Welcome to our Festival blog

We are a small congregation who organised a highly successful 'William Byrd Festival' in May 2011 to celebrate the life and work of the village's Elizabethan composer, William Byrd (c.1540 - 1623). In 2012 we played host to the world-famous choir The Cardinall's Musick under their director Andrew Carwood.

This website contains everything you need to know about William Byrd and his links with Stondon Massey. The church is open for services, of course, and on the second Sunday afternoon in the month during the summer.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Puns on Byrd

Both congregations at Stondon Massey and Blackmore have been very good in responding to requests to distribute leaflets and posters around the local community and to organisations whose members might be interested in attending the William Byrd Festival. This has meant me giving a notice at the beginning of the service each week.

Readers of our church magazine had a form enclosed which enabled them to buy tickets at a slightly reduced price for a short period of time. I called it the ‘Early Byrd discount’, which got a groan from those in church one Sunday. When I said that many people were buying tickets and flocking to the Byrd Festival, I got a “That’s terrible” remark from one of the congregation sitting in the front row. I then explained that the Festival has two objectives: to raise the awareness of the great composer and musician, and to raise money towards the creation of a new Garden of Remembrance in Stondon churchyard. By attending the Festival members of the congregation would be “killing two birds with one stone”. Of course the choirs will be engaging in bird song when they present their programmes in May. The Services on the Sunday mornings will be full of music: a dawn chorus. When a photographer comes to the event he or she will ask people to watch the birdie.

Once these play on words start you cannot stop, and find that others join in the fun.

One elderly lady came up to me after the service and said “Thanks for making me laugh”.

These puns however are perfectly justifiable! John Harley’s Byrd book, ‘Gentleman of the Chapel Royal’ notes that when John Bull gave a lecture about Byrd in 1597, he compared the great composer to “the Eagle”. Others referred to Byrd’s musical skill, describing him as “our phoenix”. There is also a drawing of an owl with the caption, “I wyll not sing shut in a cage”. This reference is surely to Byrd’s restricted life as a recusant Catholic, but equally someone who wrote protest songs. We learn also that Byrd himself revelled in punning too. On dedication of the first book of Gradualia to Henry Howard, the Earl of Northampton, he wrote (translated): “They say the swan sings more sweetly when death is near. If, in my old age, that BIRD’S sweetness has eluded me in these songs which I have decided ought to be dedicated to you, most illustrious Henry, I have had two powerful defences or incentives in trying in some way to imitate it”.

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