Blyth Valley Voices community project
This project ran throughout 2003 and 2004.
Through this project we were able to offer an opportunity to research into a number of songs noted down by the composer and folk song collector, Ralph Vaughan Williams, in the small Suffolk town of Southwold, in 1910. Singer and workshop leader Chris Coe was brought in to bring the songs off the manuscript into performance and to work with both adults and children in the area over a period of three months in 2003. Historical research was carried out by Katie Howson, into both the community from which these songs had come, and into the songs themselves. In addition, current day traditional singers and musicians found themselves in the spotlight throughout the project!
The 2003 project culminated in a concert involving about fifty performers, the production of a touring exhibition and the publication of a book, Blyth Voices (republished June 2008). The main text of the exhibition is now available online: Blyth Valley Voices research information.
Right from the beginning, this project seemed to catch the imagination of a heterogeneous group of people, from classical music fans intrigued by the idea of an English composer visiting Suffolk to listen to the singing of old fishermen, to folk music enthusiasts attracted by some local material, local people (and ex-residents) interested in family and community history, and visitors to the area fascinated to fond out about a previously unknown aspect of their holiday town.
The project also appealed to the media, and in 2004 a programme was recorded for BBC Radio 4, which was broadcast on Tuesday 17th August 2004.
The project particularly provided a focus for several diverse elements of the community in Reydon and Southwold. A number of people were involved in the local history research needed for the production of the exhibition and the book and several local people contributed photographs or information directly. We held a workshop day to launch the project, which sold out, with some visiting enthusiasts and many local people. Some of these, and several more local people joined a group meeting in the evenings, in a venue provided free of charge by Southwold Town Council. This group became the Blyth Valley Voices choir, who performed together and in duos and solos at the final concert. The concert also sold out, showing a healthy interest in this art form in the area. We were pleased to involve children from four years old upwards, and particularly to have the participation of a dozen teenagers belonging to the Wenhaston Girls’ Choir. The concert had participants from every decade of life, the oldest being in his seventies.
We had further community involvement from a number of people who helped to stage the concert, from making the tea to rigging up the lighting (kindly supplied by Southwold Summer Theatre) and providing refreshments donated by Adnams.
The exhibition, workshop and concert have provoked much discussion within the community about local traditions and cultural activities, and have helped to validate both present-day and past performers in the genre.
‘It was lovely to see people of all ages in the concert, you don’t often see the youngsters involved.’
‘I really enjoyed it. I want to be a singer when I grow up.’
Reydon school pupil, aged 9
‘I’ve never performed on that big stage before.’
Reydon resident, aged 76
‘Can I put this in my performing arts portfolio?’
Walberwick student, aged 17
‘It was great singing in such a supportive group. I never felt brave enough to do that before.’
‘I never knew Vaughan Williams came here. He must have thought the singers were important.’