Profile: Pam Buckley, the first woman appointed to chair the Petersfield Musical Festival

The Petersfield Musical Festival (PMF) has appointed the first female chair in its 120-year history – local resident and musician Pam Buckley. In this interview Pam talks about her new role, outlines her vision for the future and explains why she cares so much about the central importance of meeting PMF’s charitable goals: to create music in an accessible way, support talented young musicians and engage positively with the local community and beyond.

Sarah Hard, PR manager of the PMF, talks with Pam.

What attracted you to getting involved in the Petersfield Musical Festival?

When we chose to move to Petersfield, five years ago, one of the great things I discovered about the town was that it had a music festival with a strong choral tradition.  The first choral workshop I went to was led by our Festival Conductor, Paul Spicer, a renowned choral director and the work was Dyson’s Canterbury Pilgrims.  I had recorded it in 1997 as a member of the London Symphony Chorus, under the late Richard Hickox, so it brought back lovely memories but more importantly it showed the strength of the Festival in engaging well-known professional musicians such as Paul, who is an expert and author on George Dyson to guide and inspire community music-making.

I got to know Marcia Fielden who was Secretary of the Festival, through The Petersfield Choir and we talked about me joining the committee to get more involved and help in any way I could.

What developments would you like to encourage over the next 3-5 years?

I joined the committee at the 2020 AGM which was held on Zoom during lockdown.  So my hands-on experience of the Festival has been during a challenging time of cancelled concerts, including even last year so I am very much still in the watch, listen and learn stage of assessing what we do well and what we could do better; who our audience is and who we might reach out to in the future.  In particular, I’m benefiting from learning from Philip Young, our former Chairman who is continuing as Musical Director and takes on a huge list of tasks for the Festival including coordinating the two Youth Concerts which are at the core of the Festival.  We have a strong committee which includes representatives of the choirs and orchestras taking part in the Festival.  My aim is to encourage them to think beyond the current formats, concerts and performers, and explore together how the Festival may look in five years’ time.

How important do you think PMF is in terms of contributing to the community/culture of Petersfield and the surrounding areas?

Historically, we know we have Petersfield Musical Festival to thank for the very existence of the Festival Hall which is potentially a wonderful space for local entertainment, exhibitions and hopefully more activities in the future.  When talking to shoppers in the Square on market day, whilst handing out Festival leaflets, many recall their memories of taking part in the Youth Concerts or of their children doing so.  The challenge is to keep that involvement going beyond the Youth Concerts to the rest of the Festival both as an audience and by taking part through the local choirs, orchestras and ensembles.

As a singer yourself, how important do you think local choir participation is for individuals?

I am passionate about singing and particularly about singing in choirs.  It is so good for the body and the soul.  Firstly you need to learn how to breathe, stand well, use your vocal space correctly and engage muscles you may never have thought about and singing certainly produces endorphins which lift the spirit.  We may arrive at rehearsal tired and lacking enthusiasm but it doesn’t take long before singers are smiling – as long as the chorus director isn’t being too critical! The magical thing is that a choir is the sum of its parts so we all work together to produce a glorious sound and it is such a privilege to perform with inspirational conductors, like Paul Spicer alongside professional musicians and soloists.

An interesting development in recent years has been the growth of community choirs and rock choirs which are perhaps attracting a new membership compared to the traditional choral society or chamber choir.  I’m delighted that Petersfield Community Choir will be opening this year’s Festival on 17th March, alongside Liss Band.  They will produce a wonderfully varied programme in complete contrast to the Festival Chorus’s Handel Jephtha the following evening.

As the first female chairman in the Festival’s history, what do you think you can bring to the role?

I may be the first female chairman but women have been at the core of the Festival ever since it was founded in 1901 by two sisters, Edith and Rosalind Craig Sellars.  Kathleen Merritt conducted the Petersfield Festival Orchestra for 49 and was awarded an MBE in 1972, later becoming President of the Festival.  Petersfield is blessed with many strong women who have been central to music-making here including Elizabeth Gotto and of course Ann Pinhey, who has just been recognised in the New Year’s honours.  I am hoping to draw on the inspiration of these amazing women and hopefully use a collaborative approach to harness all the strengths of our committee to develop the Festival’s potential.

I was delighted when the Petersfield Choir sang works by Cecilia McDowall and Elaine Hagenburg in December and I look forward to encouraging more music by female composers to be performed in the Festival.

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