My dream job – Volunteer Archivist and Historian to the Three Choirs Festival

This post comes from MA by Research alumni Simon Carpenter.

For the past few years I have been the volunteer archivist and historian to the Three Choirs Festival. I started with them shortly after graduating from the University, having researched the teaching career of Sir Herbert Brewer, the Gloucester Cathedral organist from the early part of the twentieth century (read about the project here).

Generally believed to be the world’s oldest classical music festival, the Three Choirs Festival alternates annually between the cathedral cities of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester. Originating sometime in the early 18th century with services sung by the joint cathedral choirs, it has long provided a platform for composers and has seen the premieres of some of the best known British classical compositions, including Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. Top names in classical music have also always performed at the Festivals over the years. It is based in an office in College Green, Gloucester.

The Three Choirs Office

One of the many intriguing gems I uncovered during my MA research was that Brewer was in charge  when the BBC first broadcast live from the Three Choirs Festival in 1925. I made a mental note to follow up on that when I got an excuse to. Last Autumn I heard that the National Archives were running an essay competition in association with the British Association for Local History. The challenge was to write 1,500 words on some aspect of life in the 1920s. This was my chance, and for several weeks I sweated blood over my entry, read widely around – even buying a second-hand copy of the biography of the BBC’s music director of the time. I eventually submitted my entry just before Christmas. I was so chuffed to have heard I was one of the individual winners a couple of weeks ago (read the announcement here). 

Gloucester Cathedral

For the Festival I post weekly tweets, write regular short pieces for the various newsletters they publish, on some aspect of the Festival’s history. I also write articles for the official souvenir programme that is produced for each Festival. And in the office I am currently rationalising the archives we hold there.

Current other projects include working with Voices Gloucester to use some of the letters we hold from famous musicians as artwork across the city, and a joint exhibition with the Holst Victorian House in Cheltenham to celebrate Gustav Holst’s 150th anniversary next year. This will highlight the composer’s many links with the Festival, and will start off in Cheltenham in February and move to The Hive, Worcester in the Summer for the duration of the Festival. 

Truly my dream job!

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