Leith Hill Place
In September 2013, we were lucky enough to host a singing day and concert at Leith Hill Place, Surrey, the childhood home of Vaughan Williams. Surrey and Sussex are home to a huge number of choral societies, most of whom regularly sing RVW’s choral repertoire, so we wanted to give local singers a chance to get to know some of his less frequently performed folk song arrangements, as well as lovely songs that he collected in Capel, Dorking and Horsham from colourful characters like Horsham’s Victorian bell-ringing folk-singer Henry Burstow. Lisa J Coates and Mandhira de Saram featured in the concert, alongside workshop participants and the programme included RVW’s ‘Six Studies in English Folk Song’ (arr. for violin and piano), ‘The Unquiet Grave’ (arr. for two voices and violin), ‘Two English Folk Songs for Voice and Violin’ and ‘Four Last Songs’.
Leith Hill Place was given to the National Trust in 1944 by Vaughan Williams, who inherited it on the death of his brother. It was his childhood home and also home to several generations of the Wedgwood Family, from whom he is descended. Charles Darwin was also a relation and frequent visitor. The National Trust opened the building (for the first time in 40 years) on a trial basis during summer and autumn 2013, to try and find a sustainable solution for its future. This workshop was part of an ongoing programme of musical events and activities at the house, inspired by its famous inhabitants.
Thanks to support from the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust, we were able to take our project to York, in celebration of Vaughan Williams’ song-collecting travels in the North-East, where he composed his much-loved arrangement of the song ‘Bushes and Briars’. We organized the event in collaboration with the Britain in Song Festival, a three-month-long, York-based festival which aims to open up the world of secular British choral music to everyone, by coupling innovative performances with open workshops.
Trina Filskow (workshop participant): “Thank you so much for a very memorable musical day last Friday. Being a complete beginner, I was enthralled at all the careful training and practising that we were put through, and couldn’t believe that I could be part of such a beautiful resultant sound. You were a lovely coach and made it all so much fun. [The professional performers] sang and played with such passion and purity at the concert in the evening that it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. The place itself was awe-inspiring and beautiful, and I am sure I could feel the spirit of Vaughan Williams smiling down on us all. The memory of it will live with me for a long while.”
Pete Lilley (workshop participant): “Thanks very much for last Friday, as a great opportunity to sing in an inspiring setting. The evening concert was also excellent! Where can I get CDs of the sort of stuff you three presented!? It was brilliant.”
John Thompson (workshop participant): “When signing up for a day like Friday, one always has doubts – not least as a comparatively new boy to music and singing. I only started a couple of years ago. I needn’t have worried: your warmth and generosity made the whole day a total joy.”
Gabrielle Gale (Visitor Operations Manager, Leith Hill Place): “Thank you for a lovely event. There were so many positive comments from the participants who all really enjoyed themselves, and the atmosphere during the day and the evening was wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and the programme was really varied and interesting.”