THE denouement of the Tynedale Music Festival, announced last week, was the final note in a proud, 115-year long history.

Founded following a public meeting held in October 1903 to discuss giving the Tyne Valley its very own festival, the first one took place in the spring of 1904.

Purely a choral affair at that point, the choirs had to be based within 16 miles of Hexham.

Each one had to pay a princely five shillings to enter, but the choir got it back once they had actually competed.

The era allowed them to travel in style in that they were brought in on specially commissioned trains, from places such as Allendale and Bellingham.

The festival was always held in Hexham venues, bar two years when, in 1920, Corbridge was chosen and, in 1933, Prudhoe.

There were many more competitively-minded choirs in those days. Take 1939, for instance, when 53 senior choirs took part.

However, the festival’s very last chairman, Douglas Knott, noted last year: “Just like today, many of the Hexham choirs and schools seemed to be shy about entering.

“Indeed, in 1920 the annual general meeting minutes note that there were no entries in any class from Hexham.

“Although we have our very loyal regulars from Hexham, today’s committee can empathise with that 1920 committee!”

He is quick to qualify that with honourable mentions for two schools – Sele First and St Joseph’s Middle – which have long been loyal supporters, and Philip Rosier in particular, head of music at the latter.

The support of individual music teachers, including peripatetic teachers such as pianist Barry Maleham from Durham, who had brought pupils along year after year to take part had been crucial to its success.

As had the support of the loyal local patrons and volunteers who had variously helped fund the festival and keep it running, doing everything from manning the committee to acting as stewards and announcers and general gofers on the day.

Long-service medals given out at a special gathering in 2017 bear witness to the willingness and devotion. Among the recipients were secretary Hilary Robson, who, between Consett and then Tynedale Music Festivals, had contributed to their running for 50 years.

Her father was secretary of the former when she began selling programmes at the concerts as a nine-year-old.

Douglas’s wife, Dorothy, was presented with a 40-year service award, having been drawn in as the mother of a contestant.

He said: “Dorothy got involved because our daughter, who is now 47, began taking part when she was five.

“It was the usual story – they were looking for mums who could lend a hand.”

The person presenting the awards that night, president Shirley Jowett, had a fine track record herself. She had already had her 50-year service award.

The decision to wind up the festival was taken before Christmas by a committee very reluctant to act on what it knew was the inevitable. With steadily declining numbers of entries over the years, it became an increasingly harder task to balance the books. In recent times, the income came from two sources: audience ticket prices and donations from those loyal patrons.

The length of the annual festival had already shrunk from four days to three and then two, and while the day devoted to the schools’ choral categories paid for itself – every mum, dad and grandparents turned out – the other days didn’t wipe their noses.

“I’m just sad this has happened on my watch,” said Douglas.

“We have so enjoyed providing a platform for children to perform in as close to a professional set up as they will get – on stage, in front of a paying audience.

“For the past decade, the festival has been immensely successful artistically thanks to the standards achieved. It has been impressive, and that’s what I’d like to hold on to.”