30 years of har­mony

Lancashire Life - - ARTS & CULTURE - WORDS: Chris Mered­ith PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: Sue Hub­bard

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

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