St Martin’s, Exning
It was the day of my concert in Newmarket, so I decided to make the most of the journey by practising beforehand in a church nearby. Exning was all of five minutes from St Mary’s, and I had already been told by its rector, whom I met at the concert I gave in Dalham, that it was open during the summer. A more convenient warm up location would be hard to find.
For some reason I was expecting Exning to feel remote, perhaps for the simple reason that in county terms, it is out on a limb, almost in Cambridgeshire. But it was a large village, and – as I discovered on my entirely urban drive over to St Mary’s afterwards, during which I didn’t even notice crossing the A14 – it has more or less become a suburb of Newmarket.
The church was a pretty sight from the road. Inside, it was rather Victorian, with a large carpeted stage area in front of the chancel. Simon Knott has little good to say about this ‘amendment’, or any of the chancel restoration for that matter; but I didn’t notice many of the details he objects to, and simply enjoyed the space and – given the square shape of the nave – the unexpectedly good acoustic.
I would have liked to practise for longer before heading over to St Mary’s, but it felt good to fit in another church; now I had started visiting churches again after almost a month’s gap, I realised I had missed it.
St Mary’s, Newmarket
The concert in St Mary’s came about in an interesting way. In the autumn, I heard a feature on Radio 4 just as I was crossing the A14 on my way home from visiting Drinkstone church (just south of the A14), and Tostock church (just north of the A14). It was about an ‘A14 writer in residence’. As well as writing herself, she was collecting other people’s stories about the A14. So I told her the coincidence and sent her my account of these churches, which she put up on the Facebook page she’d created for the purpose. Amongst the followers of this page was Mark, the curate at St Mary’s. He contacted me to ask if I might be willing to give a concert at St Mary’s, and of course my answer was yes.
The church was large and Victorian in character. Although not far from the town centre, St Mary’s felt quite out of the way, bordered on two sides by main roads, and hardly a pedestrian in sight. The presence of scaffolding and builders’ vans only increased this impression, and I suppose its location might account for the relatively small audience at the concert. But it was an appreciative and smiley audience, making for an enjoyable concert in a pleasant acoustic.
Despite my avoidance of heavy DIY in the preceding days, I still had aching finger and thumb joints in my left hand. Thankfully they gradually settled down during our warm up, and by the time we started the concert I was more or less comfortable. Apart from the heat, that is. It was certainly the hottest concert I have ever given in this country. Although I had not yet replaced my thermometer – perhaps still languishing on a gravestone in Spexhall – it was 32˚C outdoors, according to my car thermometer, and felt only a little cooler indoors. Sweat dripped down my neck. I was only grateful that it did so without causing distracting tickles, and that my hands didn’t become so slippery as to hinder my playing.
My accompanist, James, gave a short explanation about the ‘baroque’ sonata we were performing, which, he had discovered a few days before, wasn’t composed by the person it was purported to be (François Francoeur), but by his brother (Louis Francoeur), and in fact the editor had taken vast liberties with the manuscript, as well as completely rewriting the second movement. ‘An early 20th century interpretation of what a baroque sonata would have sounded like’, James concluded.
‘A good comparison to St Mary’s church,’ Mark, the curate, said after the concert. ‘It was a medieval church but is now more or less a Victorian interpretation of what a medieval church looked like’. I laughed; he had a good point, and I liked the idea that a piece of music could represent a building so accurately.
It was an enjoyable occasion, and after looking around and indulging in some chuckles at names on wall plaques – namely the Bones family, and the Reverend Plumpton Wilson – I left the church with both an engagement to give a future concert at Tuddenham church nearby, and a B&B customer, who within a few days had booked a week-long stay in September.
Header photo: Wall plaque detail, Newmarket St Mary’s