It was a personal tragedy in Cherington which brought about the creation of what is now The Chipping Norton Music Festival. In 1902, Eleanora Dickins of Cherington House married her cousin the Rev Alan Dickins after much family resistance. Sadly he died of TB and Eleanora returned to Cherington aged 25 resolved to devote the rest of her life to good works in the community. She came from a musical family which is thought to have links with Edward Elgar. Both she and her sister Ruth played the violin and with several other family members provided accompaniment and solo items for many festivals.
Eleanora and her younger sister Ruth, must have had the same kind of vision when in 1903 they decided to organise a festival “for the encouragement of part singing in the country districts”.
The committee chose music for the choirs to sing during the dark winter evenings. Each choir was expected to produce a soloist, to sing an unaccompanied madrigal, sing in four parts and the programme had to include a choral work by a composer from the 16th century onwards.
An embroidered banner was to be made with the monogram of the Stour Choral union on it and a motto was chosen “There’s many a Crown for who can Reach” a quote from Robert Browning’s poem Last Ride Together. The first festival was successfully held on 13th April 1904 at Shipston-on-Stour possibly in the hostel which was also a small community centre. There were classes for glees, madrigals, vocal solos, male and female voice choirs and a chorus sung by the combined choirs, this all lasted a day with a concert in the evening which would be a combination of choral work and some solos by a professional.
The Festival is no longer solely about choral singing, there are instrumental classes for a wide range of instruments, speech and drama, guitar, folk and of course, the professional concerts. Tastes change and the Festival has embraced these and adapted the way it is run to suit a wide range of tastes and abilities. The Festival now lasts three weekends and all of the days between attracting entries from all over the country. Choirs of all age groups are still an integral part and for the 100th Festival 2012 a brand new choral work has been commissioned.
The Dickins sisters may not recognise the current Festival as the one they so earnestly began in 1904 but they would be immensely proud with what they see and the passion for music which flourishes in this area.