One of the greatest joys of Herefordshire is the amazing range and quality of its music.
I was reminded of how true this is last Saturday, when I went to hear the recitals of the Hereford Police Choir music bursary competition at Holy Trinity Church.
Eight young people, all coming from Herefordshire and Worcestershire and aged from 15 to 21, gave an astonishing set of performances. Instrumentally, they ranged from the flute, the piano and the organ through drums, glockenspiel and xylophone all the way to the cajón. Vocally, they included Handel, Mozart, Brahms and the English song tradition of Vaughan Williams and Finzi.
Alas the co-sponsors, Clive and Sylvia Richards, were unable to attend. So I found myself thrust unexpectedly into the role of judge, alongside the brilliant Alison Houlbrooke and Dave Coulson, who organised the event. That meant listening carefully to each piece, but also interviewing each of the finalists and talking to them about their hopes and aspirations in music, and how a bursary could help them.
All of the performances were excellent, and at the end we judges found ourselves with the invidious task of having to choose the winners. Having reflected carefully, we gave the first bursary of £1,000 to Johannes Moore. Second was Rose Johnson, who received £500.
But the third bursary of £250 raised a problem. We had two outstanding candidates, Conor Burton on the piano and Aaron Jones on percussion. What to do? The only fair thing was to recognise them both, and I found myself offering an unscheduled additional prize of £250 so we could do that. Massive congratulations to all involved!
Such was the talent on display and potential of all the finalists that it was an easy decision to make. But it reminded me yet again of how important music is: not just to our society as a whole, or to the county, but in helping to transform the lives of individuals.
Music is a joy, a discipline, a form of art and culture, an initiation into a tradition, a means of self-expression, a way to transcend linguistic and social boundaries and link with others, an unending source of love and happiness. We are lucky to have so much of it, and so many great musicians, in Herefordshire. Just think what we could do if we could extend these opportunities to everyone in our society.