How did we begin?
The story of Wye Valley Music starts over 50 years ago in the small village of St Briavels in the Forest of Dean. Meeting in a teashop in Monmouth in 1967, Don Eynstone and Unwin Sowter decided that it would be fun to start a little Society for performing music with their friends. Invitations were sent out to about 20 friends and acquaintances who might be interested in the idea. On the 14th April 1967, eleven people turned up at ‘The Cottage’, (Don and Bindy’s home on Chickadee/Cockshoot Hill), and the St Briavels Music Society was born. They would meet monthly ten times a year to make music in one another’s homes and also arrange two or three public concerts a year in a local church or school.
After agreeing on the key posts of Treasurer and Secretary (Mrs Sowter and Mrs Eynstone respectively), and a break for coffee, it was time for the Society’s first performance. Jane Brooks, who then taught at Monmouth Boys School, played a movement of a Haydn piano sonata and a Chopin Mazurka. Mr Sowter (piano), Mr Eynstone (violin) and Mrs ‘Bindy’ Eynstone (voice) performed ‘Morgen’ by Strauss, and then Messrs. Sowter and Eynstone played a Mozart sonata for piano and violin. They were definitely in business!
Over the next few months, membership (pitched at 10 shillings and sixpence) grew steadily. At the fourth concert, held in the Old Vicarage in Hewelsfield – the home of Roy and Betty Pittman – 26 people squeezed in to hear a string quartet with some of the audience sitting on the stairs, apparently not unusual in the early days of the Society!
In due course the society evolved and concerts were increasingly given in larger venues by professional performers and talented younger artists who were starting to make their names nationally and internationally. Following the gift of a new concert grand piano in 2005, the society boosted the standard (and the fees) of the artists it promoted and adjusted its ticket prices accordingly. Audiences grew, proving that there is a real demand for live classical music performed to a high standard by well-chosen professional musicians.
For the last 20 years, the society has enjoyed a close relationship with the Wye Valley Chamber Music Festival (link)- which also had close links with St Briavels. Many of the musicians who participate in the annual winter festivals and summer residencies organised by Daniel Tong and Simon Crawford-Phillips have also performed for WVM. Most recently, a number of the talented young string quartets featured in the festival programmes have been invited back to perform for WVM.
About a dozen years ago, the success of the St Briavels Music Society encouraged it to make its concerts available to a wider public. To help communicate this, it adopted the name ‘Wye Valley Music’. In recent years, the society has both broadened its repertoire and increased its geographical presence up and down the Wye valley. Our 50th-anniversary events in 2017 were a landmark with celebratory performances by period-instrument super-stars, Rachel Podger (violin) and Jane Rogers (viola) in St Briavels Church, and the Frith Piano Quartet with Chi-chi Nwanoku in St Mary’s Church, Monmouth.