A Choir of Harps at Cottingham January 2011

On the Fringes of the Harpworld

Cottingham High Street

Cottingham High Street

I love the fact you can find a wealth of culture in even the smallest villages across the country. This weekend, for example, sees me attending (as chauffeur, removals man and critic) an annual music festival in Cottingham in East Yorkshire. When I say ‘music festival’ I don’t mean of the rock concert/tents/muddy fields variety, but rather the sort which is the backbone of traditional music participation throughout Britain. Organised and supported by volunteers dedicated to giving young musicians (and older ones) opportunities to perform and participate in front of a supportive audience, they provide a nostalgic and unchanging glimpse of a local culture rarely celebrated or even noticed outside its immediate catchment area.

A Choir of Harps at Cottingham January 2011

A Choir of Harps at Cottingham January 2011

This year is possibly my last visit. My daughter, a harpist, is off next year, and I doubt I’ll make the trek along the M62 without her. Transporting a concert harp around is a pain. That’s an understatement. I have carried out the task for 8 years without (much) complaint, but if I’m honest you have to be mad to let your child study harp, and completely mad to be a harpist. Sometimes I gaze at orchestral harpists, thinking how outwardly normal they look, and wondering if any other members of the audience are aware of the well-concealed eccentric streak that surely enticed the musician in question to play the harp?

Fish n' chips in Cottingham

Fish n' chips in Cottingham

Cottingham is similar. Outwardly normal and friendly to the casual observer, but hiding an edge of endearing eccentricity in its little festival. For Cottingham is the queen of local music festivals for harpists in this region, with harps of all sizes virtually outnumbering audience numbers. If you want to hear a range of wonderful performances by young players of all ages, this is THE place to visit. The sheer numbers of harps here (14 this year) are the serendipitous consequence of Cottingham being the home base of one of the most talented and inspiring harp teachers in the North of England, Rachel Dent.

There is something very special about Cottingham Music Festival. I think I shall quite miss it all.


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