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The village church band; an interesting survival.

Francis W.Galpin

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.


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