New Folk Sinfonietta to play special 40th anniversary ‘Overture’

25 April 2023

We are creating our first ever Folk Sinfonietta to rehearse and perform at celebratory events this summer to mark our 40th anniversary.

We are inviting members of our community orchestras to take part, and we are also keen for musicians from other genres such as classical and jazz to join us for this project, too.

One of the pieces of music the new group will be playing is an overture-style piece, with snippets of 40 songs and tunes which have a special place in the story of Wren Music. As well as performing this live, the Folk Sinfonietta will also record it at the third of the four planned rehearsals. There will also be four other pieces to learn and play.

There are no auditions, but musicians must be up for the challenge and commit to all the rehearsals. We are looking for around 25 musicians.

The Folk Sinfonietta will be playing at Wren Music’s 40th anniversary event at Exeter Phoenix on 29 July. There will also be a second performance, to be finalised, which aims to take folk music to new audiences.

The Folk Sinfonietta is led by Wren Music’s professional folk musicians, Jenny Read, Jon Dyer and Paul Wilson. Jenny said: “This is a great opportunity for experienced musicians who can read strongly and who want a bit of a challenge. It’s also a chance for those who want to explore music within the folk tradition. If you’re one of these musicians and you’ve never worked with Wren Music before, we would love to hear from you.

“Musicians from other genres can expect the complexity of a classical ensemble but with different instruments and with the greater flexibility of a folk arrangement. The more musicians that can learn the folk tradition, the more we can raise the profile of folk music,” she added.

Jenny, Jon, Paul and the Wren Music team have been sifting through the sizeable Wren Music archive to choose the 40 pieces which reflect the charity’s work. Then, it’s a case of bringing them all together. Jon said: “Jenny and I are taking on the giant task of featuring all of Wren’s Top 40 into one arrangement, and we will be trying to make sure every piece has its moment in the overture.

“Because we don’t want it to last 40 minutes, we will try and have multiple pieces playing at the same time. This could mean a small phrase played on the cellos while a chord sequence from another tune is played by the guitars.

“We’re excited to take on this challenge and we hope you can spot all the pieces!”

Paul explained how the musical arrangement will work: “We will be scoring for the instruments that turn up. At the taster session, we had a wonderful array – saxophone, clarinet, recorder, concertina, lots of violins, cellos, mandolins, guitars, viola, and flutes. So the arrangement will be a bit like ‘classical meets folk’, with a lot of what you’d expect in a conventional orchestra, plus squeezeboxes and fiddles.

“It’s going to be an amazing tapestry, a patchwork quilt of 40 tunes, an overture of real bangers that will sum up our 40 years. They’ve all got back stories to them. Some are choir numbers, some are orchestra numbers, some are written by us, some are from the Baring-Gould collection, and we’ve also included some that reflect the international links we’ve made.”

The rehearsals are at Ebenezer Hall, North Street, Okehampton, 1.30pm to 4.30pm on four Saturday afternoons, on 13 May, 3 June, 24 June, and 22 July. Membership is £70 (or £50 subsidised price). You can sign up via our online ticket shop (opens new window). If you’d like to know more about the skills required, please ring us on 01837 53754 or email us at [email protected]

To coincide with the launch of the Folk Sinfonietta, we are also introducing a new Mixed Monthly Orchestra for all abilities, with absolute beginners welcome. The four rehearsals are on the same days at Ebenezer Hall and are from 10am to 12.30am. For more information and to book your place you can visit our online ticket shop.

Some of the songs included in the special 40th anniversary piece:

Brand New Day: Written for Wren Music Millennium Project, this was premiered at Plymouth Pavilions in July 2000, with 1,200 voices – 300 voices on each part of a 4-part round.

Cutty Wren: Part of the reason we are called Wren Music. This is a highly allegorical folk song about sharing out resources equally. Said to have been sung by the peasants as they marched on London in 1381 as part of the Peasants’ Revolt.

Dartmoor Wassail: A song built from various pre-existing traditional pieces to celebrate Wren Music’s first ‘minibus wassail tour’ in 1987. We travelled across Dartmoor, crowding into small pubs, and raising money for good causes. The song is now on the way to becoming embedded in the traditional repertoire of Devon.

The Kaustisen Polka: This was a tune which helped to launch the very first Wren orchestra. Sidmouth Folk Festival booked the orchestra in January before it was formed, and they played an overture at the Knowle Arena in the August. Paul Wilson directed the ensemble and was given permission by the local council to borrow and listen to vinyl albums donated to the town by overseas dance teams visiting the Sidmouth Folk Festival over the years. Jenny Read has made a new arrangement of this polka which will feature in the 40th anniversary piece.

Mussels In the Corner / She Said She Couldn’t Dance: Two fabulous tunes from Newfoundland, reminding us of Wren Music’s deep links with Newfoundland: a cultural and musical relationship which stretches right back to the start in 1983.

Seven Step Polka: Versions of this East Devon tune are found in many other countries but for Wren’s 40th, it underpins our close and deepening relationship with music and singing colleagues in Latvia.

We Are Not Alone: Written by the young people of Brook Green Centre for Learning in Plymouth, working with Jenny Read and Jon Dyer. A tender, positive heart-rending piece which formed part of the major SEND project Wren Music undertook for Plymouth Music Hub, working with all the additional needs schools across Plymouth.

Baring-Gould: Wren has been instrumental in bringing the Baring-Gould folk song collection to a wider audience over the past 40 years and a few items from the Baring Gould collection are included in the piece. For example, Old Adam the Poacher, a tune from fiddler William Andrew of Sheepstor, and My Lady’s Coach – a well-known legend of the ghostly coach seen riding from Tavistock to Okehampton.

About Wren Music:

Set up in 1983, Wren Music is a music charity run by professional singers and musicians. We run community orchestras and choirs in Exeter, East Devon, Torbay, North Devon, and West Devon. We also work with vulnerable groups across all ages. We created an archive of collected West Country folk songs dating back hundreds of years – notably the Baring-Gould song collection – and made these available for everyone to learn and enjoy. Wren Music’s professionals have also written new songs, tunes, and stories for school projects and for plays, such as the ‘Her Story’ series of productions for International Women’s Day.