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Singing Stone marks 50 years of music at York

Posted on 3 June 2015

The University of York will unveil a new sculpture, Singing Stone, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Department of Music on 13 June.

An original sculpture by artist Gordon Young, it will also commemorate Dame Janet Baker’s Chancellorship of the University from 1991 – 2004, her career as a singer, and her continuing support of the Department of Music.

Incorporating words from Dame Janet’s favourite poem, W. B. Yeats’ The Cloths of Heaven, the sculpture has been carved from a 7 metre long glacial granite boulder from Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. It was transported to East Yorkshire to be worked on during Winter 2014 – Spring 2015.

Unveiled on campus at 2pm on Saturday 13 June, the 150th birthday of WB Yeats, the distinctive sculpture will be placed close to the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall and open to all to view. During the unveiling ceremony, Emily Hodkinson, a first year Music student, and Professor Peter Seymour will perform Thomas Dunhill's Cloths of Heaven, as often performed and recorded by Dame Janet Baker.

Gordon Young is best known for Blackpool’s The Comedy Carpet (2011) which lays at 2,200m² and contains 160,000 granite letters referring to the work of more than 1,000 comedians and comedy writers. He also created the MK Rose in Milton Keynes (2013), Cursing Stone at Tullie House in Carlisle (2003)and Walk of Art (2002),a 110 metre laser cut walkway commemorating donors’ contributions to Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Dame Janet Baker said: “I wanted to think of something that was enduring, for there to be something on the campus that everybody could enjoy for evermore. The idea of art on campus, of a statue inscribed with words was very appealing. I was asked to give words that had meant a lot of me during my working life and I chose the W. B. Yeats poem The Cloths of Heaven which I am particularly fond of. The poem is engraved on the pillar in a spiral form so you have to walk around the work to fully understand it which I think is wonderful.

 “Becoming Chancellor was a huge change for me because it came not long after I retired from performing life. I spent the years at York in absolute joy because it was so different from anything I had ever done before. It was a wonderful job to do and the most touching part was the degree ceremonies we had. They were very special to me, sitting in the hall with the parents and shaking the hand of every student and sharing that day and their great achievement with them.”

Gordon Young said: “I have only done one work celebrating a single British performer and that was around the Eric Morecambe statue in Morecambe. I feel privileged doing a sculpture about another British cultural giant, Dame Janet Baker. Not only does she share a talent worth celebrating but she also epitomises the very best of what a Yorkshire person can be.

“I asked about her around the University and York, and all I got back was positivity, mirroring what she has been about. Her choice of song and lyrics is quality material well worth working with so I hope Singing Stone is enjoyed by her.  I think the work’s site near to the Department of Music is a good place to be reminded of Dame Janet and the contribution she made to our culture and society.”

The unveiling is part of a weekend of performances and hospitality on 13 and 14 June celebrating the Department of Music’s anniversary. The Sam Johnson Big Band, composer and pianist Jane Gardner and Robert Hollingworth, founder of international group I Fagiolini, will perform, and informal receptions will also give alumni, staff, students and friends of the Department the opportunity to rekindle old friendships. To purchase tickets and to see the programme please visit

Singing Stone is a major sculptural commission by the University of York made possible by donations from Leo Rothschild, Dame Janet Baker CH DBE and by alumni of the University of York. It is the latest sculpture to be installed on campus, which also hosts, amongst others, Antiphon by Barbara Hepworth, Ralph Vaughan Williams by Jacob Epstein, and Dryad by Austin Wright.

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