THE BEGINNINGS OF THE ISLE OF WIGHT MUSICAL COMPETITION FESTIVAL
The Isle of Wight Music, Dance and Drama Festival – formerly The Isle of Wight Musical Competition Festival – will celebrate its 90th festival in 20. There has been a festival every year since 1924, except for the war years.
Back in September 1923 a meeting attended by influential members of the music profession, resolved to institute an Isle of Wight Festival. The aim was to act as an incentive to higher standards of performance and musical appreciation on the Island. H.R.H Princess Beatrice, the then Governor of the Isle of Wight, agreed to give her patronage to the Festival. For the initial Festival, The British Federation of Musical Festivals contributed £40 and supporters raised a further £80, the grand total of £120 being roughly equivalent to a year’s wages for a skilled artisan!
In 1925, the earliest year for which we have a programme, there were 725 entries into 58 classes. In 1949 there were 1950 entries into 177 classes. In 2018 we had 1862 entries into 376 classes. In 1925 all the classes were in Ryde Town Hall, held over just four days! We now use four venues in three towns over a three week period.
That year they celebrated the Silver Jubilee of the first Festival, 25 years, not Festivals, as it was only the 19th actual Festival because of the break during the war.
The foreword in the 1949 programme was written by Gerald Abraham, one of the musicians present at the meeting in 1923 when the idea of an Island Festival was first discussed.
Evening concerts were still a feature of the Festival and the audience would be invited to join in singing Jerusalem, the words to which were printed in the programme. The programme infers that late trains were still being run so that audiences could get home after the concerts. The County Press noted that “at the Thursday evening concert the Town Hall was packed and over 200 people had to be turned away”
Several classes were held in the Royal York Ballroom, the Royal York being, according to an advert in the Programme, “the island’s largest and most modern hotel.”
The sizes of some of the classes are worth mentioning.
Class 55 Piano Solo Ages 11½ to 12 – 55 entries
Class 56 Piano Solo Ages 12 to 12½ – 39 entries
Class 64 Piano Solo Open Any Age – 80 entries
Class 70 Piano Duet Ages 11 and 12 – 29 entries
Class 71 Piano Duet Ages 13, 14 and 15 – 37 entries
Class 93 Girls Vocal Solo Ages 8 to 11 – 75 entries
Class 94 Girls Vocal Solo Ages 12 to 14 – 71 entries
Class 124 Sight Reading Ages 13 and under – 44 entries
All these, except the sight reading, were set pieces, so the adjudicators certainly earned their pay. The class for the girls 13 to 14 year vocal solo had 71 competitors, started at half-past three and lasted until a quarter to nine. Just after 7 o’clock the adjudicator ordered all the competitors out in the fresh air for five minutes “to keep your mind in gear”. The adjudicator called seven back to sing again before the final placings were decided, one of which had to be fetched back as she had “gone home to bed.”
Overall eleven adjudicators were employed during the week of the Festival. We now use only five adjudicators, all professional adjudicators from the British and International Federation of Festivals.
In all in 1949 there were 1950 entries into 177 classes. Currently we average slightly more entries into over 300 classes. Quite an achievement when so many Festivals have closed.
The Festival, the only one of its kind on the Island, provides an opportunity for public performance of a wide range of disciplines in a supportive environment with constructive feedback from professional, internationally recognised, adjudicators designed to encourage participants to improve and to achieve their best. We are careful to select the most appropriate venues for the different classes. Performing in front of an audience helps to greatly improve performers’ general confidence, especially the young. This has been confirmed by comments made to us by Head Teachers and choir leaders.
All classes are judged by paid professional national and international adjudicators who have been assessed and approved by the British and International Federation of Festivals for Music, Dance and Speech. All performers are given a written assessment of their performance by the Adjudicator.
Some excel and go on to careers in the performing arts. We know that several are currently performing in the West End. Others develop a life-long love of their discipline, enhancing their own lives and the lives of others, many taking part in the Festival throughout their lives. We know of children whom are taking part whose parents and grandparents also entered.
The late Anthony Minghella CBE, the highly acclaimed film director, playwright and screenwriter first got his passion for drama by taking part in the festival.
The Festival is open to any performer of any age. We have children as young as 3 and adults in their 80’s taking part. We also have non-competitive classes for adults and children with learning difficulties.
The fact that the 2020 Festival will be our 90th Festival and that we regularly get around 2,000 entries, several being children and grandchildren of past competitors, demonstrates that there continues to be a demand for our Festival.
Part of the reason for our survival is that we try to evolve as the world evolves. We adapt and bring in new classes as needed. For example, the pop and rock and musical theatre classes now occupy a whole day at Shanklin Theatre, the venue being chosen, although more expensive, as the most suitable for these types of performances with a professional sound system and engineer. We are also fortunate that our local paper gives us very good coverage with several pages of reports and photographs and the results of every class.
In alternate years our Dance section forms part of the All England Dance competition (www.all-england-dance.org.uk), founded in 1923 and whose main purpose is educational.
The IWMDDF is affiliated to the British and International Federation of Festivals for Music, Dance and Speech (www.federationoffestivals.org.uk), which also started in the early 1900s. It is run under their rules and we are open to inspection by them at any time.
All IWMDDF officials and stewards are volunteers.