Confluence (kon-floo-ens)
n. the place where two rivers unite

confluence1-800x561In 1998 we began Confluence, a three year project to help and encourage people to create new music for the River Stour. Confluence was a national project with a local focus. It offered participatory music projects, workshops, courses, concerts and events for people living in the catchment area, from Somerset and Wiltshire, where the Stour rises, through Dorset to the sea at Christchurch.

Whilst climate shifts around us, nature takes a beating from our insatiable demands and as the strands which bind community and culture are weakened by both pace and passiveness, it becomes ever more vital that we explore and express what our local world means to us. By making links between our use of water and the impact this has on the river catchment, its wild life and its culture, Confluence tried to bring together the huge body of knowledge about the river which resides in the locality to compound and share in its richness.

Music offers ways of giving form to feelings that are difficult to express, expressing abstractions and reality, of creating mood and identity. Music can break through social barriers and can give people a voice. Making music together can begin to engender feelings of local pride and cohesiveness.

Helen Porter was Confluence’s music animateur. She was active in bringing people together to sing, write and perform, for example helping insecure singers to enjoy their own voices in Irresponsible Song workshops, and setting up choirs and singing groups such as Shreen Harmony and Shades of Blue. Many individuals joined in composing and performing music inspired by the river or issues concerning water and enthusiastically involved themselves with new Confluence activities as we continued to flow downstream. The Confluence Performing Club was initiated by enthusiasts who wanted to continue to encourage local interest beyond the timescale of the project.

Confluence had a Composer in Residence, Karen Wimhurst, who composed a range of exciting and highly original new works for the project. Karen, an accomplished clarinetist, also formed a trio called Watershed in which she plays alongside cellist Chas Dickie and double bass player David V. Miles. Their repertoire comprises music from classical to jazz and beyond inspired by water in all its forms. The trio have worked with local people on a series of composers workshops in Wincanton, Shaftesbury and Blandford, encouraging and helping people of all ages and abilities to understand the qualities of their instruments, and write new compositions then performed by the group. Karen has also written music inspired by the songs of riverside birds which Watershed performed as part of a concert which followed a dawn chorus walk at Springhead, Fontmell Magna.

The music composed and played embraced many styles – jazz, folk, classical, experimental, cabaret, art-song, improvised, dance-music, a capella and orchestral. But the inspiration for all the new compositions and events came from the river itself – from places, history, local stories, legends and myths.