SKIPTON Music Festival did not take place this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Here, Sally Johnson describes what the festival means to her and looks forward to next year, when it is due to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

I KNOW it will sound like an exaggeration but Skipton Music Festival actually changed my life. I first became aware of the festival around 2007, not long after my son, Ben, started to learn the cello and his teacher suggested he take part.

As he became more and more committed to playing the cello - and soon the piano too - the festival quickly became an important part of our family’s musical calendar. Often it was a place for Ben to try out new ideas and play with different people or to make the most of an opportunity to give a public performance of a piece he’d been preparing for an upcoming exam.

By the time he left Skipton for music college in 2017, we’d lost count of the number of different classes he’d taken part in and it was a fitting end to his decade of involvement that he represented Skipton in the Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire Regional Championship in 2016 and was awarded the President’s Prize for his overall contribution to the festival in 2017.

But that’s not where our family story ends. Each year I went along to the festival with Ben, I became more and more fascinated by the non-competitive classes held on Monday evenings. At the time, these were one of the few opportunities for adult instrumentalists to perform - though there were always lots of classes for singers. On those Mondays evenings, I saw many brave adults nervously get up on stage at Skipton Town Hall to perform on piano, guitar or saxophone or whatever instrument they played at whatever level. And each year, full of admiration, I watched them and realised how much I regretted giving up the flute as a young child and that maybe I should give it another go. So eventually I did.

In the early days, performing at the festival as a more or less beginner level adult was nothing short of terrifying. It’s easy to convince yourself that audiences will tolerate any standard of playing from children and teenagers but surely they expect something better from 40-something grown-ups?

Maybe, maybe not. But all I know is that I felt sick for most of the weekend before those dreaded, yet much-loved, Monday evenings though each year it got a little better. And, as with my son before me, I started taking exams and the festival became a fixed point in the musical year around which to practise and perform new pieces until I finally passed my personally muchcoveted Grade 8 at the ripe old age of 50-something.

Along the way I also got involved as a volunteer helper at the festival and over the years have done just about every available task: assisting the adjudicator with marks sheets, preparing certificates and introducing the participants for the various classes on stage.

I’ve missed the festival terribly this year. I miss seeing the organisers, the many performers - young and not so young - and I really miss the music itself.

In fact, the final Saturday afternoon of the festival in February 2020 - an utterly joyous few hours with various choirs singing their hearts out in Christ Church - was the last ever social event I attended before the pandemic changed everything.

But when the festival is back, I will be there. As it approaches its 100th anniversary, Skipton Music Festival is really thriving and I can’t wait to catch up with everyone and get performing again.