Friday, 5 February 2010

Rediscovering the music of a Black Country bugler

The musical heritage of the Black Country is a sadly neglected area, which is a great shame as there are many real gems just waiting to be unearthed and brought back to life. To this end, Stourbridge-born musician Fynn Titford-Mock (now in his final year at Newcastle University) will be co-leading a singing workshop and concert of the music of Black Country composers on Saturday 20th February, with the help of Stourbridge-based youth choir Stream of Sound and their leader Caroline Price. The event is called ‘Come Let Our Voices Join!’

For his dissertation Fynn is researching the life and music of the Coseley composer Joseph Nicholds (c.1784-1860). Nicholds played the ophicleide (a forerunner of the tuba) and the keyed bugle, and was for some time the bandmaster of Wombwell’s Menagerie, a famous Victorian travelling zoo. The remains of his memorial stone can still be seen in the old Sedgley cemetery.

This kind of music is variously called vernacular sacred music, psalmody, or West Gallery Music (after the gallery where the musicians sat in church); it is the sort of music proudly performed by the rustics so lovingly described by Thomas Hardy in his novels, such as Under the Greenwood Tree. It is lively, thrilling and exciting to sing, especially when bringing to sound music which has lain dormant for at least 150 years, and made all the more enjoyable with the support of a fantastic choir of young people.

Music included in the workshop and concert will include several hymns and a fantastic anthem by Nicholds; some pieces by the Tipton coalminer Joseph Williams, killed by debris from a mining explosion in 1834; a piece by his contemporary John Nicholls of Tipton, about whom nothing is known; and pieces from a collection published in 1829 by Richard Bourne, organist of St. Thomas’ Church, Dudley.

Stream of Sound, started in 1997 and led by Caroline Price, is primarily a world music choir, but became interested in West Gallery Music through singing American Shapenote music, and this prompted Fynn to start searching local libraries and archives for more musical treasures. His searches continue, and he would be glad to hear from anyone who knows of any music, especially by Joseph Nicholds.

The workshop is open to anyone with an interest in singing and discovering more about this music. Ability to read music, although helpful, is not essential as most of the pieces are not complicated; each voice part will be taught and the music can be learnt by ear. Some of the pieces will also be accompanied by instruments.

The workshop is from 10am-4.30pm, on Saturday 20th February, at Elmfield School, Love Lane, Stourbridge, DY8 2EA. Cost: £10

The concert will be at 7.30pm in St. Thomas’ Church, Market Street, Stourbridge, DY8 1AQ. Cost of concert alone: £8 (£7 concessions)

For further information and booking, go to: or ring: 01384 394185
You can hear Stream of Sound at

1 comment:

  1. I am glad to say that the whole day went really well, and everyone enjoyed themselves! We hope to put on a similar event in the future.
    There are a few videos of the concert which you can see here:
    Preparation by Joseph Nicholds
    Aries by Joseph Williams
    Diadem by Joseph Williams

    Fynn Titford-Mock