Compiling the essential guide to classical concerts; Chamber Music Plus - an annual Bible for concert-goers - is reaching more people than ever before. CHRISTOPHER MORLEY finds out how the publication began.
AGEORGIAN town house in medieval Tewkesbury is the nerve-centre from which 22,000 brochures are delivered each year, an annual Bible to concert-goers in the Midlands and beyond.
Chamber Music Plus is a publication which lists music society events day-by-day, covering offerings happening from the Welsh Marches to the Peak District, from the Cotswolds to the Potteries, and has proved so successful that this autumn a Northern edition has been launched, reaching beyond the Scottish borders as far as Kelso, complementing the long-established Central edition founded 25 years ago.
CMP's current compilers are Jill Davies and Chris O'Grady, and they tell me how the idea of such a publication got off the ground.
"We asked Jim Page about this as we took over the production from him in 2015, and he said, 'In those early days there was a somewhat guarded jealousy between some music club people, but as active members of the National Federation of Music Societies Richard Phillips, Jennie McGregor-Smith & I were more broad-minded and knowing that we were all in the same business decided to invite all West Midlands Music Clubs to send a representative to a meeting to look at ways of helping each other. Very soon supposed rivalries became friendships - and out of the desire to help each other we suggested a brochure that included all our concerts. To their eternal credit West Midland Arts gave us a start-up grant and Chamber Music Choice was born'. Subsequently the name was changed to Chamber Music Plus, when organisations such as Ex Cathedra wanted to join up."
Bromsgrove-based Jim Page has been indefatigable in his encouragement and support of the arts in the West Midlands area and beyond, deservedly gaining the accolade of MBE a few years ago. When Jill arrived in Tewkesbury from London in 2011 she set about meeting everyone she could involved in the arts in the area, and was invited to the West Midlands Music Clubs meetings.
At one of those Jim mentioned that he would like to find someone to take over Chamber Music Plus.
"The seed of the idea was sown then, and after Chris's early retirement in 2014 the stage was set," says Jill.
It was one of those odd turns of fate; with Chris having spent his working life within the print industry and Jill in classical music both felt it was their destiny to take the challenge on. They took over from Jim in the spring of 2015.
How do Jill and Chris manage to collate all the information bombarding them from organisations over such a large swathe of the country, added to which is the nightmare of all the checking and proof-reading? "It takes a long time! We do get the promoters to check the early proofs but errors still seem to pop up even at a late stage. There was one particularly regrettable mistake in our first 2015/16 brochure: the Martinu Trio was coming to play music by Martinu - we didn't notice that during the setting process the final u (with the little Czech o over the top) had been missed out. Of course the Swiss (Frank) Martin is equally valid as a composer!" Jill and Chris go on to explain how the publication is funded.
"The various promoters pay for each concert listed by date, and there's a sliding scale for advertisements. The revenue created generally covers the costs of printing, distribution and the website. Chamber Music Plus is run as a professional publication though we also look upon it as something of a unique gift to the world of classical music. It's frequently called a treasure trove by those who use it!" The couple are both active performers as well as concertgoers. Jill has sung, played the piano, recorder and flute from an early age, and has recently taken up the viol and sackbut. Chris played the piano and bassoon at school, and has been a member of the CBSO Chorus for over 15 years. And they travel all over to take in concerts and operas, from events in their Tewkesbury home base, to London, Windsor, Ireland and Hamburg.
"Cultural tourism is our middle name," they joke. And cultural tourism is also what Chamber Music Plus offers music-lovers, as Jill and Chris explain.
"The demographic of classical concert-goers means that many have the time and means to enjoy cultural tourism. We often hear of people 'making a weekend of it' or going to hitherto unvisited corners knowing that as part of their adventure they will be listening to some special music in a delightful setting."
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