First published in Eastern Early Music Forum Newsletter 68, June 2008.
Reproduced here by kind permission of the author.
What's a quire? A combination of singers and instruments who perform west gallery music. What's west gallery music? The lively and exciting music that was sung and played in English village churches and nonconformist chapels during the 18th and early 19th centuries, before the organ was re-introduced in the Oxford Movement.
Being already a member of the Bedford Gallery Quire, and having been tempted by Ann Ellliott's detailed invitation to a workshop, concert and optional service, I reported to the old market town of 'Fram' on a warm sunny Saturday and found the mood in St Michael's Church similarly summery. I'd prepared by downloading the workshop material from Chris Gutteridge's website and was soon plunged into the vigorous tunes of composers mostly unknown to me, mingled with the charming melodies from John Wesley's collections. These songs have been mostly edited from original manuscripts by Chris Gutteridge, our tutor, who struck up a brisk tempo from the onset.
Following a welcome meal in the church rooms, it was time to don the period costumes: fancy waistcoats and neckerchiefs or stocks, knee breeches and wide-lapel frock coats for the men, long dresses and bonnets or broad hats with shawls for the ladies. Chris himself wore his distinctive blue and white military bandsman's costume. In the concert the quire sang the items learned during the afternoon interspersed with items by readers, instrumental items by the Fall of Eve English Folk Band, a duo, and a male voice trio drawn from the folkier members of the quire. A special item was a performance on the East Anglian dulcimer by Richard Blake, one of the very few performers on that instrument.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to stay for the Eucharist the following morning but I'm told there was a full church for the unusual diet of west gallery music to which the hymns and psalms were sung.
No one would say that west gallery music requires vast technique or sophistication. Energy and enthusiasm are the main requirements, but above all the capacity to have fun by bringing to life a repertoire that puts us in touch with so much of our social history.