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 – celebrated its 88th festival in 2018. 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.
In 2015, to celebrate our 85th festival, we held a ‘Tea Party’ to which we invited all our sponsors, including the 13 Town and parish Councils which have given us grants that year. We also invited all of our loyal band of over 60 stewards without whom we would not be able to continue. We were pleased that we were joined by our new President, Gioia Minghella, sister of the late Anthony Mingella, internationally renowned film director. Gioia took on this role upon the death of her mother, Gloria Minghella, continuing the link the family has had with the festival for many years. To also celebrate our 85th year we held a Finale Gala, dedicated to the memory of Gloria Minghella, with performances from all three disciplines of the Festival – Music, Dance and Drama.
The Festival is currently vibrant, successful and secure. The number of entries has remained fairly constant for the last few years, although the Dance section entries fluctuate bi-annually as we are a qualifying festival for the All England Dance Competition only every other year.
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.