Festival of the Voice, Stourhead – an inside story

revs festvoiceSTOURHEAD’s annual Festival of the Voice owes its origins to the Confluence Project, almost 15 years ago now, when two musicians, Helen Porter and Karen Wimhurst, came together to travel the course of the River Stour from its source to the sea, exploring the importance of water in our lives and creating music en route. Originally conceived as a single day, the festival has since expanded to include winter performances as well as live music every Sunday in September.

This year, Karen was back at Stourhead as one of the conductors of the Shaftesbury Community Choir. Other choirs taking part last Sunday included the Poole and Parkstone Singers with a highly polished programme of popular songs and songs from the shows, the enterprising Kington Magna Singers, Wessex Harmony, looking very stylish in their black and green (and sporting matching carrier bags too!), the very aptly named Sassparella from Bath (sassy moves and big smiles all round) and the combined Wellow Choir and Holt Singers from Bradford on Avon with their delightful repertoire of mainly folk and traditional music. As the festival leaflet rightly informed us, there really was something for everyone. Indeed, by the end of the month, some forty groups and almost one thousand performers will have taken part in this wonderful celebration of song.

As an insider (I am one of the leaders of the Shaftesbury Community Choir) I must confess that I preferred the festival when it took place over a shorter period with rather more choirs performing at any one time. In the past I have enjoyed strolling around the lake, the sound of one choir fading into the background as another took its place. These days the choirs are rather more thinly spread. However, the present set-up does encourage you to stop and listen rather than simply treat the music as background sound and it was lovely to see members of different choirs chatting to each other and comparing notes, literally as well as figuratively no doubt.

Although it was wonderful to sing outdoors in the late summer sunshine (I hope other choirs are as lucky as we were) the highlight for me had to be the opportunity of singing inside the Pantheon where the acoustics are sensational. We had chosen our outdoor programme carefully with a good mixture of songs, both popular and classical, from around the world. The majority were of a fairly lively nature, but we kept one or two of the slower numbers up our sleeves for the Pantheon: a couple of pieces from the Russian Orthodox tradition, Ali Burns’ poignant Give Me Wings and a setting of words from the Desiderata. The result was everything we could have hoped for … and more.

Here are just a few of the many comments I received from choir members:

It is delightful to have the opportunity to sing in this magical place.

A tiring but very enjoyable day.

I loved the way the ducks rushed towards us when we first arrived at the Bristol Cross but then fled when we started to sing. I wonder what we did wrong … Roll on next year.

Singing in the Pantheon is amazing. I was torn between listening to the overall effect and getting emotional or singing and trying to remain detached.

I feel it was a shame that the event wasn’t better advertised … many people must have missed what turned out to be a spectacular event.

A magical blend of harmonious voices.

Spine-tingling singing of superb, spicy songs in the stunning surrounds of Stourhead. Super!

Further choirs will be singing at Stourhead on 21st and 28th September.


15th September 2014

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