The Village Quire

West Gallery Music Vocal Workshops

West Gallery music is what you would have heard in rural parish churches in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  It is energetic, joyful, no-nonsense stuff that is great fun to sing and listen to.  If you enjoy the thrilling sound of unaccompanied vocal harmony, then this is definitely the stuff for you.

Why is this style of harmony singing called ‘West Gallery’ music? Well, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries much of the floor space of the typical rural parish church was either rented out or owned by more or less wealthy parishioners.  Where, then, to house the choir?  The answer was to build a gallery at the tower or West end of the church, hence: ‘West’ gallery.

Picture yourself, then, in such a church on a typical Sunday in the late eighteenth century.  When it was time for a sung part of the service to be performed the choir would burst into song from behind the congregation!

We promise that The Village Quire will not sneak up on you like that!  But it is time now to ‘face the music’...

In our workshop we will get to grips with different aspects of the West Gallery tradition.

Simple settings of psalm texts are often extremely powerful.  This is where we will begin.

Such music is apparently rather mundane, but contains harmonies which will blow your socks off.  It is simple but very effective and definitely from the school of less is more.  Another genre we will get to know is the fuging tune.  These are a bit more elaborate.  They are not real fugues like those of Handel, but they do contain sections where the voice parts enter one after another, gradually building up a glorious jigsaw-puzzle of sound.

Village musicians who frequented West Galleries were also to be found making music in more relaxed social settings too – the local tavern, for instance.  We will learn a catch of the period to see how the ability to sing in parts, acquired in the church quire schools, added a bit of zest to parish social life, too.  Finally, if time permits, we will make a quick foray into the rich store of West Gallery Christmas music – just a taste of the sort of thing that the Hardy family might have sung when ‘going the rounds’ with the Stinsford Quire. Throughout the workshop we will try to give a wider social, historical and musical context to the songs we learn.

Printed music will be available on the day but our workshops can also be enjoyed to the full by those who learn by ear.

We hope that this whistle stop tour of West Gallery music will whet your appetite and leave you wanting to know about, hear and sing more of this sort of thing.

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