Saturday, 23 July 2016

Know Your Onions

I've been doing a little research into local folk music. The reason is that I wanted to make reference to one or two old, local folk tunes in an orchestral piece that I'm writing. It appears that Cecil Sharp, the erstwhile gatherer of folk tunes visited Newent in 1910 when he noted tunes from "Charlie" Baldwin when he was in Newent workhouse. The workhouse is now our Community Centre building on Ross Road, where, a nice little coincidence, the orchestra rehearses. Charlie Baldwin was born in 1827 at Gorsley Common, described (I like this!) as a "wild and untamed place", on a drovers' route from Wales and a stopping place for travellers. One of several tunes Cecil Sharp collected from Charlie was 'Polly Put the Kettle On'.

Folk and classical music can seem miles apart and this gap is defined in medieval times when the goals of sacred and secular composers were different. Composers of sacred music sought to bring a mystical atmosphere to church, while secular music was made solely for entertainment, for dance and to express love. Sacred composers were formally trained while secular composers were not. The two forms of music represented a musical separation in society between the trained and the untrained, basically between the privileged and the poor. This division still exists today but not so clearly in terms of rich and poor but as an unfortunate musical snobbery: there are the commoners who love their folk, pop, rock and country music, and those who are 'classically trained' and ostensibly appreciate the finer things in music. At this point, I'll drink a toast to crossover music.


Where was I - oh, yes, onions. The music I'm attempting to write is a tone poem, with scenes inspired by some aspects of life in Newent.  One such scene is the Onion Fayre, which takes over the town for one day in September (this year on the 10th). Revived in recent times the fayre has medieval roots so I thought it appropriate to make reference, in music, to medieval folk traditions and combine this with something more modern.

The Newent Orchestra has a stall to promote itself at the Onion Fayre and this year, will be doubling the size of the stall to present some live music throughout the day. If you are wandering past, you might hear some of our woodwind and brass musicians, and one or two string chamber groups.  You might also hear the strains of a couple of those scenes in and around Newent depicted in music, one in particular owing something to Cecil Sharp and Charlie Baldwin.

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