Along the Kent stream let us go, up to the daffodil farm in the Vale; and as we go we shall meet two or three women with huge baskets filled with the “daffies,” and if we ask them what they are for, we shall be told, “They’re for t’ ‘Singin’’ Competition to-morrer, ivvery barn as sings is t’ hev a bunch on ’im for a posy.  Them’s t’ orders, a suppoase.”  (p. 153)

What is the Singing Competition?  It is an annual “Festgesang” to which the choirs of all the country round will come to compete in choral glee, madrigal, part-singing, solo-singing, singing at sight, and musical instrument playing.  It is the Eisteddfod of Westmoreland, of which the presiding genius is Miss Wakefield.  To her and her indefatigable energy is it owed that music is slowly but surely becoming the possession of all the farm-houses and village schools far and near.  To her is due the praise for having brought back the “Fair Handmaid of God, and near allied unto Divinity” into the heart of Westmoreland. (p. 154)

Miss Wakefield can never have dreamt that the movement, which began in a little quartette competition held in connection with a village industrial exhibition at Sedgwick in 1885, would have grown up and become an annual gathering, to which pressmen from our leading journals come to hear and report; an annual meeting of all lovers of music from far and near; a real red-letter day to which the choirs look forward, and for which the singers, young and old, work all through the winter; an annual performance which calls forth original music from our younger composers, witness Mr. Arthur Somervell’s cantata, “The Power of Sound,” Miss Wakefield’s songs, and Mr. Leonard Selby’s glees; a centre for musical education, to which, in the past decade, poor and rich alike owe at once their stimulus, their encouragement, and their new joy in life; an annual prize-gathering at which already, though this is a feature of least account, not less than £400 has been given away, and over which members of our greatest English families have felt proud to preside. (pp. 154-155)

What was the object of the foundress of this inspiring work?  In her own words it “appeared to her that there could be no easier or more enjoyable form of recreation for the dwellers under a climate which made outdoor amusements only possible for about three months in each year; unlike other artistic work, members might join together in music and prove its worth.”  In Miss Wakefield’s mind it was not only that, being under a rain-belt, men and women should have harmony at their own firesides, and sing as birds often do, ‘Safe from all storm in shelter of the wood,’ but it was needful that men and women should meet together for social pleasure.  Music fulfilled its most attractive and beneficent mission when the masses of people enjoyed it as a recreation and a solace.  People enjoyed most what they took part in, and it was because choral music might include any number that its social side was so immensely valuable. (pp. 155-156)….

But the Festival had other aims than these.  Good music must supplant bad if it were ever to become a real power in the land, and if nothing more came of it than that a single village choir added each year to its repertory a glee, a madrigal, part-song, or chorus by some recognized master, or that a single soloist learned a standard song whose music and whose words should both be true, then there would be a lift, not only in musical expression, but in musical selection also. (p. 158)

Besides all this, it was thought that any real latent talent would have a chance of coming to the front; our mute, inglorious Mendelssohns might be known, and, at any rate, it would be slowly but surely recognized that music is a liberal education, a thing to give many hours of many a winter’s day to; that musical singing did not only mean making a noise at the back of the throat, but the use of a most refined vocal instrument that could be trained not only to utter sweet sound, but utter it with clear intonation, clear enunciation, delicate expression, and fervent passion. (pp. 158-159)

Last, but not least, the motto, “Union is Strength,” was on the banner of this great emprise.  Teachers, conductors, singers, or players might learn to lay aside their class distinctions and local jealousies, and join together for the art’s sake, whole and sole.  Scattered villages and isolated village choirs might be able to acquit themselves creditably enough in a glee, a part-song, or chorus, but the crown of their rejoicing would be found in some united performance of a masterpiece, cantata or oratorio, which would give the singers a chance of hearing the music of our great masters. (p. 159)

One thing Miss Wakefield insisted upon, was that this work should begin and end in earnestness.  The annual Festival was not to be looked upon as a mere holiday, but as a contest of strength perfected through long practice.  The music chosen was often of a high and difficult standard, but it was a study and not a play that was intended.  Nor were the performers free to sing by ear.  Sight-reading was a sine qua non.  Why should not the golden days of great Elizabeth return to us?  What was to prevent the Westmoreland farm-house having its quartette party to sing catch or roundelay at night, when work was over and the winter evening was long.  So the rule was made that no choir should enter for any of the Festival Competitions who would not also enter collectively for the contest of reading at sight. (p. 159-160)

The task imposed was no light one, but it has borne fruit.  In 1886 six choirs entered; the next year the radius was extended to villages and towns of less than 6000 people.  In 1896 sixteen choirs competed, the junior choirs when combined numbered 300, and the adult choirs 400, while the whole number of competitors for voice and instrument numbered more than 1000. (p. 160)

In the ten years’ work it is believed that 10,220 singers and players have come under instruction in this small area of twenty-four miles radius, round the country-house of Sedgwick, which has been the centre and focus of this educational effort. (pp. 160-161) 

(Life and Nature at the English Lakes, pp. 146-172)