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The Taunton Festival of Music, like many others up and down the United Kingdom, is an event where individuals and groups perform a small programme on their chosen instrument before an adjudicator. This might be a solo performance – with or without accompanist, or as part of a duet or band. There are classes for all sorts of instruments, strings, woodwind, brass as well as voice. After your performance the adjudicator gives feedback and awards a rating on how well you’ve performed. If there is more than one entrant in each class and section then the entrants might also be rated as to which is the best.

In 2013, the organisers of the Taunton Festival were persuaded to accept entries from free reed instrument players and a group of us from the WCCP duly performed. There was the band, J25 led by Claire Wren, as the only entrants in the band class, whilst my friend Colin Sleath and I entered the duet class along with another duet from Bristol, Angela Hammond and Annie Snow. We were all well received by the adjudicator and the band were awarded a cup whilst Colin and I were given distinctions and medals as winners of the duet section.
The adjudicator on that occasion was very gentle and had clearly learned to give his feedback in a way that was encouraging and positive whilst, at the same time, honest in that he did not shy away from pointing out our weaknesses and areas that we could improve upon, but it was all done in a very gentle manner.

So, there we, Colin and I, were again on February 3 of this year, waiting to go on to the stage in this year’s festival. I was wondering why on earth we’d decided to do this again and swearing that this would be the last time! That was despite the fact that this year we were the only entrants and so there was no element of competition.

We had 8 minutes to impress the adjudicator and chose our own arrangement of a couple of Alistair Anderson tunes, 'The Road to the North' from the 'Steel Skies' suite which involved, in our arrangement, a change of instruments from treble to baritone and a change of rhythm from straight common time to a dotted rhythm on the repeat. The second piece was 'Windy Gyle', which many will know from the 'Syncopace' C.D.. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with it, this latter tune has an interesting structure, consisting of a slow air in 6/8 time and a slip jig in 9/8. The tricky part is playing the two tunes at the same time, fitting two bars of the slip jig into the same time as one bar of the air, yet still, hopefully, finishing together! Well, we managed it and had a very positive adjudication as well as being awarded a distinction and coming home with a medal each. We were just pleased to have survived and performed it reasonably competently having aimed at mastering it for some time.

Colin also played in the solo class, again the only entrant. He played a Handel recorder piece and was superbly accompanied on piano by the same Angela Hammond who had played her concertina as part of a duet in the last festival. Colin was again awarded a distinction and medal. The other free-reeders performing were Junction25 band, which again included Colin. They performed superbly and were given yet another distinction.

Despite my misgivings before performing, on the way home I found myself wondering what we might put together for next year’s event. The anxiety I experience in performing is not something I enjoy. I tend to play just for myself most of the time so I avoid all that, along with the accompanying tremor that leads to what Colin calls an 'unrehearsed vibrato' But, despite all that, performing in this sort of event does focus one's attention on a short piece of music and I found myself analysing the music in a way that I don't do normally, taking each bar apart and thinking about the structure and, as a consequence, seeing new subtleties and nuances that I'd not noticed before.

Which brings me to the purpose of posting this contribution. I recommend this sort of event to you. If there is a music festival in your area, with classes for different instruments, I suggest you try to persuade the organisers to open a free reed section (ours came under the 'wind instrument’ class in the programme). It's a great way of raising the profile of the instrument - neither the organisers of this event nor the adjudicator knew before what a versatile instrument the concertina can be and we were showered with warm appreciation of the music we played and our introducing them to some of its capabilities.

If you're within reach of Somerset then you might think of entering this event next year. Keep an eye on the website for dates:

John Adey