A Big Thank You
Very many thanks to you all for the superb presents you gave Chris and me on 11 December. There were in fact three gifts – tickets [and lunch] for a performance of Cirque du Soleil in the Royal Albert Hall, a marvellous photo of the whole choir which was taken last June, and a large cheque! Any one of those would have been well received, but THREE?!!
Of course as you can imagine it started me thinking about my time in the role of chairman and I slept very little on Tuesday night as a result. I was searching my mind for the highlights and lowlights during those intervening 15 years, as well as the fun and frolics.
Early memories include a real change of gear into the fast lane when we decided that our audience levels were becoming more and more secure giving us the confidence in the year 2000 to take a leap of faith and hope they would support us in a venture as far away as Dewsbury when we were to perform Mendelssohn’s Elijah with the mighty Willard White as soloist. We needn’t have worried because with a good deal of moneyraising specifically for this event together with a very appreciative audience we made a profit!!
Following this we decided we were good enough to take the challenge to Huddersfield Choral Society when messages came through that ordinary folk couldn’t get tickets for their performances of Messiah in Huddersfield Town Hall. We had conquered Dewsbury Town Hall – could we compete and give the people of North Kirklees [and our own supporters] something to shout about? Yes we could and for five years until 2005 it was looking good, then one committee member said “if we keep on losing £5000 on Messiah every year we’ll be bankrupt by 2008” – what a prophetic statement to make as we now know it. And with that ringing in our ears we had to pull back from the brink – it was good while it lasted - although it wasn’t the last of our performances in Dewsbury!!
A change of tack was fast approaching, and other influencing factors were;
Classic FM had by this time really taken hold, changing the face of music where sound bites were more important rather than whole works.
The habits of the populous in North Kirklees were also changing and Western Classical Music was not exactly flavour of the month.
Our Wakefield audience were beginning to buck the trend.
So where did we place our energies, well we had been successful with an early performance of Fanshawe’s African Sanctus in 2001, and again in 2004, so maybe there might be a niche market elsewhere?!! We hooked on to Karl Jenkins’ music and in 2005 performed his Armed Man and Carol Orff’s Carmina Burana in Huddersfield Town Hall – there we were again right under the noses of HCS and we almost filled the hall. Of course we did the right thing by inviting the HCS President as one of our guests and their Junior Choir performed with us on stage. That reminds me of a very funny incident when, with 57 members of the orchestra on stage one of the percussionists [the pretty one] couldn’t find a way from the front of the stage to her pitch. She was called over by the front row of hefty basses [‘coz they like pretty ones] sitting behind the percussion section, and they gently lowered her into position as if going down a manhole to inspect the sewers!!!
This was the beginning of a love affair with Jenkins and I think we have performed all his major works as they have hit the market place culminating of course with The Peacemakers this coming June.
All the while we were still dipping in and out of Dewsbury, we were still performing the traditional music of Faure, Elgar, Haydn, Bach, Handel, Stainer, Rutter et al, but the YPC began to look outside the box a little bit more.
We decided to institute an annual July concert of brass and voices with music to suit a summer’s evening
In November 2007 we promoted our first ‘Last Night of the Proms’ – well everyone else was doing it!
In 2008 we stumbled across a jazz mass by Will Todd
In June of that year we collaborated with Harrogate Choral Society and the Manchester Camerata in a magnificent performance of Verdi’s Requiem in Leeds Town Hall – and made a profit!
Elgar, Handel, Fanshawe, Haydn, Vivaldi and Poulenc kept popping up but then in March 2010 we really pushed the boat out and sang the 1610 Vespers [Monteverdi] with authentic instruments and Her Majesty’s Sackbuts and Cornetts. Then in complete contrast we gave the world premiere of Jonathan Bielby’s ‘This Precious Earth’, a somewhat eclectic piece with one section being devoted to 5 minutes worth of improvisation on a didgeridoo!! These two concerts thrilled our audiences and the cathedral was bursting at the seams on both occasions.
There was another ‘Last Night of the Proms’ in November 2010 and then suddenly ‘Rio Grande’ found its way into the programme planning, together with another jazz mass – this time by Bob Chilcott.
