30 years of harmony
Enthusiastic amateur musicians from Lancaster are celebrating a special anniversary with a series of concerts
On a cold February night in 1988 a group of enthusiastic amateur musicians gathered, sharing their performance anxieties and seeking reassurance in anticipation of their moment in the spotlight.
Thirty years later some of these same musicians are gathering again, not quite so nervous now and able to offer encouragement to the newcomers.
Lancaster Musicmakers grew out of adult piano classes at the Storey Institute where the tutors spotted an opportunity to showcase the hard work of their pupils. One of them, Rosemary Brown, met concert pianist Peter Croser who was keen to lend his support. Following visits by Peter to perform and conduct at masterclasses he became the inspiration for regular concerts.
By this time Musicmakers had moved to the University of Cumbria chapel, which hosts them to this day and is the home of a magnificent Steinway grand piano. This instrument is capable of making a mediocre performance sound good, as I found this out to my relief when I took part in one of Peter’s masterclasses.
Exposing one’s flaws to a maestro, in a room full of eager pianists, is a daunting challenge,
but Peter had a gentle, sensitive way of coaxing improvements by suggesting subtle changes in posture, technique and style.
Sadly, Peter died earlier this year but MM is thriving and has entered its 31st year with new energy and ideas. Splinter groups of members take music into the community – for instance, accompanying a Parkinson’s group choir, hosting singalongs in residential homes and encouraging youngsters to perform.
There are no limits to participation – age and ability vary greatly. They regularly have contributions from singers, duetists of multiple combinations, string and wind players, and although the repertoire is mainly classical there are folk and jazz offerings too.
There are no geographical boundaries – the group has hosted university students from China, cellists from Cumbria and even some Yorkshire people! The only requirement is that you perform for pleasure – yours and that of the audience. No fees are paid, the generous applause of the listeners and the thrill of the challenge are reward enough.
Performers generally agree that conquering those nerves is well worth the effort and can push one’s playing to ever higher levels and there is a constant source of inspiration provided by the camaraderie.
This year, for the first time, MM will take to the stage in Lancaster’s Ashton Hall for one of the lunchtime concert series. The concerts are free and audiences can choose to donate to the cause of restoring both the beautiful 19th century Steinway grand piano and the stunning organ. Several pianists will take a slot, nervously of course, in the hour long programme and to prepare them the group has a new maestro in the pipeline to host a masterclass. Paul Greenhalgh, a concert pianist well-known in the North West and a regular performer in the Ashton Hall, will put them through their paces in preparation for their debut in October. They will continue twice termly concerts and look forward to welcoming newcomers. Support for nervous performers is whole-hearted – we’ve all been there!
ABOVE: A recent performance by members of the Lancaster Musicmakers