Sarah Ford discovers Somerset's increasingly popular community music

PUBLISHED: 19:51 20 January 2010 | UPDATED: 12:02 27 August 2015

Somerset County Youth Concert Band rehearsing at Millfield Concert Hall

Somerset County Youth Concert Band rehearsing at Millfield Concert Hall

All over Somerset the young (and not so young) are being encouraged into the wonderful world of community music, as Sarah Ford discovers.

Young members of the Yeovil Music CentreYoung members of the Yeovil Music Centre


Sarah Ford discovers Somerset's increasingly popular community music

More than 20 years ago, Gill Lumby and Rosie Shaw were talking over coffee at the kitchen table when they decided they would like to bring professional live music to their community in the Vale of Taunton Deane. Since 1987, Milverton Concert Society has brought exciting performers with international reputations to the village, and in 2000 Rosie and Gill received an award from the Culture Secretary for their efforts. Yet it's not just the adults who have benefited from the Society's success.

"I was teaching occasionally in the primary school and it suddenly seemed obvious to include the children," recalls Gill. "So, in 1989 we held the first workshops and since then all performers have been asked if they are able to perform in the local school. About 90% have agreed and those who do not are usually those who cannot take their instruments from the church to the school!"

Musical Villages
Introducing everyone, regardless of their age or geographical location, to live classical performances, is the aspiration of many music lovers across the county.

Cossington Concerts was established in 2002 by internationally acclaimed Mozart scholar the late Stanley Sadie CBE and his musicologist wife, Julie Anne. The concerts are designed to enhance the life of the village community with regular performances of live music by high-level professional artists. In association with the concerts, some of the artists give masterclasses and workshops. This happened earlier this year when advanced level cellists 12-year-old Christopher Hedges, 17-year-old Laura Hammonds and 17-year-old Elspeth Westaway performed for internationally acclaimed cellist Steven Isserlis and benefited from his views on style, interpretation and technique.

Musicians living in Somerset who are within a 25-mile radius of Cossington and in full-time education can apply to the Cossington Concerts' Fund for Young Musicians for help with their musical expenses.

Future Sounding Good
Recently it was feared that a different community music venture would have to close its doors when its funding was cut, but Yeovil Music Centre is now looking forward to a strong future after it received financial help from Somerset County Council and South Somerset District Council. The Yeovil Music Centre, which meets at Holcote House in the grounds of Yeovil College, has over 100 young musician members. It was set up by Somerset County's music service 40 years ago. Today the County Council's music service, known as Somerset Music, provides instrumental and voice tuition to about 6,000 pupils in schools across Somerset. Low-cost instrument hire is available to pupils who need it.

The service has produced a number of success stories: several students of Hywel Jenkins, Head of Strings, have gone on to become heads of music in various schools; Helen White is now making her living as a recording artist and has recently been making videos in Hollywood. Three county groups are organised and supported by Somerset Music: The County Youth Concert Band, the County Youth Choir and the County Youth Orchestra.

County Voices
Last year over 500 singers from across the county represented Somerset at the last night of the Schools Prom at the Royal Albert Hall. Penny Dunscombe, Artistic Director of the Somerset County Youth Choir, directed the project. She regards singing as a vital and natural form of expression for young people.

"Most people like singing but this culture does not encourage them to feel confident about their voices. Everyone can sing and sing well given the right emotional support." In 1984 a group of friends who had enjoyed singing with the Somerset Youth Choir ceased to qualify as 'youths' any more, but they wanted to continue singing together and they did so, despite their new lives all over the country.

Crucial to their musical success is Graham Caldbeck, conductor of the choir since 1990, who travels from London to Somerset several times a year to prepare the choir for their concerts. He says: "Above all, the choir is a community of friends, drawn together by a love of music."

Emma Kirkby joins them for their 25th anniversary concert on 25 July at 7pm in Wells Cathedral. Early booking essential

Having achieved so much in bringing the highest standard of music-making to Somerset over the last 25 years, the choir is very much looking forward to the next 25.

How you can make music
• Meet new friends, relieve your stress, build confidence, find your inner rhythm and have fun with Mendip All Drummers. An African drumming course running till mid-July is for new and experienced drummers and all ages. 01373 474577.
• Anyone aged 5-18 years who is learning to play an instrument or enjoys singing, or any adults who wish to join a community orchestra or community choir, can call the Yeovil Community Music Centre on 07811 760255.
• For more information about the Somerset Music service call  0300 123 2224 or e-mail
• You can support the Cossington Concert Fund for Young Musicians at a concert on 13 June at 7.30pm, St Mary's Church Cossington Information on the Fund from
• Milverton Concert Society's latest programme is available on their website,


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