Music in Exeter Cathedral

Did you know that whether a visitor or a member of the congregation at Exeter Cathedral you wouldn’t hear a note of music but for the financial support from the Exeter Cathedral Music Foundation Trust?

Without this…

The organ would cease to function.

There would be no choir

There would be no sheet music

There would be no robes

There would be no Director of Music

And the list goes on…

The cost of running the music runs into many thousands of pounds.

No – this isn’t a plea for financial support, or it could be if you, the reader so wished.

People take the glorious singing of Choral Evensong for granted. They would be denied the chance of hearing Tallis, Byrd, Parry and Tavener – just a sprinkling of composers who have been drawn to writing anthems based on some of the most poignant texts that have appeared over the centuries.

What about Christmas Carols? The congregation would be forced to sing them without accompaniment as the organ would be out of tune and the pipes full of gunge. Can you imagine how ghastly this would sound – the pitch would drop within the first two lines.

The poor choristers would luck out on two Christmas dinners: the one they have on Christmas Day at school and that which devoted mums cook a day later.

Music within the Anglican Church has, over the centuries, become a ‘must’. Of course it is perfectly possible for said services to take place, but they’re not the same. When I take my grandson to church, it’s the hymns that grab his attention otherwise we count the number of Amens that appear during the service, comparing notes at the end. I wouldn’t want to be the Granny who drags a child into the House of God without the temptation of singing ‘Praise my soul’ let alone ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’.

Music plays a vital part in the daily life of Exeter Cathedral. Visitors and members of the congregation would feel bereft without it. The Choir is one of the finest in Britain and deserves to be heard at every opportunity; an organ recital likewise. A sung service brings that extra and indefinable quality to a staunch believer of the Christian faith.

We must maintain this wonderful entity that exists in Exeter’s glorious building. We must never let it die. This is why the Foundation is so important. Without support, the music would collapse within a very short space of time.

Penny Adie

May 2019


Two Moors Festival Young Musicians Competition – the only one of its kind…


How many people remember the dreaded music exams that often took place in a dingy room with a stern faced adjudicator saying, ‘right, when you’re ready’?  For me, this was enough to instil a fear of performing in public that has remained with me ever since. Having prepared Diabelli’s ‘Lesson in C’ from memory (I can still play it!) and knowing that I could play it with real joy, made the misery even greater. All the preparation, treasuring those lovely louds and softs and remembering to put my thumb underneath so that I could play a scale evenly, seemed to me to have been a complete waste. The only way I could retaliate was to whizz through the aural tests with a smug sort of ‘told you so’ expression on my face.

With these recollections, it occurred to me that there must be hundreds of highly talented young instrumentalists and singers longing to express themselves but who never had the opportunity to play in front of people just for the fun of it. So I decided that this was something the festival could address by creating a competition set up specifically to give these gifted children and teenagers the chance to perform in front of an audience and in a large space.

Essentially the competition is run on conventional grounds. The big difference however, is that we look for four winners as opposed to one. In addition, we offer a masterclass as part of the audition process.  We ensure that the surroundings are congenial and do so by having informal (and sometimes quite flippant) conversations with each candidate, The final touch is everyone is offered a chocolate at the end.

There are two rounds with a panel of four professional musicians at each.  The winners each receive £300 prize money as well as share a concert in the main festival.

One of the keys to success we have discovered, is the remote location of the auditions in the depths of the Devon countryside. As parents are not allowed to ‘sit-in’, being offered coffee at the same time as admiring the view are an added attraction. Bearing in mind that some people drive long distances to get there, it is vital that we make the day out worthwhile for all concerned.

The most significant aspect is the masterclass that is given to each candidate. There is never any negative criticism. There could be comments on where to stand; how to bow and how to enter the room; how to project the sound and much more besides. Quite a few candidates have never played with an accompanist before – something that comes with a shock. The panel might comment on the height of the piano stool; similarly the stand. Sometimes they suggest having a go from memory. It’s amazing to see the joy on the faces of some of the performers when they find adjusting one little thing makes all the difference to their playing.

