Meanwhile, back in Benslow


After a year behind the Zoom screen, my first 2021 live event beckoned this week, and where else would it be but Benslow Music, home in normal times to a fantastic rolling programme of workshops, concerts and residential courses. They have carefully kept in online touch with their public, mounting whatever digital courses they can to music-thirsty regulars. I also was super-keen to journey to Hitchin to join sopano Sarah Leonard and pianist Stephen Gutman for a day workshopping finalist entries from Benslow’s annual composition competition (two competitions in fact, for ages under-19 and 19-25.)


Alas, one virtual element remained; our group of ten composers still had to remain at home and join us via video link. It was a rather slow one, which precluded any detailed “Jim, why did you write that Bb in b.247 ?” type discussions. Maybe as a result, I went home pondering some extra-clearly stated advice; for instance Sarah’s remark that “sopranos in song repertoire traditionally never use their chest voice”. I wish I’d known that before ! Above all, it was quite amazing (but also felt completely normal) to be in a room next to a lovely healthy voice and a confidently played piano. How I’d missed big musical sounds ringing in my ears.


I don’t know if it’s the result of spending a boring year at home, but the songs selected for these workshops struck me as being an exceptionally distinguished set, particularly those by the five older students. On the grounds of performability with no vocal snags, we chose Tan Tiag Yi’s ‘I so liked spring’ as the winner in this category, with Rebecca Farthing’s ‘Very early spring’ as runner-up. A couple of outstanding songs in the younger category were by Christopher Churcher (winner) and Scott Manson (highly commended.) Sarah Leonard and Stephen Gutman will return, in August we hope, to perform the winning songs in a public concert.


Pictured –on a tea break in the lovely Benslow gardens. This seat is one of four in a row named after old-time Benslow regulars, the Macnaghten Quartet.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer