Canon John Rankin writes:
ALAN WILKINSON, who, in 1989, formed Music in Country Churches, an annual series of high-class concerts in some of the finest rural churches in England, died suddenly, aged 86, in June.
Alan founded Music in Country Churches with Ruth, Lady Fermoy (grandmother of Diana, Princess of Wales), with the aim of raising funds to help churches with repairs and maintenance; it is now in its 27th year. Alan arranged and hosted concerts in Norfolk and Suffolk every year, and also in Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire, Herefordshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Hertfordshire, and Essex. The current total of donations for the venue churches stands at £540,000.
Alan’s approach was to contact the incumbent, and see if the particular church would welcome a concert with performers drawn from a “veritable Who’s Who of musicians”. Alan believed that the success of the concerts, usually held at weekends, depended upon the parish church’s being involved; helpers on the ground would prepare the church, steward the car park, and sell programmes.
He followed a procedure for the concerts from which he did not depart. One feature of the weekend was the marquee, where members of the audience might have supper, and socialise, over pre-concert drinks. He had a lightness of touch when hosting the concerts, many of which have been attended by the Prince of Wales, who is the Patron, the Duchess of Cornwall, and the diocesan bishop. Alan also arranged the concert programme, and wrote the programme notes.
The support of the Friends and generous sponsors of Music in Country Churches enabled the Trust to be confident in arranging these concerts. In his annual letter to the Friends, Alan would add a personal note. Besides his support for many rural churches through the Trust, Alan also gave time to his parish church in Boughton, Norfolk, where he was the treasurer.
This fund-raising initiative of concerts in country churches has provided an unexpected benefit to the finances of many churches, and for this the Church of England owes Alan a debt of gratitude.
The quality of the concerts flowed from his own professional experience. As a child, he studied the violin; aged 11, he was awarded a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, and he later graduated from the Academy as a professional violinist, mainly giving recitals. He was subsequently appointed violinist-in-residence at Christ’s Hospital, Horsham, and was in demand for performances in Scandinavia and Germany. In 1980, he was appointed Artistic Director of the King’s Lynn Festival.
Alan was a charming, courteous, and generous man, described as “hopeless with technology and amazingly knowledgeable about vast swaths of music and musicians”. In 2014, he was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
In the organisation of these concerts, Alan was wonderfully supported by his wife, Rosemary, and son, Ben. It is a joy to know that the concerts will continue.