Amid the doom and gloom about the future of our theatres and concert halls, a group of young musicians has been delighting the residents of Coleford with weekly outdoor performances. Music in the Porch started with a call from the National Youth Orchestra and has become a lockdown highlight for performers and audience alike, as the project coordinator Francisca Van Holthoon explains.
It all started when the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) called on musicians in the UK to record themselves playing Jupiter (from the Planet Suite by Holst) during the last weekend of May and upload it to the NYO website for a video montage. The NYO sent out parts, which I printed off and transposed to the right keys for our local players. I then rounded up the players (aged 18-20) to gather in our field to have a play through, to see whether it sounded OK. When we decided it did, I rang my friends Roger and Rosemary up the hill and told them to jump on their bikes to come down to Coleford for an open air performance. We sauntered down to Coleford, knocked on people’s doors to invite them to a free concert. Irene and Paul Butt kindly offered us their porch and by the time Roger and Rosemary arrived we and the assembled crowd were ready to go.
The looks on people’s faces, as they were standing there on the crossroads (socially distanced of course) was priceless and we blithely promised to come back with another programme the following Saturday. After the second concert there was no way back and we have been performing in front of, or in wet weather. under that same porch every Saturday from then on.
The group has gradually grown a bit to include players from neighbouring villages. The repertoire ranges from classical music, to folk, to jazz, to 4-part madrigals to Klezmer. My main motivation for keeping this project going has been to fill our empty diaries with memories, for the players as well as for the audience. There have of course been many online performance projects, but any musician will know that clever video/sound compilations are simply no replacement for live music making in real time. Being able to perform to our locals who were rather starved of soul food has been very rewarding and I will miss it when everyone has gone back to lead their lives elsewhere.
Here are some comments by the members of the ensemble:
There is a silver lining to every cloud, and the music-making in Coleford has been ours. It has been made possible by the extraordinary succession of events that we've all experienced locally. On a background of concerts in the village over the last 15 years, we were expecting to say good-bye to our young group of university students. Then along comes the cloud of Covid with the silver lining of the unexpected house arrest of all our kids. Combined with Francisca's energy and enthusiasm, and the willingness of other local musicians to expand the band, the "Porch Playgroup" have entertained us royally over the last two months of Saturday mornings, and it's been a delight to be just a little part of it.
It is amazing that we have been able to make a full Jazz band with local people. Not only that, they are all very talented and I feel privileged to play alongside them!
Playing music together with all these lovely people, in front of more lovely people, has been quite simply, lovely! So thank you to everyone involved in these weekly happenings. It's been a joy.
Having only recently moved to Coleford from London I have been bowled over by the amount of musically talented people there are in this picturesque little village. It seems that every other person here can play their instrument or sing to a concert standard!
Playing in the porch has been a real upside to this lockdown. I've always said I'd practice jazz keyboard more and never got round to it, and playing every Saturday has meant that I haven’t been able to avoid a bit of improvement! It's also been great to see this collection of players appear from the woodwork and contribute in their own individual ways".
The Porch Project has been a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with musicians I have previously played with in groups such as the QE Jazz band and to meet more talented musicians in the local area. I love playing for the people of Coleford and the surrounding area; they are a very appreciative audience! A big thank you must go to my former violin teacher, who has 'orchestrated' the whole endeavour. Her enthusiasm is infectious (in the best meaning)!
At a time where spirits could be low and structure seems to have lost its meaning, I've found it comforting to have a consecutive weekly event. I've really enjoyed playing some live music for Coleford's community and have witnessed how the session reintroduces people to each other. Being a part of a music group that makes the audience say things such as "long time no see" or "how nice to see you here" and then to descend into long catch-ups and conversations, is always a lovely feeling.
I like playing music with people in real life (i.e. not online). It’s such a nice way to feel part of a community. Also, quite importantly, it reminds me what day of the week I am on!
The musicians have been playing in the porch of the historic Spencer Cottage in the centre of Coleford. Built in the 1530s, it is a timber-framed cruck truss building with cob, typical of 16th century buildings in Devon.
The timber-framed porch on oak stilts is particularly significant, giving Spencer Cottage a 2 star listing. The listing states this is one of the earliest surviving timber-framed buildings in Devon.
It is said that during the English Civil War, Charles 1 stood under the porch whilst reviewing his troops en route to battle in Bow.