The standard of the competition is extremely high; in some cases comparing favourably with finalists of BBC Young Musician of the Year. Many festival’s winners go, with scholarships, to the major conservatoires in the UK as well as, on occasion, to the States. A good percentage go on to Oxbridge and some of the younger ones might end up attending Junior College or being offered a place at a specialist music school. Interestingly, the spread of entries between the state and private sectors is usually fairly even.

As Artistic Director, it has given me huge joy to follow the progress of previous winners. Clarinettist, Jordan Black is Guest Principle of the Philharmonia; double bass player, Toby Hughes was a Strings Section Finalist at the Royal Overseas League; soprano, Charlotte Hewett studied at the Royal Northern College of Music and cellist, Joseph Pritchard is now a major scholarship holder at the Royal Academy of Music.

A competition at this level is a prized commodity and as such, needs to be organised with immaculate skill. To this end, the administrator, Sarah Fletcher, works tirelessly. Visiting schools and talking to teachers are only a small part of what she does to make the event the success it is.

I think it’s fair to say that the Competition gives these exceptionally talented young people the chance to realise that appearing on a concert platform is not a daunting prospect but one that can give an immense thrill. It is their innate musicianship that they are willing to share with other people that makes them so special and remembering the audience is there to enjoy themselves.

Penny Adie

May 2019

Office on the Train

There was, until recently, a time when most passengers on National Rail fiercely resented intrusion on their privacy. However, being forced to eavesdrop on the calls made and received by fellow travellers has had its ripple effect in making us far more tolerant of the rat-race life that we all seem to lead these days. But how many of us really WANT to know … ’I’m behind schedule, so can you do the school run?’…

Do we really feel the urge to help the poor girl who can’t cope when …’Zac dumps me for Kelly, the split-ends blonde at the end of the table – I mean – how could he have it off with her scoffing chips… Ya, Ya, Ya … s’pose so, but cheesy chips as well …Ya, Ya, Ya… 

And what about …’Rachel, could you arrange a conference call for 6am local time?’…

If that isn’t enough, we might be privileged to hear the 60s Walls Ice Cream jingle on the phone belonging to the woman carrying her Jack Russell. Dog goes on floor where he finds the Wi-Fi cable that he proceeds to chew.

Now however, we’ve all joined this mobile high-speed office. The old saying, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ’em leaps to mind and so, nauseatingly as well as reluctantly, I have joined the party. Suffice to say I wouldn’t be writing this were it otherwise.

But at what expense? That precious ‘me time’ has all but dwindled into a thing of the past. I no longer gaze out of the window watching the Somerset levels slip by. Nor do I marvel at the White Horse at Westbury, let alone the sleepy house-boats on the Kennet Canal. I cannot spy on the occupants of contemporary housing with its nondescript architecture that merges into the cavity-walled semis only to be dwarfed by the majestic Edwardian properties with their high ceilings. By the time I approach Paddington, I might, if I’m really lucky, have spotted the occasional Georgian front door. 

At which point I join the throng pouring forth on to one of GWR’s spotless platforms. We spill out as if being tipped from a can of beans with people clad in track suit bottoms, jostlers carrying black rucksacks, men in suits (a rare sight these days) and women in puffas going to do serious shopping in Peter Jones. We’re all there – including me, Artistic Director of the Two Moors Festival, who has never owned ‘executive’ clothing in her life, and who turns up at smart meetings in jeans (expensive, mind you) and sporting a Gucci scarf bought on ebay.

And how much work has been achieved in this ‘boardroom’? Mega deals, booking a gourmet dinner, an essay, accessing bank statements; working out spread sheets, online shopping and much more. 

We all LOVE our communal workroom..

Just to confuse things, I have written this long hand…

Penny Adie

26th April

(Dedicated to my friend, Robin Wight)

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