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Affiliated to the British & International Federation of Festivals for Music, Dance and Speech

Important Dates


1 March 2022 - Closing date for entries to the Wharfedale Festival of Performing Arts Speech, Drama and Music Festival 2022.

17th- 20th May 2022 - 2022 Wharfedale Festival of Performing Arts Speech, Drama and Music Festival.

To celebrate the 70th festival in 1976 Robert Lantaff prepared a short history up to that date. A number of interesting events and developments have occurred since then which are well worth reporting and have therefore been included in this update (1996). Since the historical background obviously remains the same, I have merely included the original text with suitable amendments and additions.

In this series of articles, "I" refers to Robert Lantaff and the original copyright remains with him. These articles are repeated for anyone interested in the history of the Wharfedale Festival.



The first public intimation of the intention to promote a local competitive music festival appeared in the Ilkley Gazette, on the 14th September, 1906, when 'all who are interested in music are asked to attend a public meeting to be held in the Spa Hydro Hall, Ilkley, Thursday 20th September, at 3.15 p.m.' The meeting was presided over by Mrs. Steinthal, and sixty-three people were addressed by Mr. F.S.Hatchard of the Pontefract Musical Competition. Those assembled came from various townships and villages from Arthington to Grassington. An Executive Committee was formed and charged with the task of arranging the first festival. Letters of encouragement were received from the King's organist, Sir Walter Parratt, and Mr. Henry Wood, who wrote:

Very many thanks for your kind and delightful letter. I can assure you of my deepest interest in what you and some other musical enthusiasts are trying to bring about. I wish you the greatest success. The only thing that one can do in this country in regard to musical development is to work away in undiminished enthusiasm, and to be patient, but shrinking back from the task only once means nearly always losing everything. And now, good luck, good speed, and success. This is what I wish you and your friends.

The Committee excluded professional musicians, and only after some lengthy discussion was it acknowledged that they could play an important role by serving on an advisory committee for the selection of music.

The timing of the first public meeting, at 3.15 on a Thursday afternoon, indicates that the musical and organising competence was adjudged to rest solely with the 'leisured class', a point not overlooked by an Ilkley citizen who wrote to the Committee suggesting that a wider involvement could have been attained by holding their meetings in the evening.

The Committee's reaction was to indicate that 'artisan and tradespeople could assist the work of the festival by offering hospitality to competitors'.

The first festival was held in the Grove Lecture Hall and the Assembly Hall, Wells Road - the building of the Kings Hall not being completed at that time. The audience had the choice of upholstered or wooden seats at l/6d. or l/-d. respectively. The books of vice-presidents' tickets bore the following instruction:

The reserved seat for the Saturday evening Concert is for Evening Dress but tickets will be exchanged for seats in the Lecture Hall, Morning Dress, on application to Mr. Fred. Heap, The Grove, Ilkley. If application be made immediately, excellent reserved seats, Morning Dress, can be booked in the Lecture Hall.

The programme carried the advice 'Carriages should be ordered for...'

The first festival's 204 entries were judged by Dr. W.G. McNaught and Mr. H. Whittaker; the programme included classes for school choirs, pianoforte, violin, bass and baritone solos, soprano and contralto duets (but not solos), vocal quartets and choir classes for church and chapel, mixed and male voice choirs.

For twenty years preliminary tests were held for young solo pianists in the privacy of the Town Hall Committee Room, the adjudicators selecting three competitors to perform publicly later in the day. In order to improve the standard of musicianship the Committee introduced sight reading and aural tests, these likewise being held in the Committee Rooms. The congestion caused by competitors queuing up for their turn was something of a nuisance to the Town Hall staff, and this provoked a letter of complaint which inadvertently referred to 'Sight Testing' classes. They were discontinued in 1931 when financial difficulties necessitated a reduction in the programme.

Mr. A. Aitken Crawshaw and Dr. W.R. Bates acted as joint Secretaries for the first two festivals, Mr. Crawshaw returning in 1922 as the Rev. A. Aitken Crawshaw, Vicar of Oughtibridge, to adjudicate the Country Dancing and Singing Games. Since the avowed aim of the promoters was to encourage young performers in every way, it seems now somewhat inconsistent that a charge was made for a copy of adjudicator's remarks, plus a further charge to sit in the hall as a member of the audience in order to hear the remaining classes in session.

The year 1908 saw the festival in its permanent home, the Kings Hall Ilkley, a marquee being erected on the site of the present Winter Gardens in order to accommodate the competitors awaiting their turn.

Robert Lantaff (C) 1976 & 1996

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