A musical interlude – Dartington Hall #atozchallenge

When I was about nine (or possibly ten), my family and I went on holiday to Devon. We camped, hiked and played on the beach. At some point during the fortnight, my parents took us to a concert in the evening and I had my one and only experience of listening live to James Galway the flautist. Now, this was back sometime in the late 1970s and he was a young man, just really becoming famous – do you remember a single he did of Annie’s Song, it was around about then – so I was enthralled to see him play because I’d just started to play the flute.

Exactly as I remember it!



We sat upstairs in a gallery (probably the old minstrel’s gallery), and gradually as the evening progressed, I snuck down the steps and peered through the railings to get a better view. The trouble with playing the flute is there is nowhere to look if you’re playing by heart. The instrument is to one side and out of sight, so quite often I play with my eyes shut. James Galway’s eyes flit around and dance, constantly restless and alive with the music. When a piece of music finished, he bowed, left the room through the door on the right, then returned for a second bow. There was no accompaniment other than a pianist. At the end of the concert we left and drove back to the campsite. Needless to say his performance was virtuoso and to this day I can distinquish his style from other flautists just by hearing him play. Later, I discovered my first flute teacher was a pupil of ‘Jimmy’ as she called him. So technically, does that make me a grand pupil?!

Where was this renown flautist playing? Some prestigious concert hall? No, it was in the great hall of Dartington Hall near Totnes.

The manor of Dartington is mentioned in the Royal Charter of 833AD, and the Medieval hall was built sometime between 1388 and 1400 for the earl of Huntingdon. When the estate reverted to the crown, it was acquired by the Champernowe family who lived there until 1925. By then the house was nearly derelict. Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst bought the estate and began to restore the house and great hall’s hammerbeam roof. The couple were inspired to be more than property owners, they decided to create a commune of schools, charities and commercial enterprises, many of which survive to this day.  They blended the arts, social reform and horticulture (nice gardens too) and to this day Dartington continues to pioneer a range of projects in the region. The house is run by a trust and functions as a conference centre and wedding venue.

During its 20th Century history the school was the home of progressive educators who shunned formal education and the trappings of many private schools, which meant no Greek or Latin, no segregation of the sexes. However, eventually the school grew unpopular and closed in the 1980s. It was Dartington’s College of Arts that focused on the Performing Arts and was part of the estate from 1961 until 2008 when it moved to Falmouth in Cornwall. It was during this period that classical musical and performance were taught, and probably the reason why James Galway was visiting.

The reason I picked this house was partly because of my memories of it, but because a house likes to have a function and if it’s not a home, it should always be doing something and not left to rot.

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  1. A. soon as I started reading this I saw James Galways flicking eyes in my mind! What a delightful setting for a concert.


    1. It’s a very vivid memory and his eyes do dance non-stop.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It must have been wonderful to hear ‘Jimmy’ playing live, he’s such a talent. I love listening to the flute and other wind instruments, they are so evocative, more so, I think than stringed instruments. Sounds like a great experience and a place that has seen much history 🙂
    Ghostly Inspirations – Sophies A to Z


    1. He certainly inspired me at a young age to play and I’m fortunate that I can still play reasonably well even though I’m terrible at practising! It was a great experience for a young flautist.


  3. What an awesome way to enjoy the flute. I’ve never been to a flute concert, only heard them recorded or in an orchestra.Looks like a great hall for a concert.
    Tasha’s Thinkings – Movie Monsters


    1. I play in a flute choir (8-14 flutes) and we do occasional concerts. The flute on its own is more evocative and mellow than the parts they play in a big orchestra.


  4. I enjoyed your post today. Must have been beautiful sounds for that concert. Visiting from
    If I Only Had A Time Machine


    1. I don’t remember the exact pieces he played, but I do remember he played them brilliantly.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t know Dartington Hall but will always remember Galway playing Annie’s Song.

    I did houses in the Challenge last year but have gone with British Rivers this time. http://bit.ly/2q32IIN


  6. What an amazing place to hear a flautist. I am familiar with James Galway (my sister played flute) but lost track when she quit. What a glorious place for him to play his music.


    1. An old medieval hall is much more intimate and personal than a big concert hall. Given James Galway’s age, I’m very lucky to have heard him play anywhere. Pity your sister quit. I know plenty of musicians who take up their instrument later in life and get back into it.


  7. “…a house likes to have a function…” They do take on a life of their own. And you’re helping them stay alive. Well done!


    1. Thank you. I’m finding this theme of keeping an old house alive is shared by many owners.


  8. The hall looks like the acoustics would be wonderful for a flutist. Great pictures!


    1. The acoustics were great, I do recall the sound carrying up into the rafters.
      Thank you.


  9. Thank you for mentioning this song. I am listening to it now. Your experience at the concert sounds perfect.



    1. So glad you had a chance to revisit an old classic melody. It’s actually has only five notes in it, but some how they sound like much more.


  10. Great story. It must have been such an experience to hear such musician play.
    And great palce! I love that firt photo of the hall.


  11. What a wonderful memory. I agree that old homes like these probably ‘enjoy’ being useful rather than falling into disrepair!
    Jamie Lyn Weigt | Theme: Odds and Ends Dragons | Writing Dragons


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