Custom contrived: The Harvest Sing


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why don’t we actually sing at other times of the year?’ and it occurred to me the only other times of the year would be Easter and harvest.”

That makes sense and such is the origins of Stannington’s Harvest sing, an annual non-Christmas carol singing session in the Rivelin Inn. A delightful single room pub set on the outskirts of  Sheffield but seeming spiritually many miles from there, surrounded by rolling hills, woods and open fields.

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Reap what you sow

In a Thesis written on the custom  by Trish Bater one of the singers,  Geoff Lester speaking on the19th of June 2007 stated:

“It originated in the singing at Dungworth, of the Christmas Carols, of the enthusiasm, particularly at the end of a sequence of singing days…when it was time to pack up, somebody said, or it was said, or it was often said ‘why don’t we actually sing at other times of the year?’ and it occurred to me the only other times of the year would be Easter and harvest. I particularly…like ye harvest hymns and therefore I thought well, instead of talking about it, let’s do something about it, and that was why I organised the first one.”

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In an article in the Sheffield Chronicle Gathering in the Valley for the great harvest Singalong, its founder Geoff Lester relates:

“The Rivelin pub near Stannington was in an ideal location, accessible to many of the other carolling communities and in the middle of a farming area where the fruits of the harvest season were visible right outside the door.”

Indeed some of those fruits (and vegetables), albeit a brief selection, could be seen above the piano awaiting distribution by raffle. However, it was the songs that the assembled masses have come to experience – I say experience because it is impossible to attend this event without getting involved, regardless of talent although most were pretty tuneful. The sun was shining when I arrived a few minutes before the midday sing off and the pub was busy but not as crowded as those Christmas sessions, but just as atmospheric.

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Top of the crops

This year, Geoff Lester explained in the Thesis:

Harvest is interpreted very liberally…when you come to look for harvest hymns which are good to singing that sort of situation there aren’t many and so consequently I threw in a lot of my favourite hymns like And can it be.”

A quick scan of the hymn sheet reveals a fine selection of Harvest related songs were assembled. Twenty-seven hymns on the song sheet – two sung infrequently and one is not sung at all.These were an unusual mixture of eighteenth and nineteenth century hymns such as Come ye Thankful people, folk songs such as ‘To be a farmer’s boy’, parlour ballads and comical songs. Basically everything but Christmas carols! Not only that but uplifting. Soon on arrival I found myself squeezed into the space near the piano, reading the Thesis, and then after a few introductory bars, the place erupted in soul enriching song!

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The grim reaper!

Last year the Harvest Sing was put in peril by the closure of the pub, but the pub reopened and the custom’s survival was secured.  However, whereas perhaps a custom largely organised by one individual that it might be in danger due to that but I am more than confident the mass of people regularly attending will ensure it will survive for many years since. Sadly, I could not stay for all the whole session and nearby Meadowhall beckoned.

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The Harvest song, a contrived event perhaps but one which is more than justified and a worthy successor to the Harvest Home of the past. It certainly made walking around the soulless streets of Meadowhall more uplifting!

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