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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.


An interesting reflection on the social and industrial pattern of the early days is highlighted by a letter of complaint from a Leeds Male Voice Choir which was requested to report at the Kings Hall on Saturday afternoon at 2.30 p.m. The Secretary protested that most of his men had lost pay by leaving work early in order to catch the 1.00 p.m. train from Leeds, only to be kept waiting until their turn to sing came around 4.00 p.m. 'Works' choirs still enter festivals but it can be assumed that very little, if any, loss of pay occurs.

It was a Mixed Voice Choir that in 1921 gave rise to another complaint which almost resulted in litigation. This choir was disqualified for allegedly singing with more than the permitted maximum of forty singers, but for some unaccountable reason the objection was not conveyed to them at the time. It was not until three months and ten letters later, after the helpful intervention of the National Association of Choirs, that the matter was settled. The offending choir was disqualified from its third place and the prize awarded to the choir originally placed fourth. The Choir Secretary wrote to the effect that his choir would never again visit the Wharfedale Festival... but it did, thirty-eight years later!

The Railway Companies were always willing to run extra trains if there was sufficient demand and also issue return tickets at favourable discount rates, e.g. a day-return from Normanton to Ilkley at 4/-d. More than once has Ilkley Station resounded to the strain of choirs beguiling waiting passengers with their repertoire. Nowadays, the Male Voice Choirs repair to the nearest hostelry before boarding their coaches home. During a recent Finals Concert the conductor of the winning choir publicly referred to 'Ale voice music'. Choirs competing in the Open Classes have travelled from as far as Macclesfield, Northumberland, Hull, Belfast, Birmingham and Barrow. The record for attendance is held by Keighley Vocal Union (28), Huddersfield Vocal Union (21) and Bradford Vocal Union (32).

Festival Secretaries frequently bemoan the fact that choirs are somewhat fickle in their support. It is not unusual to receive twelve entries one year but only one or two in the next. This inconsistency may be due to dislike of a particular adjudicator, dislike of the music set, concert engagements or clash of festival dates. The standard of choral singing throughout the years has been at a very high level. Maurice Jacobson once commented that a Mixed Voice Choir was the best he had heard at any festival. Judging from press reports from 1907 to 1975, adjudicators in praising choirs have used all the superlatives in the English language. This excellent singing rarely failed to engender great excitement when the three finalists took the platform at the Finals Concert in order to conclude the competitions. Some regular supporters regret that no longer is it possible to plan a Finals Concert on this basis, since, as mentioned earlier, choir support is by no means consistent, thus causing the committee to present what is basically a Prize Winners Concert in which winning choirs participate.

Occasionally the adjudicator conducts a combined performance of the set piece and on one such occasion a combined choir of 200 voices gave a performance of the Sanctus from Bach's B Minor Mass, surely one of the most impressive sounds ever heard in the Kings Hall.

School Choirs, likewise have been the subject of favourable comments by adjudicators. In 1967 John Churchill said of the Ilkley and the Salts Grammar School Madrigal Groups, 'Very few schools in the country could produce such groups as these two ... I mean that sincerely.' Nowadays, fewer School Choirs appear, there being a steady decline in number since the high level entry of 28 choirs in 1960. In 1918 non-competitive classes were introduced for the benefit of Elementary Schools where specialist music teaching was nonexistent, but these classes were badly supported and eventually withdrawn. During the 1930's local Guides, Scouts and Cub Packs regularly supported their special classes, occasionally requesting the audience to join in the refrain of such songs as Widdicombe Fair and Admiral Benbow. One gathers that the audience response was at most half-hearted.

In 1929 Mr. Julius Harrison awarded the First Ilkley (Parish Church Troop conducted by Arthur E. Pickett) 81 marks. He spoke to them on the subject of rhythm and tone; on the announcement of the marks the troop responded with the scout cry based on the words, 'Mr. Julius Harrison, Hurrah, Hurrah, Hurrah!' Mr. Harrison at once turned round to them as he was returning to his table and said '50 for rhythm; none for tone!'

Robert Lantaff (C) 1976 & 1996



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