High Notes in Our History

 

The Strathearn Music Society came into being in 1966, as the Strathearn Arts Guild, when a group of like minded individuals, who thought that Crieff and the surrounding area would welcome a more active musical and artistic life, put their ideas into practice.

The first Chairman was Stephen Lauder, who remained in post until 1975. The Guild's first concert was held in Academy Hall on Saturday 12th November 1966 under the auspices of the Scottish Committee of the Arts Council of Great Britain. Tickets cost 5/- and the performers were Tryphena Nixon, Contralto, Harry Stevenson, Bass-Baritone, Daphne Godson, Violin and Kathleen Belford, Piano.

First Concert

By the end of the season three concerts had been held and about nine hundred people, of whom one quarter were schoolchildren, had attended. Initial enthusiasm was built upon in the following years and performers included not only classical artistes but also theatre groups. St Michael's Church Hall, the Assembly Hall of Crieff Secondary School and Crieff Hydro Drawing Room were the venues in these early years.

Once the Guild was well established, there was a proposal that a piano should be purchased and a fund was set up for this purpose. With the help of the Scottish Arts Council, a Bosendorfer Grand was obtained. It made its first appearance in Crieff on 30th March 1974, at a concert in Crieff Secondary School. This inaugural recital was given by Allan Schiller and sponsored by the BBC, which recorded the performance for later transmission on Radio 3. Unfortunately, the piano later had to be sold.

In 1975 the late Alan Andrews became Chairman and for him three highlights stood out. "We had two very entertaining lecture-recitals. One of these was by the percussionist, James Blades, whose claim to fame was that he provided the sound for the opening sequence for the J. Arthur Rank films, where a bronzed adonis struck a huge gong. He was a glorious eccentric, regaling us with tales of a long and rich musical life. I can still see him stepping off the train in Perth with a massive amount of (percussion) luggage, including the trademark giant cymbal, which seemed bigger than he was”.

"The other lecture-recital was given by Jack Brymer, Principal Clarinet with the London Symphony Orchestra, then under the baton of Andre Previn. Jack Brymer, who died only a few years ago, looked like a bank manager, but he had a wicked sense of humour and a vast fund of stories, mostly hilarious, of life with one of the world's finest orchestras. He was happiest performing in evening dress, but Andre Previn (famously "Mr Preview" to Morecambe and Wise) had other ideas; and, although Jack was dismissive of what he regarded as gimmickry, he stoutly defended Previn as a brilliant musician, on the keyboard and the podium. And I was lucky enough to accompany this wonderful clarinettist!"


 

                                                     

 

"Probably the best-known musician to visit Crieff was Sir Peter Pears, who sang in Crieff Parish Church, where he was accompanied by the Welsh harpist, Ossian Ellis. His famous voice soared in classical pieces, but the musical highlight of the evening was a performance of the Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo by Benjamin Britten, his long-time friend and partner. To meet him was one of the peaks of being chairman, and that was to encounter his great courtesy: He was a "verray parfit gentil knight." It's good when your icons turn out to be nice! “

 

David Crosbie took over as Chairman in 1980 and remained in post until 1989. The most important change during that time was the move from Crieff High School to the Hydro, a more popular and more comfortable venue. Members enjoyed a varied selection of excellent artistes, with Scottish Opera-Go-Round visiting twice in these years, performing "Don Giovanni" and "Carmen". As an innovation for Games Weekend in August 1981, two special concerts were put on, one by Bill McCue and the other a Fiddlers' Concert.

A piano festival was held to celebrate the Guild's twenty first anniversary in 1987. A great deal of fundraising and a lot of sponsorship were required and it was to this end that the Strathearn Music Society Singers were formed and presented a number of varied and enjoyable concerts. The Festival was held in the Hydro Drawing Room on 17th, 18th and 19th June 1987. There were three programmes each day with the opening concert being given by local schools. One notable item (in retrospect) was a horn solo, by one Ewan McGregor. Graeme McNaught, winner of the first Scottish Piano Competition gave one of the evening concerts and Peter Katin, the well known concert pianist, gave the final concert. The success of the event, both artistically and financially, was mainly due to the incredible amount of effort put in by the committee
members.

Phil Dyer, Chairman from 1989 until 1995 recalled his time in office "These six years were full of happy musical experiences. The concerts were, almost without exception, of a very high standard, with the result that all the hard work put in by the committee was suitably rewarded. Of the many highlights, I remember most vividly the 25th Anniversary Concert in the summer of 1991. Peter Donahoe was equally entertaining both on stage and during the excellent dinner in the Hydro which followed. Other things which are clear in my mind still were the introduction of new staging and lighting, starting coach travel for our Comrie members, Tunnell Trust winners starting to come to Crieff and lastly the silencing of the Drawing Room clock - which always struck during the quietest of music!" It was in 1990 that a new constitution was adopted and the Strathearn Arts Guild became Strathearn Music Society.

In 1995 the late John Grimson became Chairman and served until 2000. He remembered performances by artistes such as the Vanburgh Quartet, Edinburgh String Quartet (with our own Susan Smart on the cello) being most enjoyable. Members particularly appreciated piano recitals, including those by winners of the Scottish International Piano Competitions in 1995 and 1997 and by the winners of the Tunnell Prize.

Alison Hunter, who took over from John Grimson in the year 2000 and served until 2011, also has many happy memories of her years as Chairman of the Society and has seen a number of changes, including the successful transfer of the concert venue to Morrison's Academy Hall and the adoption of our now familiar corporate logo.

During Alison's time in office the Society hosted many well known performers, such as Camerata and the National Youth Choir of Scotland with Christopher Bell. In her own words: "I was fortunate indeed to take over from a succession of office bearers whose hard work had ensured that the Society was in excellent health. The past  years have seen the Society continue to thrive. In particular, our association with the East of Scotland Music Societies Tours Planning Group, since its formation in 2001, has allowed the joint promotion of many fine performances by artistes who would not normally be seen 'on one's doorstep' or indeed be affordable to clubs on an individual basis. I would be reluctant to single out any one performer or group of performers for special mention, as I feel that everyone has performed to an exceptionally high standard. Undoubtedly my greatest pleasure has been the introduction of the "Schools' Concerts" thanks in the early days  to the generous support of the Gordon Fraser Charitable Trust. In this day and age when young people have such ready access to 'popular music', it is vital that Societies such as ours encourage and promote an appreciation of classical music amongst the instrumental players and concert-goers of the future."