The village church band; an interesting survival.
In Musical News, July 8 1883, pp31-32, and July 15, 1883, pp.56-58.
It is only at the church of Winterboume Abbas, a mile further up tbe valley,
that a band still exists. Our first introduction to the little edifice and its quaint
customs will always be impressed on our mind. It was a hot July afternoon, the
service commenced at 3, but the villagers preferred to remain outside until the
cessation of the bell advised them that the parson was waiting for his
congregation. The attraction for us, however, was not the outward charm of the
village Sabbath, but the unwonted sounds which issued from within the
church. We entered, and the reason was apparent - it was the band getting into
tune for their immediate duties. There are now three performers, and as the
leader, who has kept his men well together, last year celebrated his jubilee as a
member of the church band. he and his fellow-musicians deserve mention by
name. The band is composed as follows:
Clarinet and leader, John Dunford, thatcher.
Flute, Richard Tompkins, farm labourer.
Bass, William Dunford, shepherd.
They are placed at the west end of the church, under the tower, on a rising
platform, the violoncello and flute playing at a long desk on the tower step,
while the clarinet stands at a desk on the step above, supported on either side
by the singers, and in a position to mark the time for all by the swing of his
instrument. The whole effect as we saw it on that occasion was most
picturesque, and, when the Canticles were sung to well-known double chants,
the little building resounded with the lusty voices of the villagers. We awaited
with great interest the first hymn, for the musicians had not favoured us with a
voluntary except the "tuning up", nor had they played over the chants. The
worthy Rector, a Fellow of an Oxford College, and Proctor of his University,
when Sir Henry Bishop received his Doctor's degree, is now laid to rest. As he
gave out the psalm on that afternoon from the square reading pew,
overshadowed by a lofty Jacobean pulpit, nothing else could have been desired
to complete the quaintness of the surroundings, "Let us sing, to the praise and
glory of God, the One Hundredth Psalm" - whereupon the band struck up in
unison, or as near it as the warm afternoon would permit, the following phrase,
based evidently on the watchman's refrain, 'Past three o'clock'.
To our disappointment the Psalm was not played over, but the opening verse
read through by the minister. Then the singing commenced; for the first verse
the trio of musicians divided itself thus, the clarinet played the air, the flute the
tenor (an octave above the voice) and the violoncello the bass. The tune
"going" thoroughly well, in the second verse the clarinet proceeded to play the
alto an octave higher, so for the remainder of the Psalm we were in this order,
alto (8ve higher), tenor (8ve higher), air, bass, an arrangement which
apparently did not distress the performers or disconcert the singers. The
clarinet, moreover, did not forget to add such grace notes as the words
required, with an occasional low 'Chalumeau' note and an equally occasional
tap on the head of some recalcitrant youngster in front.
Galpin asked tbe Winterboume Abbas band to play at his wedding in
Winterbourne Steepleton in 1889.
... After the wedding was over an appropriate wedding march was naturally
expected. Mendelssohn and Wagner being out of the question, and Jackson's
Te Deum hardly suitable, a martial hymn tune was the next best thing.
Unfortunately, the leader's choice fell on Cooper's St.Alban, and, in spite of
the festive variations with which the clarinet adorned the air, bride and
bridegroom left the church to the suggestive strains of:
Onward, Christian Soldiers,
Marching as to war...
They did, however, return to the same church 50 years later to give thanks for
a long happy marriage.