What Felton Music is about
Making music is an activity that many people enjoy and find fulfilling. When done with others it can enhance a sense of well-being. It can be engaging, challenging or relaxing whether explored alone or in company.
Felton Music is about improving access to music making. In part, access is geographical. Opportunities are there, but at a distance. We are fortunate having in our region The Sage, Gateshead which offers numerous music activities for the community. It is 30 miles from Felton. There are good choirs and instrumental ensembles throughout Northumberland, including in Alnwick and Morpeth, Felton's nearest towns. To access any evening activities one has to drive.
Access is also about competence and confidence. Amateur bands and orchestras are very welcoming, but when one has never played in such an ensemble before, there's a lot to learn on top of being able to play the instrument. At all levels there are people who would like to improve their knowledge and skills so they can gain more pleasure from their music.
Music doesn't have be performed for an audience. Participation is valuable for its own sake. Music doesn’t have to made in groups: playing it and playing with it is fulfilling on one’s own.
So, Felton Music provides music activities in the community that meet the expressed needs and interests of participants. Some activities are about pleasure in participation, while in others the emphasis is on learning. We're trying to help fill the gaps in people's musical lives.
At present, Felton Music focusses on adult participation. Local schools offer a range of music opportunities for young people. Anyone who lives in the area or is willing to travel in is very welcome to take part.
What Felton Music isn't about
Felton Music doesn't offer private music tuition or any other services that professional musicians depend on for their livelihood.
Performance is sometimes an outcome, but is led by the needs of the participants. Felton Music does not provide ensembles for events.
How it runs
At present, there is no committee – maybe in the future that will be needed.
What we do is guided by what potential participants would like to see provided. Activities are offered, and if they are viable, they run.
Individuals host small group activities in their homes. For larger groups we hire space at Felton Village Hall.
There is a small charge for most activities, to cover hire of premises, materials and refreshments. Organisation and leadership of events is provided voluntarily. Money goes into a community bank account.
Where it’s going
Felton Music depends on the energy and interests of all its participants. The existing activities will continue for as long as they are wanted, and new ones will start that are viable and within the capabilities of all those involved.
With those who have the desire and the time, it is hoped to develop greater music autonomy. Autonomy depends on being able to access and manipulate music, whether through notation or by ear, and putting it together independently. It is the competence and confidence to engage with music without needing someone else to lead.
With greater autonomy, yet more music can happen, and more of that music making can be truly creative and expressive.
The main constraint is time, both for participation and facilitation. Individuals with musical skills who support the approach of Felton Music and would like to lead activities voluntarily are very welcome to make contact.
At the moment I run and organise most Felton Music activities. More than a decade ago I retired from a career in education. I had started out as a class music teacher in secondary schools, but got increasingly interested in music education for all ages and then in learning and teaching in general.
Retirement gave me the opportunity to get more involved in a long dormant interest in horse-riding and then inevitably, in teaching. That has been fascinating, taking me into areas of knowledge and understanding to do with how we manage our bodies as well as our intellects and emotions. Running exercise sessions for older people continues to develop this interest.
Inevitably, as I have got older, I have got more intrigued by life-long learning, and my involvement in music, exercise and riding keeps the issue of skill-learning high on the agenda.
Everything I do and see others do reinforces my fundamental beliefs that:
everyone, of any age, can gain musical skills if they want to and can spare the time - skill comes from practice
learning works best in a positive atmosphere - tension and lack of self-belief are the enemies of progress
demystifying music makes it both more learnable and magical
How It Began
There's a recently established tradition in Felton of coming together on the last Monday evening before Christmas to sing carols on the mediaeval bridge over the Coquet. The Fair Committee sort out lighting and sound and provide punch and mince pies, and the Village Band accompanies the singing. After the 2014 Carols on the Bridge, some of us went across the road to the Northumberland Arms. Over a drink, Eileen Davidson commented that it was fun having a sing together and it would be nice if we got something going on a regular basis. In a bit of a post-carol, pre-Christmas haze I agreed, not only to the idea, but also that I could help make something happen.
That chance conversation wasn't forgotten, and a few months later we invited anyone interested in getting involved in some singing to a meeting at Gallery 45. Plenty of people came, and the best thing seemed to be to run some sessions to find out what was going to work. It was clear from the start that some people were keen on having a choir, singing in parts and giving concerts, while others wanted a pressure-free regular sing. Fortunately, Cheryl Camm was very interested in developing a choir, so she took forward the Bridge Singers, and I established the Drop In sessions.
During the same period, I had successful cataract surgery. Not only were colours more vibrant, and contact lenses a chore of the past, but my confidence and energy levels seemed restored. The apprehension I had felt about taking on a singing group faded away and I was keen to get back into musical life, helping to make more things happen.
The enthusiastic response that people in the community gave to those first, tentative activities fuelled the motivation, and led to Felton Music becoming established.
So, both the Bridge Singers and Felton Music shared their beginnings in a chance conversation in a bar. Thanks to Felton Surgery and the RVI for their roles as midwives, and The Running Fox for several happy meetings over coffee and cake..
The obvious answer it that it's where I live, but as the project has developed it's clear that there is more to it than that. The two villages of Felton and Thirston, each side of the river Coquet, seem to be just made for community engagement. Maybe it's a matter of scale – big enough for viable numbers of people interested in any one thing, and small enough for everyone to know their contribution really counts. Maybe it's the mixture of people - those who can trace their families in the area for generations and others who found it a useful and happy place to set up home. Maybe it's geography - far enough from both Alnwick and Morpeth to make local activities attractive. And being a village that still has services and facilities must help. From the music point of view, a good percentage of the population enjoyed singing or playing earlier in life, now have a little bit of time to spare and like learning something new.
Most significantly, though, it seems to be a place where people are prepared to step up, participate and support. It's often difficult making a booking in the Village Hall because of the number of thriving groups and activities. In addition to the regular meetings one would expect, the community supports an annual Pantomime, Village Fair and Carols on the Bridge. 2015 saw the first Feltonbury, a whole day of music performances, and by 2016 this had already grown an art trail. A former pub is an art gallery with studios for several artists and craftspeople. The Village Hall is now involved with Rural Highlights, an arts agency which enables us to promote professional productions several times a year. The Bridge Singers has quickly established itself as an exciting choir, giving inspirational performances in the area.
Really it should be Felton and Thirston Music, but that's quite a mouthful, so the (very slightly) larger settlement takes precedence for the sake of brevity. With apologies to the significant number of people from the other side of the river!