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Musical stones go on display at Cliffe Castle

Thursday, 1 December 2022 14:20

By Chris Young, Local Democracy Reporter

A mysterious, musical set of stones will soon be on display in a Keighley museum – and they will be used in a "rock" concert this weekend.

The sonorous stones were first donated to what would go on to become Cliffe Castle Museum in 1906 by Henry Phillipson, who was the museum curator at the time.

But the collection of stones – known as a lithophone, has been in Bradford Council storage since the 1950s.

The instrument, similar to a xylophone, has now been dusted off and is on display in Cliffe Castle’s conservatory. Its arrival will be marked with an event on Saturday where people can hear the stones in action.

The origins of the instrument are unclear, although they are thought to date back to the 19th Century when such instruments were popular and regularly used in public recitals.

The Cliffe Castle instrument, although incomplete, is one of the few remaining instruments of its type in the UK.

The musical metamorphics were originally based outside Keighley’s Victoria Hall before the stones were placed into storage.

The project to restore the has been delivered by Quarry Arts in partnership with Bradford Museums and Galleries, and has been funded by the Arts Council England Project Grants. Further funding from the Cliffe Castle Support Group, Kala Sangam, Friends of Bradford Art Galleries & Museums, and Ilkley & District Round Table.

Bobbie Millar from Quarry Arts believes there were once 49 stones in the Cliffe Castle instrument, although only 22 now remain. She said some of the stones are “extremely high pitched” while others are more “easy on the ear.”

Whoever created the instrument would have found a suitably tuneful rock in a quarry or hillside, before working the pieces to create xylophone like bars.

Referring to the instrument that has just gone on display, she said: “We don’t know who made them, but it may be William Till, who also has an instrument in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.”

Till was the man behind a number of similar instruments crafted in the Victorian era.

It is hoped that the project will be an interactive one – rather than an exhibit that gathers dust.

Mrs Millar said: “We want people to try out the stones, we want to engage children a bit more, get them to come to the museum to have a go.”

The project will be linked to the museum’s impressive rock collection – which has been said to be the third best in the UK.

At Saturday’s event, which runs from 2pm to 3pm, percussionist Polly McMillan will be playing four new compositions written especially for the instrument by local composers Ben Crick, Ben Gaunt, Flori Maunders and Heider Nasralla.

The wooden frame for the lithophone has been created by members of the Men’s Shed group that meets in Cliffe Castle park.

The sound each individual stone makes is also being recorded and uploaded to the internet, allowing people to “play” the instrument themselves from the comfort of their own home.

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