|The Rushden Echo, 25th March, 1910, transcribed by Gill Hollis
A Famous Rushden Musician
Tributes to Mr. Wm. Skinner
Music in The Old Days
At Rushden, Higham Ferrers, and Raunds
We have pleasure this week in reproducing a photograph of Rushden’s veteran musician Mr. William Skinner, who is conducting the oratorio, “The Messiah,” to-night and to-morrow night. The photograph has been taken expressly for the “Rushden Echo,” and it will be acceptable to the people of Raunds and Higham Ferrers as well as of Rushden, for Mr. Skinner is well known throughout the district. He is, as we stated in an interview with him a few years ago, a native of Raunds, where he commenced his musical career, and a couple of generations ago he was a leading figure in the musical life of Higham Ferrers. Mr. Skinner is now 74 years of age, and his delight in music is as keen as ever.
In response to a request from a representative of the “Rushden Echo,” a number of Mr. Skinner’s old friends have gladly paid their tribute to his work and worth, and it is with equal gladness that we publish these warm-hearted tributes.
His Oldest Friend
Perhaps Mr. Skinner’s oldest friend in Rushden is Mr. T. C. Clarke, himself a prominent figure in the musical life of the town, for that friendship originated even before Mr. Skinner came to Rushden.
“I have known Mr. Skinner,” said Mr. Clarke to our representative, “for 50 years. In fact, I was one of his first pupils in his singing class at Raunds, connected with the Baptist Meeting there. There were only five of us in the class, and I was librarian, treasurer, and secretary. Mr. Skinner had to walk a mile each way to the meetings, and each paid him only 1½d. a week! Out of that, he had to find the candles! But even then, Mr. Skinner showed his love for music. I was a fellow-member of the Raunds Temperance Band with him. Afterwards I knew him at Rushden. He was a founder of the Rushden Temperance Band. No one perhaps has sung at his side so many times as I have, and I always knew that when I sang as he did I should sing alright, I have the most profound respect for Mr. Skinner. There is no doubt whatever that the musical life of Rushden owes an enormous amount to him. He was always full of musical enthusiasm, and he was always prepared to sacrifice both time and money to further the interests of music. He would not mind walking almost any distance to get a good sing. We often walked three or four miles each way, and even five or six miles and more, in order to enjoy a night’s music. I might mention that 50 years ago the
Musical Life of Raunds
was very remarkable. There was no other village in Northamptonshire perhaps not in England which could equal Raunds then in this respect. At that time we could pick up any of Handel’s works, or other composer’s oratorios, and sing them through. Our Raunds singers could give the whole of the solos, and our Raunds players could take the whole of the instruments; and at that time Mr. Skinner was just coming out as a musician. There were very few organs and harmoniums about at that time to help the singers. It is a pleasure to look back and think of the time when Mr. Skinner started the Rushden Temperance Band and of the way in which he kept them together. The old Choral Society at Rushden, too, owed its existence to him. It is a well deserved compliment that he should have been asked to conduct the oratorio this week.”
Mr. J. Farey’s Tribute
Mr. Joseph Farey, the honoured conductor of the famous Baptist Choir at Rushden, was also eager to pay a tribute to his old friend.
“For over 40 years,” he said, “I have been associated with Mr. Skinner. I knew him before he came to Rushden in the days of the old Choral Society at Higham Ferrers, of which the conductor was Mr. Thomas Randall, father of the late Alderman E. B. Randall. Mr. Randall’s concert at that time was the musical event of the season at Higham Ferrers. Mr. Skinner and I were members of this society. Mr. Skinner has been living in Rushden not far short of 40 years. Beyond question, he has done more for music in Rushden and the district than anyone else. He is a born musician. I do not know another who is so well versed in the ‘deep things’ of music as he is. As everyone knows, he is the ‘father’ of the Rushden Temperance Band. That musical tone Mr. Skinner always insisted upon you can notice it in the band even to this day. That broad, rich tone, which you seldom hear from other bands, is due, I think, entirely to Mr. Skinner. The personnel of the band has changed, but the grand tone has been retained. Mr. Skinner would always maintain
among the bandsmen, and he always kept up the high moral tone as well as the musical efficiency. The perseverance of the man, against disappointments and obstacles, has been simply wonderful. When I was first asked to join in giving ‘The Messiah,’ I made this proviso, that Mr. Skinner should be asked to conduct, and we all felt that that was the right thing. Mr. Skinner has been to all the rehearsals, and was just the same as ever saying almost the same things, in the same tones, looking almost the same, and in the same hall, why, we might imagine the clock had been put back 25 years and that we were once more in the days of old Rushden Choral Society! One can’t help noticing that he has still his old enthusiasm for music. Mr. Skinner’s musical standard was always a very high one. He was a lover of classical music, the music of the great masters. Only last December he sang ‘Why do the nations’ at our rendering of ‘The Messiah’ at the Baptist Church.”
