Now in its twentieth season, and many awards for tourism received, Sherborne Abbey Festival can justifiably be described as a well established event! There can be no doubt that in Sherborne the first weekend in May now means only one thing – wonderful music of all kinds.
This year’s programme is no exception, and is full of exciting and adventurous concerts, workshops and performances; something for all tastes and ages and up to 70% of all performances free entry.
It is a centre for several schools as well as a popular tourist attraction. Surrounded by green and pleasant hills, the town is a “must” for visitors who wish to enjoy the Abbey’s 15th century Perpendicular architecture and in particular the glorious fan-vaulted roof. For thirteen centuries the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been a place of prayer and pilgrimage. From Saxon cathedral to Benedictine abbey, the abbey exudes history and reverence as a very special place of worship. It is the “Cathedral of Dorset” and is an ideal concert venue and place of pilgrimage for music lovers to visit. The abbey is therefore the natural stage for the major events of the festival as well as being the principal building in the town
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
With the Vicar’s support a working party was set up to explore the idea of how the festival could work, with the initial group made up of John, the Vicar, The Revd. Canon Eric Woods, Malcolm Archer, Master of Choristers at Wells Cathedral and John Padley, Choir Master at Sherborne Abbey. The working party decided that it would be a good idea to aim for a four day festival at the beginning of May 2000. It was also agreed that it should be based around the liturgy, rather than being purely liturgical, as this would allow the festival to host a wider variety of concerts. With many ideas and much enthusiasm, there was only one key factor that the working party needed to arrange for the first festival to go ahead – the funding. In this instance it was the Parochial Church Council (PCC) who came up trumps with enthusiastic support and a loan of £1000, to act as a ‘pump primer’ in order to facilitate funds to be obtained from other sources. This loan was agreed between John Baker and the PCC on the understanding that any profits made would be used to fund future festivals and to promote music in the Parish.
THE AIMS OF THE FESTIVAL
In the third year of the festival, the role of Concert Manager was formalised, with John Bowles being the first to take up the voluntary role and Andrew Cross taking over from 2005 onwards. The support of Committee members John Jenkins – Director of Music at Sherborne Girls, Bernard Brown – Abbey Treasurer, Malcolm Archer – Master of Choristers at Wells Cathedral and Sue Cameron – Secretary to the Festival, was also invaluable. The first festival cost £5,000 to stage; it made approximately £2,500 profit and, as a consequence, we were able to pay back the loan to the PCC before the festival actually took place.
WHERE WE ARE TODAY
More financial support is of course welcome, especially as the Festival continues to grow in popularity and the demands increase. Each year, profits are reinvested in the following year’s Festival enabling it to invite more and more artists of international renown.
The profits have also enabled the Festival to support various local initiatives such as music and singing lessons for the Abbey choristers, support and funding for Sherborne Young Singers and the Sherborne Young Musician of the Year event. We also give financial assistance, where needed, to music scholars to progress their musical careers.