Similar in style to Shape-Note singing, West Gallery music was sung by village choirs in English country churches from the 18th century onwards. Performing from within the ‘West Galleries’ of churches, village singers were often by accompanied by a band of musicians playing instruments such as fiddle, serpent and trombone.
There are many factors that led to the loss of these village choirs: the desire of clergy to regain control of the sung matter; the musical purists who disliked the tunes and arrangements that broke many of their musical rules; church restorers who chose not to replace the old and creaky West Galleries. Out went the quirky musicians and their hand-written tunes; in came local schoolmistresses playing the harmonium and eventually, in 1861, Hymns Ancient and Modern. With his father and grandfather both playing in the church band at Stinsford near Dorchester, the demise of this style of music forms part of the story in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Under the Greenwood Tree.’
A number of rural churches in the South Dorset Ridgeway area have retained their West Galleries, and as part of a series of Heritage Lottery funded South Dorset Ridgeway projects, a choir of local singers and musicians is reviving the West Gallery style of music. Led by folk musician Tim Laycock and Phil Humphries of The Mellstock Band, and following the success of last autumn’s West Gallery concerts and the Hammond folk song project this summer, the Ridgeway Singers and Band have regrouped this autumn and explored West Gallery carols from the Puddletown and Pulham manuscripts. The performers have also worked on two newly composed carols inspired by the South Dorset Ridgeway, and will present them as part of a special programme in two concerts through Artsreach this winter, in a true celebration of the Christmas spirit.
Sun 30th Nov, 3:30pm. St Mary the Virgin Church Puddletown.
Tickets £5, including mulled wine and mince pie. Tel Diana Wilson: 01305 848510
Sun 14th Dec, 3:30pm. St Swithun’s Church, North Allington.
Tickets £5, including mulled wine and mince pie. Tel: 01305 269512