The Lute Society: Residential Weekends

Residential weekends (LuteFest)

The Lute Society usually runs its own residential weekends every year in the UK - called Lutefest, usually held at Benslow Music trust in Hitchin, Hertfordshire.

For playing opportunities, see also our more informal playing days and the international summer schools listings.

Booking your place

Once the dates are announced (usually held in March each year), you can book on Benslow Music Trust's website. Usually there is a two or three night option.

Benslow Lutefest - the Lute Society residential weekend

‘What is this?’, 'what happens?', ‘where is it?' and ‘is it for me?’ are questions people might ask if they have not been on such a venture before. Here are some answers to such questions to hopefully encourage you to come and try it.

The Society has for a good number of years organised a weekend where players of all standards can get together with a few singers, viol players and others to enjoy a good cross section of lute music, mainly from the later 16th and early 17th century. There is opportunity for every attendee to have at least one, sometimes two lessons with one or other of the tutors on the weekend, and the option for some to perform in a masterclass session. Whilst this is happening, there is a Dowland room for people to play lute quartets arranged from Dowland pieces, other trios or quartets by other composers, duets, lute songs with a singer or in the larger group singing in four parts with lute accompaniment, or listening in to some of the open lessons.

The tutors try to ensure there is music for all standards of player so that people should not feel daunted by the idea of playing with others - often a bit threatening if you are used to playing solos quietly at home.

The venue is at Benslow Music Trust in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, which is set up for groups of varying sizes but accommodating up to 50 for the lute fest. There are single, shared and double rooms available at various prices. The food is good and there is a bar, some places to sit quietly a lovely garden tended by volunteers, and a station within walking distance.

People are generous with lutes and music and generally happy for you to try a lute of a different size to your own, which is helpful if you are tuned at A415, or in F, since most of the music is for G lute at 440. there are some bass lutes around as well. This means if you have a hired instrument or a student instrument and want to try lutes by different makers before ordering a bespoke lute from one of them, this is your chance to compare and contrast.

If you need more information, contact the secretary or other committee member with questions.


Bursaries, funded by donations from the membership, are available each year, with the intention of enabling students, the young, and those of limited means who would benefit from and enjoy first-class tuition and the chance for lots of lute-based chamber playing to attend the Benslow Lutefest, who would otherwise have difficulty in affording the fees. The bursary scheme is primarily aimed at lute players, though singers and other instrumentalists such as viol players who would enjoy working with lutenists may also apply, and receive a bursary if the fund is not already exhausted. Students who would like to take part in a masterclass are especially welcome, though shy beginners are also welcome. Recipients are asked to write a short review of their experiences for publication on our website. Benslow Music Trust can also offer bursaries, and commonly Benslow and The Lute Society can cover the whole fee with two 50% bursaries, contact the secretary for further details.

Reports from previous residential weekends, including reports by recent bursary recipients

Lutefest song

The course report is sometimes in the form of a song to a well known lute song tune, or in this case an old ballad tune - see below.

The Lutefest Benslow Song 2018 - by Nick Gravestock.

We’re come now to Benslow in old Hitchin town
To meet our lute tutors of highest renown,
Who come to encourage and not do us down,
And we love our lute fest at Benslow.
With lutes finely tuned and our voices in train;
our fingers are honed, ’cause we practiced again
And sight reading tablature stretches our brain
And we love our lute fest at Benslow.

With nutritious breakfast we enter the day
And after three coffees we’re ready to play
of music and songs of the widest array
And we love our lute fest at Benslow.
But where is our Stewart with all of his skill
at making quite sure that we all have our fill
Of music and pieces arranged with a will
And we love our lute fest at Benslow.

On Thursday we meet with lutes both large and small
And improvise melodies taxing us all,
Then off to the bar where for good wine we call
And we love our lute fest at Benslow.
Friday we learn new songs by Robert Jones
While Alex and Andy their pupils’ skill hones
While pictures are taken on newfangled phones
And we love our lute fest at Benslow.

We finish our Friday with concert so rare
With Weiss played by Alex as fast as he dare.
Then drinks in the bar and songs without care
And we love our lute fest at Benslow.
Saturday morning we’re playing some more
Until all our fingers are feeling quite sore;
While talk about lutes and strings never does bore
And we love our lute fest at Benslow.

Post lunch the lute orchestra tunes for a while
And plays courtly dances with panache and style
while Roy’s eccentricities raises a smile
And we love our lute fest at Benslow.
Then Lynda and Alex and Andy and Roy
With Jeni’s mellifluous voice we enjoy
And galliard and pavan and almaine and toy
And we love our lute fest at Benslow.

Too soon it is Sunday and our bags we pack
Then check that the snow has not made our strings slack
And though it’s the last day, we know we’ll be back
’cause we love our lute fest at Benslow.
Then Roy’s masterpiece all attack with a will
And practice our party piece for the top bill
Then hope that the snow fresh might keep us here still
For we love our lute fest at Benslow.

See also some reviews of summer schools attended by members.