Christine Ring: An Appreciation
Christine Ring’s first encounter with the flute was not an easy one: as a pupil at Epsom Grammar in Auckland (New Zealand) she had to wait until the girl previously allocated the school’s only flute had decided she no longer wanted to play it. From that point onward things improved, and following lessons first from George Poore, and then from his son Frank, Christine was rewarded by an accolade from the headmistress, who had heard her practising. The Poores started the Auckland Junior Symphony Orchestra (cond. Gordon Cole) which met once a week, and, in Christine’s words, provided a “fantastic training”. Her performance of the big flute solo in Grieg's piano concerto attracted particular attention. By this point Christine's father had bought her an instrument of her own, although as there were few flutes coming into New Zealand in the 1930s and 40s, he had to use a friend's car import company to bring this from the US.
Christine met Layton at a summer school held at a model English prep school in Cambridge (New Zealand) established by Arthur Broadhurst. Coincidentally Mr Broadhurst was later to reappear in their lives, having moved to Lichfield (UK), as the first viola teacher of their son William. Layton and Christine moved to the UK in 1954, rapidly establishing themselves as regulars at the Haslemere Festival in July of each year. Moving from New Zealand was not straightforward; it entailed a four-week boat trip through the Suez Canal, and Christine was only 21. Layton, ten years her senior, had made the trip to Haslemere once before, and had already established himself as a harpsichordist, so with considerable support from the Dolmetsch family, the Rings became key members of the emerging Early Music movement. Carl Dolmetsch gave Christine her first one-keyed flute and a copy of Prelleur’s flute method, and within a short time she had become remarkably proficient. She also had viol lessons from Nathalie Dolmetsch, and began to play the recorder. The Rings bought a little house on the High Pavement in Haslemere (it had once been ‘The Good Intent’ pub) and later had their own house built on Three Gates Lane, where they remained until Layton was invited to join the newly-formed Northern Sinfonia Orchestra in Newcastle in the late 1950s.
The move to the north-east was important for the Rings: Christine was invited to join the Sinfonia as second flute alongside principal David Haslam, finding it an immediate privilege to sit next to him “with this gorgeous sound coming into my ear all the time”. Haslam had studied with Gareth Morris, and, like Morris, played a wooden Rudall Carte flute. This ‘English sound’ became an important part of Christine’s teaching, although she was never dogmatic, and incorporated the best aspects of many traditions, using Moyse exercises, and notes taken from her contact with William Bennett and Trevor Wye.
She also went to Basel in Switzerland for baroque flute lessons with Hans-Martin Linde, driving unaccompanied the whole way for her first lesson equipped with a list of the instruments she was carrying (viols, recorders, baroque and modern flutes) which she had been assured would get her through customs. It didn't, and her car and the instruments were impounded, the latter only being safely locked up for the night thanks to the efforts of a friendly Customs official who was also a guitarist.
Christine and Layton started NORVIS (the Northumbrian Recorder and Viol School) in Durham in the early 1970s, building on connections they had made through playing in Haslemere to bring to the north-east such eminent performers as Jane Ryan, Kenneth Skeaping, Francis and June Baines, David Pinto, Rosemary Thorndycraft and Alan Davies, all of them staying in the Rings’ sprawling and beautiful house in Warden. Christine’s opportunities to play baroque flute were increased both by NORVIS and by their founding of the Adrianus Consort. The house in Warden was the focus of much musical and social activity. The consort often gave candle-lit performances in Warden church, after which the entire audience would stumble along the entirely unlit and mostly unpaved lane for celebrations and (often) more music.
Throughout the late 60s and 70s I was one of many to make the weekly trip to Warden for lessons, being greeted at the door by Layton with his increasingly Dali-esque moustache. Inside, a refectory table, habitually covered in unopened mail, musical scores, antique flutes, viols and recorders became one of many images burnt into my brain as a prerequisite for being a successful musician. Thanks to Christine I grew up thinking that every sophisticated flute-player had an antique table covered with original boxwood, ivory and ebony flutes from the past 250 years – and over dinner after a conference at the Conservatoire in Brussels only months ago three professional baroque flautists each recounted stories similar to mine in their early experience with influential teachers as the key moment in their realisation that they would play historical instruments. That the Rings were able to provide inspiration to so many who are still performing musicians, academics, instrument makers and teachers is a tribute to the wealth of experience and instinctive inclusivity which they brought to the musical life of the north east and elsewhere.
Christine and Layton’s capacity to support and compensate for each other was extraordinary, and inevitably led to scenes which still reduce me to tears of laughter, such as the time - pre-concert - when Christine carried viols across the cobbled yard and placed them carefully behind the open rear doors of an awkwardly parked van, after which Layton reversed the van up to the door so that Christine didn’t need to carry the viols across the yard. I arrived minutes later to find a distraught Christine holding aloft a viol neck with a carving of King Charles’s head, now attached to the remains of the viol only by twisted strings. Characteristically, any acrimony lasted only minutes, and was soon replaced by uproarious laughter.
I last saw both of them in Warden when Arthur Haswell and I visited in May 2010. Christine, her memory jogged by seeing us, talked for over an hour about Haslemere, the Dolmetsch Family, Layton’s improbable importing of an original Kirkman harpsichord to New Zealand, the Sinfonia, teaching, playing with Haslam, lessons with Linde, and our mutual love of Rudall Carte flutes. These notes are at least partly taken from the recording I took that day (and of course I still also play a Rudall Carte flute identical to Christine’s).
Simon Waters - 30 July 2019
Christine Ring (right: recorder) with Layton Ring on harpsichord, Rosemary Thorndycraft on bass viol, and an unidentified violinist at Warden in the mid 1970s (Photo from a series taken by Brian Waters following a commission to make posters and publicity for the Adrianus Consort).