All Saints’, Sproughton
I rang the churchwarden at Sproughton with some trepidation: even so near the end of my church tour, I still found it hard to phone churchwardens or vicars out of the blue. But my additional hesitation came from the fact this church was in the same benefice as Copdock – the one and only church I’d walked away from without waiting for it to be unlocked, so hostile was the keyholder. I knew the person in question wasn’t a churchwarden so I would be unlikely to have any further contact with him, and besides, Sproughton wasn’t Copdock; but the latter’s proximity rubbed off on its theoretical existence in my mind. So my delight and gratitude were excessive when my request was received enthusiastically by Philip, despite the fact he lived in Ipswich and would have to drive some way to the church.
I met Philip and his wife, Sandy, in the churchyard on my way in, where they explained they had some watering to do and so would potter about, coming in and out. I noticed that the large churchyard was fully mown – something that I used not specifically to notice, despite my preference coming down firmly on the side of wildflower churchyards; but more recently this has started to take on just a hint of fanaticism, much like my preference for open churches.
The church’s acoustic was much my favourite aspect of it, and I played various pieces of Bach and Irish music while some people who were passing the church came in to listen for a few minutes. It was good to chat to Sandy and Philip afterwards, and I was highly amused when Sandy wrote down the names of the pieces I played in the church’s contact and trace book. I imagine that is the first and last time such a book will record such a thing.
Before I left, I was delighted to receive assistance on the thorny matter of accessing Copdock church. I was also relieved to discover that the person in question had a reputation; as, in fact, did all three people – only three people – in my whole church tour who had ranged from mildly grumpy to downright offensive. In each instance, discovering their behaviour towards me was nothing personal helped me first to recover from it, then laugh about it, and finally to gather the courage to try again – if at all possible, via a different route. Philip assured me he would email Adrian, one of the churchwardens, explain what I was doing and give him my contact details – so I left Sproughton feeling hopeful that within a short time I should, with any luck, have succeeded in overcoming the final mental obstacle of my church tour.
St Lawrence’s, Eriswell
I’d somehow managed to miss St Lawrence’s on my previous three-day tour of northwest Suffolk: I’d understood there was only a ruin at Eriswell, which I wasn’t about to tackle in December. But, by some roundabout means, I eventually realised that there was not only a ruin – St Peter’s, the original parish church of Eriswell – but a standing church, St Lawrence’s, which used to be the chapel of ease to Eriswell St Peter.
It was too long a drive for too early on a Sunday morning: I was due to play at the service in Eriswell at 9.30am, which involved leaving home at 8.15am. The drive took nearly an hour, but I arrived in the sunshine to a beautiful view to the west of the church and a happy gathering of swifts circling above it. A friendly man who arrived just after me offered to carry my bag, and we chatted as we walked round to the north nave door, where I was welcomed by more parishioners, the organist and American vicar who was standing in for the usual vicar. I was pleasantly surprised by the acoustic, which I thought would be adversely affected by the south aisle, carpet, and rood screen, behind which I would be playing. There would be an actual choir, I soon discovered – of only a few people, but it was a novelty nevertheless – and I was to join in with the hymns.
It took me until almost the end of the service to realise I was in possession of the wrong service booklet, which explained why I could find nothing of the proceedings on the pages in front of me. So eventually I gave up trying to follow, and simply paid attention to when I was required to play, which was easy enough to figure out. At the end of the service, a member of the choir requested more music, so I played the Bach C major Sarabande, before being handed a jar of marmalade by one of the parishioners. I was exceptionally grateful for such a gift, only that morning having come perilously close to finishing my previous jar.
I was invited to tea in the garden across the drive from the churchyard, which on this occasion – remembering my regret at Oulton – I was pleased to accept; and as well as the bonus of friendly conversation, a beautiful garden, sunshine and a hot drink, I had the pleasure of meeting a flock of bantams and trying to make friends with them. There was something rather endearing about mini-chickens. One of them was amenable to being picked up, I was told, so with the help of a bribe in the form of mixed corn, I took the opportunity of not so much a cuddle as a brief hold followed by a kiss. Not bad for a first meeting – the chicken didn’t protest too much, anyway.
Eventually, wanting to leave enough time before lunch to go in search of Eriswell St Peter and several other church ruins in the area – not yet to play in them, as they were privately owned, but just to locate them – I took my leave of the sunny gathering, the church and the swifts who were still circling above it.
All Saints’, Fornham All Saints
It was somewhat hard to believe that my visit to Fornham All Saints was to be a real-live concert with a real-live audience with my friend Rachel. Rebecca, a mutual acquaintance and violinist, was also joining us for a couple of pieces. I’d forgotten how small Fornham All Saints was, despite having popped in briefly a month or two earlier, and had no recollection at all of its delightful acoustic.
This concert had been rearranged perhaps three times, and it was worth the wait. It was a lovely warm day, just the sort to get you in the mood for a summer village church concert, and although rain threatened with thunder later in the day, nothing much materialised. I’d been feeling ill all day, but thankfully by the time the concert arrived I started to feel better – no doubt helped by a dose of adrenalin, but also because I’d long since discovered that playing Bach Inventions with Rachel was far more effective than any painkiller.
The little church was full of smiling faces, we enjoyed our music sharing and we all agreed that this was how true music-making should happen. Amongst friends, and free of constraints, conventions and obligations. How lucky we were to be able to choose such a thing, and how much we appreciated it after such a long time.
Header: Westward view from Eriswell church