When is the free Felixstowe Spa Gardens Jubilee concert?

For Suffolk musician Hattie Bennett, making music has always been about connecting with the local community and presenting audiences with a wide variety of work of different ages and genres.

The Felixstowe-based cellist believes there is no ‘new music’ or ‘old-fashioned music’. There is only good music and bad music – and you can find both types in all eras and in all genres.

Speaking directly to the public remains at the heart of everything she does. She is currently gearing up for a day of free concerts on Bank Holiday Monday August 29 as part of Felixstowe’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

The concert staged by the Professional Festival Orchestra, set up by Hattie for the occasion, will take place in the Spa Gardens on Felixstowe seafront. The 2 p.m. show marks the 10th anniversary of the Felixstowe Community Choir while the 7 p.m. show revisits some of the most beloved and distinctive film and television scores of the past 70 years.


Hattie Bennet
– Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

The performance is an extension of the work Hattie does for music in Felixstowe – featuring performances by professional musicians in and around Felixstowe. For this work, Hattie received the BEM in 2016.

Hattie was born in Manchester into a family of musicians. His mother and father, Susan Watmough and Paul Ward, were musicians and played in the Halle Orchestra and his brother Nick Ward followed in their footsteps playing the violin and becoming the leader of The City of London Sinfonia.

The family’s musical genes go back several generations – her grandfather was an organist and her grandmother an actress.

“My mum and dad both played in the Halle Orchestra before becoming independent. When I was a teenager, my father inherited some money and they decided to start their own orchestra. My mother ran the orchestra, took care of the administration, the publicity and kept the mailing list up to date, which of course I do now. Talk about following in your mother’s footsteps.

Hattie tells the story of her mother’s life as a professional musician, along with dozens of other professional players, in a new book “Musical Journeys”. Extraordinary women in conversation with Hattie Bennett’.

She says the trigger for the book was her father’s death and the effect it had on her mother. “After my dad died, my mom found all these journals that had all these meticulous lists of everything he had done. She started writing it all down and I thought she had to tell her own story and what she had done. So I started talking to her about her life and as I was talking to her the stories started coming out of her. I thought these women, of a certain age, were so interesting.


Hattie Bennet

Hattie Bennet
– Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

“The funny thing is, my mum was a very strong and capable woman. She got by as a professional musician in a very male-dominated world – women weren’t supposed to play in professional orchestras – but when she was confronted with my tape recorder, she became very nervous and unsure of herself. She kept popping up and walking around as she spoke. She was quite agitated, which I I had never seen before. She really didn’t like talking about herself and would have preferred to talk about my father.

“But I was determined to make her speak for herself because not only was she a rare female performer in a top orchestra, but she was also a mother who cared for very young children and kept a house. together.”

Hattie said the conversation turned out to be eye-opening and she found out things she didn’t know about her mother. She was a professional double bass player but initially began her training as a pianist.

“She went to London during the war to train, but as all the men had been called up, there were a lot of double bass gigs. She had played double bass in her school orchestra and was very good in this field, so she found herself becoming a double bass player rather than a pianist.

Hattie’s mum Susan played a lot with the BBC Concert Orchestra which was good when they were doing a show from a radio studio because she couldn’t be seen, it was the same when they were playing at the Royal Opera House or Sadler’s Wells because they were under the stage out of sight, but they didn’t let her on the concert stage because at that time there weren’t supposed to be women in orchestras.

Thanks to the wonderful work done by female musicians during the war years, the “men only” attitude was quickly loosened when the 1940s became the 1950s.

After capturing her mother’s memories of her professional life, Hattie then began following other professional musicians from her mother’s time to capture their experiences for what has become a much-loved book.


Hattie Bennet

Hattie Bennet
– Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

But, as Hattie discovered when she followed her parents into the world of professional music, there were still plenty of hurdles for female musicians to overcome that their male colleagues didn’t have to overcome.

