It was good to see a packed Abbot’s Hall at Battle Abbey for the first Ashburnham English SongJunior Awards on 21st November 2023 and it quickly became evident that we were going to be hearing some very fine young voices. With the Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, Mr. Andrew Blackman, watching, this was a challenging event for the young singers and, suitably suited and booted, they all conquered their nerves and rose to the occasion. Works by composers such as Purcell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Ireland and Benjamin Britten were sung with the audience reacting warmly to each performance.
Adjudicating with our Artistic Director Louise Winter was Mary Weingold, a highly experienced and respected Professor of Voice at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London and before presenting the Awards, Mary explained the reasoning behind their choices: ‘the voice may be beautiful but the singer also needs to connect with the audience and tell the song’s story with emotion’. It was this ability that won Alfie Gidney the First Prize of a £100 voucher, kindly donated by Brittens Music. Alfie performed Go Lovely Rose by Roger Quilter and Dusk by Armstrong Gibbs. Mary Weingold was deeply impressed with Alfie’s beautiful voice, clear diction and, above all, his sensitive performance of the works he had chosen and she thought that a very exciting future could be ahead of him.
A second prize of a £50 Brittens Music voucher was awarded to Edie Holm for her lovely performance of A Blackbird Singing by Michael Head and Dream Valley by Roger Quilter. Too often, the contribution of the pianist can be overlooked, but it is always a collaborative performance with the pianist playing an equal role and there were some very promising young pianists accompanying the singers. Prizes were also awarded to Rupert Sheppard and Alexander Wakeford for their exceptionally fine playing; these are surely names to watch for in the years ahead.
It was both delightful and encouraging to hear songs from our centuries-old heritage of music brought to life by a new generation of singers.
We are so grateful to Battle Abbey School for making this event possible by allowing us to use the beautiful Abbot’s Hall and for their generous hospitality afterwards. Also to Brittens Music for donating the Singers’ prizes.