Magdalen Farm Strings 2014
Our Seventh Successful Year
by Course Director Sarah Gleadell
This year the focus was once again on chamber music with all participants getting the opportunity to play in at least two groupings. We concentrated mainly on English composers - ranging from arrangements of traditional folk songs to the music of Rebecca Clarke and Judith Weir. The orchestra greatly enjoyed playing a selection from Purcell's Music for a Midsummer Night's Dream; also Colin Matthew's inspiring arrangement of Wood, Rocks and Mountains by the Elizabethan composer, Robert Johnson. Everyone worked extremely hard to perfect their performances for the concert with much practising going on in precious free time.
Easter was in the middle of the holidays this year, and the only available week was the week before the Bank Holiday weekend. Participants arrived at teatime and, after an orchestral get together followed by supper, they all went off to explore the farm - a good way to break the ice and to get out and about after was a very long drive for some.
Right from the start of Magdalen Farm Strings, the tutors have been headed by Brigid Kirkland-Wilson, our highly experienced course leader, who performs on both standard and baroque violin, as well viola. 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.
Once again, Lucinda Wright joined us as our specialist cello tutor and Dalcroze Eurhythmics teacher. Both boys and girls enthusiastically join in her daily eurhythmics sessions and demonstrated what they had been doing at the end-of-course concert. Polly Orr-Ewing coached the younger players and the choir, along with Katrina Thompson, who determinedly drives over from Dorchester each day, and our lovely new house mother, Mary Walker. Mary fortuitously turned out to be a talented soprano who sings with leading choral groups and her musical talents meant that she was also able to help with tutoring chamber groups.
We had the most wonderful warm sunny weather all week, a huge bonus for our varied and highly enjoyable outdoor afternoon activities. Afternoons are always in complete contrast to the intensive music making that has gone on all morning. On the first day, we went driftwood and fossil hunting at nearby Charmouth, the plan being to use our finds to make sculptures the following day when the boys constructed a rather wild-looking man, who now resides permanently on top of a water butt in the Magdalen courtyard. The girls' sea scene was equally creative and is still on display on a wall in the courtyard as I write. Marshmallow toasting and games round the campfire brought this creative afternoon to a satisfactory and sticky conclusion. On another day, some hard physical work in the soft fruit garden was rounded off by everyone creating their own pizza for supper and baking it in the outdoor pizza oven. Jenny, Magdalen's benevolent working horse, was harnessed up to her all-terrain cart on another day and those who wanted to drove her up and down the lane. There were plenty of new-born lambs and piglets about to supply the 'aaah' factor. River dipping was a 'first' this year and, not surprisingly, that particular afternoon ended up with a water fight, as most people were pretty wet already. 'Capture the Flag, a wild and rumbustious game in the woods which involves tribal face painting and some very dubious rules, was – as ever – a highlight of the week.
Evening activities are designed to be as much fun as possible, often - but not always - with a musical theme. Country dancing, led by Mary (whose many talents include a useful working knowledge of Scottish dancing) was tremendously energetic: everyone joined in with great enthusiasm. Zoe Schwarz, the well-known Blues singer, led our jazz and improvisation evening. She brought along a selection of instruments and some very creative work was achieved.
The culmination of the evening activities is always the eagerly-anticipated 'Talent Show'. Everyone comes up with something, whether it be an instrumental performances, a song, a joke or two or a home-grown 'playlet' (for want of a better word). Certificate presentations were presided over by Mary: a certificate is handed out for whatever virtue (or otherwise!) she decides best characterises the behaviour of that particular participant over the week.
Our patron Colin Matthews once again generously gave up some precious time for Magdalen Farm Strings, this year with his Robert Johnson arrangement. He came over for the dress rehearsal and was with the performance at the final concert which – as always – a most enjoyable grand to week. We were delighted to welcome our supporters and sponsors Colin and his wife Belinda, Richard Ely, Henry Cottrell and Andrew Fletcher, The concert was followed with our traditional delicious Magdalen lunch, after which everyone sadly departed with many heartfelt promises to keep in touch and 'See you again next year'.