Frequently over the years, the Committee of Dudley Festival has been asked the following question many times.
What is the Festival and how did it all start
In 1995 one of the founder members, Miss Stella Cook, wrote a short article to answer some of the questions asked. This article has been taken and brought up to the present day.
Some sixty years ago in a house once owned by the Preedys, which became part of the Girls’ High School, a meeting was called by Mr. Vincent Knight, a well-known Schools’ Music Advisor, with a view to discontinuing the existing schools Festival, which was in decline.
This was agreed upon then somebody stood up and said that it was a disgrace that Dudley, with its then sixty three thousand people could not support the Arts. It was Mr. Basil Poole of Morfe Cottage who cheerfully agreed to do something about it – and did, being involved until his death in 1999. He and his wife Gwenyth, a pianist of considerable talent, and both concertgoers with many musical friends and contacts formed a small committee from those present and interested at the meeting.
The first Festival, held at Bishop Milner School, was a small affair, but the format remains much the same today. The programme was typed on paper stapled together by Gwenyth, as was the rest of the clerical work. In this small but significant manner the new Festival began. Since then there has been a Festival every year in March.
The Festival moved to its present location at Dudley College and over the years the number of classes has increased in all sections with new sections added as there was thought to be a need. One section grew very quickly in the early days. This was the pianoforte section and was of such a high standard that it could no longer be contained in the one-day event; it was strong enough to have a separate existence. This offshoot became the Dudley Pianoforte Competition with the same Committee organising both. As this new venture succeeded a new Committee was formed, but after some time the competition closed. A few years later a very successful Piano Recital Competition was arranged by the Festival together with the Friends of Music in Dudley and Dudley Arts Council. This eventually became the Dudley International Piano Competition, attracting students from all over the world who study in this country, some of whom are now world famous.
By the 1990’s it became necessary to have an extra day and the Brass Section was held at the site of Wolverhampton University, The Parade. In 1995 it was decided to add new sections and to hold all events at Dudley College over two weekends. Classes in Keyboard and Guitar were added to the Music Section, Dance Drama to the Drama and the Dance Section was started. Altogether there are now over three hundred classes and the Festival is affiliated to the British and International Federation of Festivals for Music, Dance and Speech. Adjudicators are well qualified in their specialist areas and are chosen from the recommended list which the Federation publishes for its members.
The number of Trophies is always rising as kind supporters of the Festival donate them. Now there are nearly two hundred. First, second and third placed winners receive a certificate with medals and money prizes being awarded in some classes.
In 1996 it was decided to put in a bid to receive Lottery money and with the support of Dudley Arts Council it was successful. This has played a part in the way the Festival has developed. Two pianos were purchased together with stools, The Bluthner piano was refurbished, the Harlequin flooring was purchased for the Dance Section and a computer was bought for the Festival. A second computer was later added, together with facilities for playing recorded music. This has helped us move into the 21st century.
A “Friends of the Festival” group was formed to organise fundraising events and for a number of years supported the Festival in many ways. This group has now disbanded. The Festival is grateful for the support given by the members of the Dudley Rotary Club and by the many loyal volunteers who offer to carry out tasks before and during the Festival.
Dudley Festival of Music, Drama and Dance owes its very existence to Basil Poole who died on 9 October 1999. More than sixty years earlier the Dudley Music Festival, run by the Schools’ Music Department, was coming to an end. Basil and his wife, Gwenyth, rose to a challenge that Dudley with its then 63,000 people should be able to support a Festival of the Arts. Basil was actively involved (until his death) in the Festival for 40 years – latterly as Vice President – and in July, after the AGM, the Festival Committee helped him to celebrate his 90th Birthday, paying tribute to him.
Basil was born in Netherton, son of Horace and Lilian Poole. His father was a mining engineer in charge of the Earl of Dudley’s pits. Basil attended Dudley Grammar School and at the age of 17 was apprenticed at Baggeridge Colliery. He qualified as a Mines Surveyor. In his late 20’s he joined the firm of Henry Johnson Son and Bloomer and eventually the firm’s name was changed to Johnson Poole and Bloomer (practising at Stourbridge with offices also in Scotland and South Wales). Basil played a tremendous part in the founding of the Black Country Museum. He was very proud of his roots – Dudley meant a lot to him and in many ways he has left his mark on the area. Many tributes were paid to his memory at a Memorial Service at the Black Country Museum.