Background

 

Founded in 1984 by former professional musician Rodney Slatford OBE, the Yorke Trust promotes four principle activities: a Summer Opera Course, an Easter Choral Course, Show Coach! (the junior arts school formerly Pied Piper!), and Music & Dining.

The opera programme usually focuses on a Baroque masterpiece, but every few years this is replaced with a specially commissioned music-theatre drama. In 2002 The Sailor’s Tale (Kevin Crossley-Holland & Rupert Bawden) celebrated the life of Nelson, whilst The Airman’s Tale in 2005 (Jonathan Keates & Gerard McBurney) recreates the atmosphere and mood of World War II. The Farmer’s Tale will be the next commission. All these works are loosely modelled on Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale.

Major past productions have included Purcell’s King Arthur, Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea, Handel’s Julius Caesar and Rameau’s Hippolyte and Aricia, with Handel operas featuring every two or three years.

 

The Easter Courses give an opportunity for young singers and instrumentalists to study and perform major works that are increasingly less often encountered in the conservatory curriculum. Forty years ago Handel’s Messiah could be heard everywhere at certain times of the year, with music students stiffening amateur orchestras the length and breadth of the country.

 

Today that picture could hardly be more different, with fewer small towns boasting their own choral societies. When the Trust performed Messiah in 2005, for example, only one or two of the students taking part in the course had ever sung or played it before – some had never heard it in its entirety.

The Trust still has involvement with the groundbreaking activity for which it was conceived, and for which it received start-up funding from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. The Yorke Mini-Bass Project, devised by Rodney Slatford, was the first programme in the world to enable children to start to play the double bass from an early age. It involved designing equipment, training teachers and creating a new repertoire. The impact has been remarkable, with many children who began playing in 1986 now working in orchestras throughout the world: the teaching principles enshrined in the project have been adopted internationally, changing the face of youth orchestras everywhere.

Originally based in London, on the death of the late Irene Vida Yorke Slatford in 1991, the Trust received a generous legacy of almost £284,000 - sufficient to purchase the Old Chapel in South Creake and a nearby cottage The Old Norwich Arms (once The Norwich Arms inn). The legacy, together with monies raised through a number of successful grant applications, provided funding to convert the chapel and the cottage into a semi-residential rural arts centre, now known as The Creake Centre.

 

 

 

As part of its work within the local community, the Trust launched a successful series of children’s workshops in 2002 called Pied Piper! The flourishing programme has places for up to twenty-five children from local schools from the age of six. An on-going exchange programme with a primary school in East London has grown from Pied Piper!

Funding such an extensive programme of activities is an enormous challenge. Administrative costs are kept to a minimum and the Trust relies on a great deal of good will. In recent years a steady flow of donations has helped to ensure the Centre is well maintained and cared for. Other funds are provided from letting the facilities for choir and drama rehearsals, Scottish dancing, meetings, other music courses and holidays. All this helps to underpin the Trust’s artistic work, although is insufficient to cover everything. To this end, a popular Music & Dining Club was created that serves as a ‘friends’ organisation.

In 2007 Rodney Slatford was awarded an OBE for services to music, particularly for his work with The Yorke Trust, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2014.