A noteworthy festival for aspiring young artists

A noteworthy festival for aspiring young artists
Young musicians at the Tunbridge Wells Arts Festival

Every year, budding young violinists, cellists, pianists and actors have the opportunity to take part in the Tunbridge Wells Arts Festival, a supportive platform for those who love to perform.

This year the festival will see children from an array of local primary and secondary schools, including Kent College Pembury, Matfield & Brenchley Primary, Beechwood Sacred Heart and Marlborough House, getting up on stage at Kent College to showcase their talents.

According to Jacquie Hawthorn, the festival’s Committee Secretary, the annual event – which has been going since 1948 – gives participants the chance to perform in front of an audience and panel of professional adjudicators, where they receive ‘encouraging verbal and written advice’ from the judging panel.

The categories range from piano, strings, woodwind and brass to recitals, speech and drama, and each one reflects each child’s age and grading. There is also a choir element to the two-day festival, where schools can enter the children’s, junior, intermediate or senior sections.

“All entrants are also awarded a certificate, classified according to merit,” continues Jacquie. “Class winners receive a medal and may be eligible for a trophy, presented at the GEMS concert and prize-
giving on the weekend after the festival. We welcome beginners just as warmly as the most accomplished performer.”

What does Jacquie think the participants enjoy most? “Performing!” she says. “Being part of the festival also gives them a chance to hone their skills in front of an audience and professional adjudicators who provide valuable feedback on their performance, which they may use to improve their skills. Many of our performers use our platform to practise before an up and coming exam, too.”

The prize-giving ceremony and GEMS concert, so named because the festival’s organisers consider participants to be the ‘jewels in the crown’, will be held at Trinity Theatre on March 22 at 2.30pm, when the Mayor, James Scholes, will present trophies and awards.

Jacquie says most of the participants are from Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Sevenoaks, with the odd one from further afield. “This year we have nearly 400 competitors, most of whom will be accompanied by family and friends. We also have nine full choirs entering, and over the festival weekend we usually see up to 1,000 people coming along.”

Many competitors go on to study at prestigious music colleges, including the Scottish Conservatoire and the Royal Academy of Music.

One such example is Isabel Pearce, who first competed in the festival back in 1956, aged nine.

“Isabel entered the festival every year until she was 17, and went off to study at the Royal Academy of Music.

Her piano teacher, Grace Sutton, who later became Chairman of the Tunbridge Wells Arts Festival for a period, invited Isabel to compete, along with other pupils from Sevenoaks School. She played many piano duets with Bernard King, who himself has gone on to be an ABRSM examiner after studying at the Scottish Conservatoire, and later played the oboe.

“In Isabel’s own words, they were a ‘brilliant pairing’, winning most of the trophies every year.”

Jacquie says the duo’s success can be tracked courtesy of the engravings on the numerous trophies awarded every year.

“My own daughter has her name inscribed on one that Isabel won many years ago. She, too, has gone on to study music at the Royal College after many years of association with the festival, again entering first when she was nine, as a singer.”

Jacquie adds that during a recent conversation with Isabel, now 74, she revealed that at one time Sir Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, journalist Emma Soames, took part in the festival, playing the piano.

“Isabel still plays the piano for a ballet school in Sevenoaks, and continues to play in many orchestras. She will be attending our festival on Sunday this year, and looks forward to sharing her very fond memories.”

For more information,
visit twaf.co.uk


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