The History of Christchurch Music Centre

In 1968 the Hampshire R.E. Adviser wrote five hymns, one for each day of the week, to be set to jazz arrangements by deputy Music Adviser, Victor Fox. Between them they had the vision of having them performed by school pupils in Christchurch Priory, and subsequently as part of a week-long series of ‘Epilogue’ programmes on BBC TV.  


The music was circulated to schools, with  chord symbols provided, to enable instrumental accompaniments to be devised.   Multi-school rehearsals were arranged at Christchurch Junior School on Saturday mornings.    Mr. Fox, a proficient jazz pianist, acted as accompanist, and as Stella Jackson-Smith’s instrumental experience and qualifications were known to him, he appointed her as conductor. The performance took place in Christchurch Priory in 1969, and was followed on BBC TV by an appearance in a week-long series of ‘Epilogue’ programmes.    


Schools became accustomed to the Saturday rehearsal routine,  and the parents pressed for them to continue after the project ended.   Mr. Fox declared that those in attendance should be known as  Christchurch Music Centre.  Unfortunately, the necessary funding had not been set up at County level.  As time went on, the two volunteer members of staff did not consider it safe to manage so great a number of children without County recognition and backing.  


In the Autumn of 1970, the very supportive parents, led by Mr. Jack Dwyer, (an Echo reporter and local resident), made a deputation to Winchester and pressed strongly and insistently for a formally recognised Music Centre to be put in place.

In  early 1971 a committee, formed from local parents and head teachers, officially opened Christchurch Music Centre at Twynham School,  with Stella Jackson-Smith (who became Head of Music there),  as Music Director, assisted by three other members of staff and a secretary.   The Hampshire County Education Authority’s philosophy was that the Music Centre Director should work within a school, to ensure that the work of the Centre was relevant to  the needs of school music departments.    


At this time, every school in Hampshire was provided  with free tuition on string instruments only.   As a result, Christchurch was very rich in string players at the time, with all other instruments  very much in the minority.   Stella chose a specialist string player, a specialist woodwind player and a specialist brass player to join her as C.M.C  staff.  


Many rooms were made available for practice and rehearsal purposes within  Twynham School,  including the Main Hall, the Small Hall, two Music Rooms and the Drama Hall. A full orchestra situation emerged at three levels, (Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced).  The beginners were known as the ‘Sarum’ orchestra, (as the conductor’s father was a Canon of Salisbury Cathedral).  The intermediate orchestra became the Priory Orchestra and the Senior Orchestra was named as the Camerata Orchestra.   The three groups rehearsed simulltaneously in separate rehearsal rooms. In the four-hour time allocation on Saturdays, this left plenty of time beyond the orchestral practices for individual music tuition and  work on small ensembles.  Associated Board and Guildhall School of Music and Drama exams were held on appropriate Saturdays, with the Music Centre as hosts. All three orchestras arranged  charity concerts and performances in the local community at their own level,  and they joined together in three major performances a year, one at the end of each term.


To celebrate the tenth anniversary, the Camerata Orchestra re-opened an earlier Christchurch  link with Barfleur, on the Cherbourg peninsular.  They were hosted by French families and gave the major performance in the Church there, as well as performing on the Quayside and in other smaller venues.   Full length skirts were made for the girls as their identifying uniform, and the boys had matching ties.   The visit was repeated for three more years.


Each summer, for four years,  we were required to give performances at Bucklers Hard Village Festival,  where everyone had to appear in medieval costume.  Mary Montague (Lord Montague’s daughter), became known  to us, and she arranged for us to play on Beaulieu Manor lawn  on the day following Bucklers Hard, so our performers stayed in overnight accommodation in a beach side block of  flats at Calshot RAF station. 


For a number of years , the Camerata Orchestra was invited to give a Saturday lunchtime recital in Salisbury Cathedral in the early Summer. The Clingan  Trust had provided us with an electronic  Church Organ, complete with full pedal board, and this instrument accompanied us on our tours. Tim Hooper, who spent most of his school years,as a member of CMC ,(from the age of 9 to 18), was our regular organists.  He was also a trumpeter. 


When Christchurch linked with Aalen as a twin town, their 70-strong town band joined their Mayor in his visit to sign the formal document here. Christchurch  Music Centre pupils and staff  hosted many of  the players and arranged their concert.  In the following year, a small CMC group spent a week in Aalen performing folk music at their town festival, and in two subsequent years, the whole orchestra travelled by double decker bus to Aalen  to give performances in the Town Hall there.


St. Lo, on the Cherbourg peninsular, was already twinned with Aalen, so when Christchurch joined them in this tri-partite Twinning link, the Camerata Orchestra made two weekend visits to perform in the great church  in St. Lo.   They were further invited  to join St. Lo citizens in an entirely secular ‘English weekend’  there one Christmas.  This was held  in a very great building well out of town,  with our concert as a conclusion to a whole day of what they considered to be ‘English-style-eating’.


The final overseas visit by the Camerata Orchestra was made to Valkenburg, in Holland, They had been invited to play in a Catholic Church there, and also to travel to Belgium for a performance in a Castle.


In 1988, Carol Bacon-Harty, as Head of Dorset Instrumental Music Service, decreed that all Music Centres in Dorset should be run by members of the Dorset Instrumental Service.   Stella was replaced as Director by Iain Davies, a specialist Brass Teacher. The string players were absorbed by  the Bournemouth Youth Orchestra and the Dorset Youth Orchestra. Christchurch Music Centre turned to Band Music as  its principal focus.     

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