightful folk dance teacher, Carla Shields, who got everyone dancing energetically and creating their own dances as well. The evening ended with much hilarity with everyone sporting a selection of highly eccentric headgear.
The culmination of the evening activities is always the eagerly-anticipated Talent Show. This year everyone turned up trumps with an eclectic mixture of instrumental performances, solo singing, and short playlets. Much laughter and jollity ensued. Becks as usual presented everyone with their own certificate, for whatever virtue she thought they had best demonstrated during the week.
Our patron, Colin Matthews, had once again generously given up some of his immensely valuable time to compose a special piece for Magdalen Farm Strings. He had to attend a performance by the LSO on the evening of the concert, as well as attending a rehearsal the day before. However, he still managed to turn up for a rehearsal of Three Miniatures for Magdalen Farm during the week and also to be there for the concert. We are very fortunate indeed to have such a supportive patron.
The concert was – as always – a most enjoyable culmination to an excellent week. The traditional delicious Magdalen lunch was then laid on for all the participants and their families, after which everyone departed with many heartfelt promises to keep in touch and "See you again next year".
We would like to thank Colin Matthews, Jean Edwards, The Radcliffe Trust, The Joyce Fletcher Trust, The Christina Aitchison Trust and The Ely Trust for their vital and much-valued support.