Parish Church Organist
Mr. J. E. Smith, organist and choirmaster at the Parish Church, Rushden, whose duties at the church this week prevent him from taking an active part in the rendering of “The Messiah,” but whose interest in it is none the less keen, says:-
“Ever since I was a little boy I have known Mr. Skinner. I remember once, when I was quite a lad, accompanying Mr. Skinner in one of his songs, this being at the house of my uncle, Mr. Abel Clark, of Stanwick. Mr. Skinner came to Rushden in 1874 and I came to Rushden in 1875 and we have been associated very closely in musical matters.”
From a copy of a Northampton paper in 1878 we learn that in that year Mr. Smith called a meeting at the National Schools, Rushden, for the purpose of forming a Choral Society, and the report shows that Mr. Smith was elected pianist and Mr. Skinner was placed on the committee.
“I remember in 1875,” says Mr. Smith, “I was living at Stanwick, and I was organist at Souldrop Parish Church. I got Mr. Skinner and Mr. Joseph Farey to go over to Souldrop and sing the duet, ‘The Lord is a man of war.’ Mr. Skinner has always had my best wishes, and I have realised from the first that he is a good solid musician. He has worked very hard to promote music in Rushden and the district.”
Mr. F. Betts, choirmaster at the Park-road Wesleyan Church, Rushden, says:-
“I have known Mr. Skinner for 15 or 20 years. I knew him as the conductor of the old Rushden Choral Society. He was an ardent musician, very enthusiastic, trying to make other people enthusiastic, and succeeding almost beyond expectation. At the practices he was always very definite in his instructions. He was always a good, plain advisor, and very kindly in disposition. His instructions were always given in a spicy way, and they were always effective. He would crack a joke every now and again, but there was invariably some lesson in it. He got the society up to a high pitch of excellence. I also knew Mr. Skinner as the conductor of the Park-road Wesleyan choir for a couple of years. As choirmaster he was genial and earnest, ever seeking to get the choir on. Extremely punctual and regular, he was always at his post.”
The Mission-Hall Choirmaster
“I came to Rushden in 1884. The Rushden Choral Society was then in existence, but there was no orchestral band in the town. Although I had been connected with an orchestral band elsewhere, playing the violin, I found that Mr. Skinner’s standard of excellence was higher than I had been accustomed to, and I had to work very hard to get up to his requirements. I always consider that Mr. Skinner did a great deal to help me in my orchestral work. Under Mr. Skinner’s conductorship, a very fair string band was got together, and, in fact, professional conductors have been known to say they did not wish for a better band than Rushden could turn out at that time. I attribute very much of that efficiency to Mr. Skinner’s tuition. He spared no pains in rehearsing the band. Many a time we have been at his house before breakfast on a Sunday morning, and then had another practice following the afternoon services. He was very energetic, and would give any amount of time to bring the band on. I have often said to my friends, ‘If Mr. Skinner had had a musical education he would have been one of the finest musicians in the country.”
A Disciple’s Tribute
Mr. T. T. Clarke, who might almost be called a disciple of Mr. Skinner, has, like his father (Mr. T. C. Clarke), a feeling of deep affection and regard towards the veteran conductor.
“I have known Mr. Skinner for some years,” says Mr. T. T. Clarke, “as an enthusiastic musician, genial in disposition, and always ready to impart knowledge to any young members of the choir. He has always shown a keen interest in the younger members, especially. That is one of his strong points. Personally I have felt very much encouraged at times by his kindly words and friendly advice. He was the first conductor of the Rushden Adult School Male Choir, and, when he resigned, he was one of those who induced me to succeed him in that position. He has been ready at all times to answer any question I have put to him. Mr. Skinner has a very warm corner in the hearts of the Adult School Male Choir. From a musical standpoint, Rushden owes much to him. What draws me to him personally is the link between my grandfather, my father, and Mr. Skinner. He knew my grandfather, who used to take the alto solos in ‘The Messiah’ and other oratorios.”