Year after year each return to Benslow feels to me like another coming home. The house wraps round me as I walk into the hall, I promise the reception team yet again that this year I really won’t lose my room key, and it’s hugs all round as clarinet players convene for another intensive weekend of non-stop playing: clarinet choir, clarinet ensemble, clarinet masterclass, clarinet recital and, this year for the second time as part of the David Campbell Clarinet Weekend, the Everyone Matters group working towards performances in local Hitchin care homes. My clarinet colleagues David Campbell and Ian Scott are on board this year to share coaching the Everyone Matters group as they prepare to perform in the homes, and pianist John Flinders is also on hand to work through the clarinet solos that several of our group plan to perform at our Monday community concerts with me accompanying at an electric keyboard that is already stowed in my car for the care homes that don’t have pianos.
It is so easy now for me to set up the care centre concerts, as all the venues welcome us as old friends and are eager for us to return. This year it was Leonard Cheshire Disability that chose to host our Monday morning concert at Symonds House, where our welcoming audience included a number of staff and residents who had seen some of us in previous years. The intimacy of the room encouraged a very informal atmosphere throughout the concert, with lots of questions from our audience including a fascinating discussion initiated by one of the wheelchair users who asked the thought-provoking question “Why do the clarinets all sound different?” initiating a rewarding discussion in which each player was able to explain some of the details of their own reed, mouthpiece and instrument set-up as well as touching on the differences between individual approaches to tone production.
Linda, Rosemary and Cathy have all played in Hitchin care centres previously, and at Highbury Rise following the afternoon concert Linda found a gentleman who had been born near her own Croydon home, enabling the two of them to share reminiscences of Thornton Heath ponds, leading to him telling the story of how he ran away to sea at age 15.
Chris plays folk fiddle as well as clarinet, flute and recorder, and he offered us a welcome interlude from wall-to-wall clarinets with two Irish jigs for which he wrote out a shadowing harmony part for me as a duo accompaniment.
It’s a big ask for a group of amateur players to come together with only short rehearsal time, as part of a densely timetabled weekend, to put together an informal concert programme from scratch, and this group managed it magnificently. The Activities Co-ordinator at Highbury Rise, where many of the residents are living with dementia, wrote afterwards, “Music has a wonderful effect on the brain and evokes memories that may have been forgotten”, and the Volunteer Co-ordinator at Symonds House summed it up: “A lovely concert for a Monday morning”.