pre World War II
Early background: pre World War II
The Festival was founded in 1921 as the Thanet Competitive Musical Festival. No documents survive from that year, but it is clear from later references that the Secretary from the start was Miss Olive Raven. She was a person of boundless energy, who continued as Secretary for over forty years, and was the life and soul of the Festival. We do have an interesting letter from her niece containing many memories of the early years.
The first Adjudicator was Geoffrey Shaw, a well-known composer of music for schools, and brother of Martin Shaw. He came as Adjudicator at least three times in the first ten years of the Festival.
In the second year the Adjudicator was Harvey Grace, a well-known organist of the time, and editor of The Musical Times. The Isle of Thanet Gazette that year was refreshingly outspoken in its criticism of various aspects of the festival: "the public taste has been modified, not for the better, in recent years", "lack of interest on the part of Margate residents", "two rather uninteresting pieces", "one of the few good examples of male voice singing, so rare in Thanet", and so on. See the downloads section to see the review in full Part I, Part II and Part III(the images are quite large, but worth waiting for).
In 1923, for Geoffrey Shaw's second visit, there was massed singing of Parry's Jerusalem, then a comparatively recent song. The newspaper report shows that the majority of the classes were for choirs, especially Elementary Schools and Girls' Clubs. The only Instrumental classes were violin and piano, piano duet and piano trio; there seems to have been no piano solo class.
In 1924 the Adjudicator was Sir Richard Terry, organist of Westminster Cathedral, and arranger of sea shanties. Nowadays he is remembered for his setting of the carol Myn Lyking.
In 1925 the Adjudicator was Thomas F. Dunhill, who presented a shield to the Festival. He seems to have had local connections, as he is quoted as having written his setting of Bunyan's Pilgrim Song while walking along the beach between Margate and Broadstairs. He also composed a song called Thanet for massed singing at the next year's Festival. The accounts for the year show the receipts from the sale of this song were £4 5s 0d, and that it had cost £4 4s 7d to print: the Festival made a profit of 5d (old pence)!
In that year photographs of three school choirs appeared in the London Daily Graphic. Thorton Road School in Ramsgate seems to be singing while squatting on the floor! The engagement is also announced in the paper of Mr Stanford Robinson, a BBC Conductor, who was to be one of the Adjudicators some 40 years later.
In 1927 Geoffrey Shaw came again: he commented on '... Progress since I last heard you all; you have sprung up in a most wonderful way.' That year there were no less than ten classes for school choirs.
In 1929 Elocution seems to have been included for the first time. The winner in the class for Male Voice Choirs was RAF Manston.
In 1929 Geoffrey Shaw came yet again. Folk Dancing appears for the first time, and there were seven Women's Fellowship choirs. In those days not only the results, but also the Adjudicator's comments were published in local papers (three of them!) One wonders what the ladies thought of any derogatory remarks being made public in this way.
In 1930 the Adjudicator was Julius Harrison, who had recently been appointed Conductor of the Hastings Municipal Orchestra. He made complimentary remarks about the Margate Municipal Orchestra, which he had been to conduct three years previously. A minute of one of the committee meetings for that year shows that the entry fees for Elementary School Choirs were reduced from 7s 9d to 6s 3d (this was the middle of the Great Depression). The AA road report in one of the papers says that the road was up at Westgate crossroads for pipelaying: some things never change!
In the Executive Committee for 1930-31 the name appears for the first time of Miss Marjorie Crawshaw, known to us all as Marjorie Gore.
In 1932 the Adjudicator was Mr (later Dr) Herbert Howells, who is best known today for his church music. He was apt to be far from complimentary in his comments, but on this occasion he was full of praise. A decrease in the number of Elementary School Choirs was noted.
In 1934 the Adjudicator was H. Plunket Greene, a bass singer well known in his day. He had come at short notice, in place of another adjudicator who was ill. He wrote to Miss Raven afterwards to say he had had '... a ripping time'.
In 1936 classes for Boy Scouts' Choirs are mentioned, and Piano Solo (any age) appears for the first time. The Piano classes must have flourished, because in 1938 Harold Craxton, a well-known Piano adjudicator, came for these classes. Classes in Choral Speaking were discussed in committee.
In 1939 Thomas F. Dunhill, who had adjudicated the Choral classes back in 1925, returned as Piano Adjudicator. In the meantime he had composed a set of piano studies The Wheel of Progress, which are still used today.
Plans were made for a Festival in 1940, but shelved because of the war.
Read more about our background, post World War II.