“I married my husband Bob when I was still at university and after graduating we decided to apply to join the Halle Orchestra because of the connection with my parents, but I was told that they didn’t accept married women. They were happy to have Bob but not me. They never explained why but I can guess. I suspect it might have been the possibility of pregnancy. ”

Nonetheless, Hattie found plenty of work performing in the West End, performing (out of sight) in pit orchestras helping to provide the power and lush backing to some of the world’s greatest musicals. “It was quite a blow at the time to be rejected so bluntly, but looking back it was a blessing in disguise because I’ve had such a varied career that I wouldn’t have had if I had been accepted into the Hallée.

“I have friends who have been playing in orchestras for 40 years and they lead such a limited existence.”

In the early 1970s she and Bob moved to Suffolk and began teaching and finding a creative outlet at the original Wolsey Theater under Dick Tuckey, and also working in theater in education.


Hattie Bennet

Hattie Bennet
– Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

“I had so much work through the Wolsey. I really enjoyed playing there and the music was great. I felt professionally that I could hold my head up high. I felt validated.

Connecting with the public is something that remains an important part of Hattie’s professional outlook on the world. She is passionate about bringing music to people and performing at their doorstep.

Hattie founded Music in Felixstowe 15 years ago with the express purpose of providing work for local professional musicians and giving audiences of all ages the opportunity to hear a wide variety of music they might not otherwise have. not be encountered before.

“I want to put on a wide range of music, which is why we have everything from well-known classical works to more obscure pieces and jazz events. I hope that our audience will continue to grow and also continue to trust us, so that they come for the well-known concerts and trust us and come to something that they may not know too much.

“They’ll know they’ll be treated to high-quality music, they’ll be comfortable, they’ll see people they know, and it’ll happen right on their doorstep.”

The Music in Felixstowe program encompasses everything from Handel and Mozart to Benjamin Britten, British folk music and the music hall world.

Gigs started small at Felixstowe Ferry before spreading to Felixstowe passing through venues like the Orwell’s Hotel, St Andrew’s Church, pubs like The Half Moon in Walton and schools.

For Hattie, the concert program follows a very fine line. “I insist on paying the musicians properly because they are professionals and they perform music that audiences would normally hear in big city concert halls, so they deserve to receive proper payment for their work. , but at the same time, I want to keep ticket prices low so they’re affordable for everyone.

“It’s quite a balancing act. It’s important that we give professional musicians in the region decently paid work, while providing local audiences with access to some of the best music ever written.

“I remember the vicar of St Andrew’s, John Aston, getting up at the end of a Good Friday concert and saying quite spontaneously ‘you’d pay a lot of money to go to London to listen to music of this excellence’ , which was a wonderful validation and quite unexpected.

When it comes to programming, Hattie always takes a notebook with her when she travels and writes down the names of the pieces she encounters that touch her. “When I think ‘Oh, that would go well with our audience,’ that gets into my book.”

Receiving the BEM in the 2016 honors list was a huge surprise and a great honor – something Hattie still can’t fathom because in her eyes she’s just trying to share beautiful “beautiful music performed by wonderfully talented people”. local musicians.

“There is such a wealth of talent in Suffolk that I don’t understand why the county is so often overlooked. These wonderful musicians play all over the country – all over the world – and yet are largely unknown in their home country.

However, Hattie was very flattered that her work with schoolchildren had been recognized. “Music is such an important part of my life and the life of the community, and I was very happy that it was the work I had done at Felixstowe with young children, working in schools, that was noted. on the quote.


Hattie's book, Musical Journeys.  Extraordinary Women in Conversation with Hattie Bennett

Hattie’s book, Musical Journeys. Extraordinary Women in Conversation with Hattie Bennett
– Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

“I’m very committed to keeping young people interested in a wide range of music. You hear pop music everywhere and a lot of it is very good, but there are so many different forms of music that are just as good. My daughter Emily and I started a string band because there is no more string teaching in our part of the world and music is such a wonderful gift. You can take it for life and it stays with you forever.

For full details and booking information for Music in Felixstowe events, including the free Jubilee Concert on Bank Holiday Monday in August, visit the Music in Felixstowe websiteor the company’s Facebook page.

Copies of Hattie’s book ‘Musical Journeys. Extraordinary Women in Conversation with Hattie Bennett is available by contacting Hattie through the Music in Felixstowe website.

Richard F. Gandhi