In 1948 a former Headmaster of Highbridge V.C. School, Mr A Mason with few teachers and a group of enthusiasts decided to form the Highbridge Music Festival. The object was to encourage the appreciation of music, both vocal and instrumental. The Festival would provide, nor only an opportunity for entrants to receive a professional adjudication, but they would gain experience of performing in front of an audience. This audience would in turn have an opportunity to gain knowledge of the various arts and could relax to enjoy listening to the local artistic talent.
It was therefore in May 1948 that the Festival started, it began as a one-day event; the adjudicator receiving a “Thank You” plus a cup of tea for services rendered. Local residents and visitors to the area were no doubt surprised to find that a small town like Highbridge could organise and support such an Art Festival. Originally classes were for singing and piano, later another day was added for English folk dancing. This theme continued until folk dancing was removed from school activities.
So successful and popular was the festival that classes for adult singing, including choirs and instrumentals were also added. In 1977 the Festival had grown very popular and was extended to cover three weeks, it included over 1,200 entries with classes ranging from music to speech, drama, literacy, dancing and one-act plays. The old Highbridge Town Hall had always been the venue and on choir nights the hall was full to capacity, choirs queuing on the stairs and into the old Council Chamber whilst waiting their turn to sing.
Speech and drama classes and one-act play sessions were held at King Alfred’s School, the stage facilities being more appropriate. A dance section was added in 1971 and this too was growing, the stage at Highbridge Town Hall finally became unsuitable so that dance classes had to be held in the Burnham Town Hall. Highbridge Town Hall had always been the ideal venue, the acoustics were second to none; adjudicators were known to remark on this many times. Unfortunately in 1984, within weeks of the Festival, the Highbridge Town Hall was condemned as unsafe. Alternative venues had to be found at short notice, that year St John’s Church, the Ritz Cinema and many other places were quickly booked.
The Festival has, for a number of years held its performances at the “Princess Hall” Burnham over a three-week period and it closes with a Festival concert.
Entrants are drawn from a wide area, some from as far a field as Leicester and Scarborough and, up until 2002 the Festival took place each year in May, and there were some functions that were held at other times to publicise the event. However, in 2003 the Festival moved to March in order that pressure was taken from schools thus enabling them to continue to participate
A Festival of this importance needs the support of the local community both as entrants and audience, long may it continue to produce such notable names for the entertainment world as Rupert Graves, Stephen Daldry, James Gray and others. There are many others who have been encouraged to make a career in the arts of Dance, Drama and Music following their appearances and successes at the “Highbridge Festival of Arts”.
(This article compiled from information supplied by Ann Bannister and Joyce Dunbavan)