Over the past few years in audio production I’ve developed a set of quite unique skills for a writer. One of these is listening and an ear for rhythm, flow, and expression, which was put to good use this week when I was asked to judge the Northumberland WI ‘Reading Aloud’ competition.
There were 10 teams in all, each with 3 members. The first member of the team had to read a set poem, Abra-Cadabra by Grace Nichols, an evocative telling of Guyanese childhood memories of a wonderful Mother. The second person read a poem of their own choice, these ranged from the comedic Pam Ayres to the morose Ted Hughes and one person even wrote and read her own poem based on a WW1 Veteran who returned to her village of Thropton after the war. The third member of the team had to read a piece which was unseen. These were extracts from Philippa Gregory’s book on Henry VIII’s 5th wife Katherine Howard, written in the 1st person and therefore to be read ‘in character’ – a tall order which most delivered extremely well given that they only took the piece out of the envelope as they stood up to read.
In addition there were 3 teams who read choral pieces, that is performed as a group their own choice poem – all wonderfully humerous verses to round off the evening: The Akond of Swat by Edward Lear, The Ladies of the Charity Shop by Peter Wyton and A Ballad of John Silver by John Masefield. For this, the ladies delighted in dressing up and all delivered great performances.
My work was to make notes as the evening progressed and to give marks which would determine who went through to the final in May – this was quite a responsibility! It was clear that everyone had put a tremendous amount of practice into their pieces and I ensured that the feedback I gave to each person and team was kind and constructive.
Overall I spent 2 very entertaining evenings, with the talented ladies of the WI who clearly have many more strings to their bow than baking cakes.