Musicians in Residence project - Caphouse Singers group

Posted on by Anita O'Donovan

Musicians in Residence project - Caphouse singing group

The National Coal Mining Museum for England is one of three Museums to host a year-long residency for two folk musicians as part of the English Folk Dance and Song Society’s ‘Musicians in Museums’ programme.

Bryony Griffith and Andy Seward began their residency in the autumn and one of the projects they were tasked with was to establish a staff/volunteer singing group. The idea behind this aspect of their residency was to grow advocates, within the wider staff team, for using folk music as a tool to engage visitors and share the Museum’s stories. The intention was to embed Bryony and Andy’s work more widely in the life of the Museum and provide a visible platform for their work.

During May and June a group of staff and volunteers met once a week for five consecutive weeks. The group learned three traditional mining songs, which linked directly to the overarching theme explored during Bryony and Andy’s residency:  a miners’ first and last day at work. “School Days Over” by Ewan MacColl, “The Old Miner”, written by an unnamed miner at Haunchwood Pit, Nuneaton, Staffordshire and  “Collier Lads” collected by an unknown singer on the South/West Yorkshire border by Nigel Hudleston.

The newly named ‘Caphouse Singers’ performed for Museum visitors and invited guests as part of a public event to celebrate the Museum’s 30th anniversary on Sunday 3rd June. The group were also invited to sing at the Miners’ Memorial Garden event on 7th June. This is always a moving event; a chance for families and friends to honour their loved ones by placing a personalised glass check in the specially commissioned art installation, that sits in the heart of the Museum’s Memorial Garden.

The response from staff and volunteers about being part of this group has been overwhelmingly positive. The staff singing group has been really successful in engaging staff with Andy and Bryony’s residency, raising the profile of folk music and the EFDSS Musicians in Museums project as a whole. An unexpected outcome of this project has been the impact it has made on staff well-being and also for developing team spirit.

Staff and volunteers have commented:

“I must admit I enjoyed singing much more than I expected. I was surprised how quickly we all picked up the music and lyrics. I felt good that I had been asked to be part of the group. I realise also that I like folk songs and their portrayal of life years ago.”

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Bryony and Andy.  It’s been great fun learning our coal mining songs and being able to perform them at the Museum’s 30th anniversary celebration, as well as contribute to the Radio Ballad.  It has been great to spend time with colleagues (both staff and volunteers) outside of our ‘day jobs’ and I think the experience has brought us closer together as a team too.  I would love it if the Caphouse singers could continue into the future, perhaps getting more colleagues and visitors involved.  I think that music is a really great way to encourage more people to connect with the coal mining heritage and its stories.”

“Personally what I most enjoyed about working with Andy and Bryony (apart from being a part of something collaborative and creative) was in seeing the finished pieces take shape and come together.  It was great to watch them quietly place the arrangements together, clearly drawing on prior experience, to mould the voices together into twinned ostinati supported by the musical accompaniment.  Watching it all come together and hearing the finished result was really special to be a part of.  Being a part of this has reminded me how much I love singing, how much I love the creative process and inspired me to perhaps open myself up to starting singing again a bit more seriously than I have for some time. If we could I’d like us to keep the choir together, to work together to put a collection of other mining songs on record  I’d like us to get together for the memorial events or other suitable events, share the heritage and legacy that mining left on Britain – not just the scars on the land but in the people it left behind.  “

“I have never been in any choir before so I've enjoyed the experience. I've loved being part of a group all working towards the same end. I was so proud of our performance on Sunday and hope we can perform at future big events”

“I enjoyed it more than I thought I would and wasn’t as terrified as I anticipated!   I enjoyed singing in a style I was previously unaccustomed to. I enjoyed teaming up with colleagues and volunteers from across the Museum; it was a relaxing way to spend my lunch break, it was fun and it made me smile.”

“As a volunteer I found it immensely rewarding to be in the choir.  It made me feel quite emotional to sing and be part of the museum. It gave me a feeling of belonging and worthy of being in a team.  Not just a volunteer but part of the whole team.  A very warm feeling.”

What next?

The mining songs have been recorded and will form part of Bryony and Andy’s final composition, which be in the form of a Radio Ballad exploring a miners’ first and last day at work. The Caphouse singers will perform their songs at the sharing event in November, which will celebrate the end of the Bryony and Andy’s residency. The Museum is also now considering supporting the singing group on a longer-term basis, which is a fantastic outcome not just for the Musicians in Museums programme but also for the staff and volunteers who have found their folk voices.



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