The most recent ‘wow’ concert was in March this year which was described by Bob Cowan of the Wakefield Express as ‘A Paradoxical Pleasure’ when the music was Carmina Burana and Ramirez’s Misa Criolla which was accompanied by Peruvian and Chilean musicians playing authentic instruments.
En route we’ve visited the Royal College of Music to sing ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’ by Oliver Rudland, when, incidentally we also performed Faure’s Requiem WITHOUT COPIES!
We’ve appeared on Songs of Praise, Classic FM’s The Full Works, and BBC Radio 3’s The Choir and took part in Making Music’s Adopt-a-composer scheme when we premiered Ben Oliver’s ‘Death is nothing at all’.
And of course we’ve created an important link with Leeds College of Music by offering 3 bursaries per year for students to sing and study, and be mentored by the YPC and this gives them the experience and the launch-pad for progressing their future vocal careers.
There are hundreds from the delicate touches of Bethany Seymour, Maxine Taylor and Lucia Walsh-Hughes to the full on Sasha Johnson-Manning, to the exquisite jazz singing of Bethany Halliday. Of course we’ve had male voices as well and I have always enjoyed the tonal quality of Peter Wilman, the male alto quality of Matthew Lennox and the ‘get on with it’ approach of Philip Wilcox.
But the ones that feature in my memory are;
Melanie Marshall – for shear fizz and spirit
Beth Mackay – a wonderful round tone
Maggie Macdonald – that Liz Hurley dress!
Emma Johnson – outstanding clarinet playing
Emma Kirkby – masterful Baroque singing
Willard White – “I’m sorry I don’t read music”
Maureen Brathwaite – that cheeky face and soaring top notes Belinda Sykes – the mournful solos in Jenkins’ Stabat Mater Patricia Rozario – simply professional
Josh Ellicott – popular with the ladies
Ben Davies – brilliant homespun talent
In no particular order, and you’ll all have your own take on these comments – mainly funny.
The horse flies in the Dordogne
Barbecues at the mad vicar’s establishment [yes he was an ordained Yorkshireman!], H&S would have a field day – well they did eventually – it was closed down!
‘Last night’ revues excellently organise by Derek
The donkey at a roadside stop who laughed his head off when I tripped a fell whilst presenting Andrew with a selection of Limoges pottery – needless to say it was all broken.
Aunty Chris and two young brass players doing a rumba on a wheelie bin whilst attempting to gain entry into our room from the OUTSIDE of the hotel because we had lost the room key. It was like the Escape from Colditz in reverse.
Splashing in the River Dordogne [who me?!], then having to find dry land and empty out the canoe before starting the battle again!
Coutances – first of all we couldn’t achieve a sightline from Andrew to Tom, therefore all the chairs were turned round and we sang under the west end organ. There was no-one in the building at 5.45, but at 6.00pm they were putting in extra chairs because 600 people had turned up! The organ was subsequently manned by Tom, Eileen Padmore and Steph Clayton and with six arms flying about it must have resembled an octopus with stomach ache. But master it they did, even though Steph was heard to holler ‘do I push it in or pull it out’?! Nuff said.
Singing at Andrew & Eileen’s 20th wedding anniversary in Cork Cathedral.
Sue Smith swapping cases at Dublin airport [accidentally of course] and was then heard to say – “well, looking at what was in the case that I got, and remembering what was in my case, I think that poor young lady will have had quite an uneventful weekend”
Trip to Edinburgh in May of this year and that organ in St Giles Cathedral. Tom thought he was in heaven.
John Helliwell [ex Super Tramp] performed his saxophone improvisation with a semi chorus in Lauridsen’s ‘O magnum Mysterium’ in Bayeuxand Coutances cathedrals, and the crowd went mad. John was then instantly recognised in a coffee shop in Bayeux by the owner who had seen him perform in Paris some 20 years earlier and to prove it he showed John the tickets.
It was immediately after the link with John Helliwell that he wsa able to introduce us to a group of professional Jazz musicians and in 2007 we sang Will Todd’s Mass in Blue in Wakefield cathedral and subsequently with LCM big band in 2011.
Taking part in the last post ceremony at the Menin Gate whilst on the tour to Bruges in 2009 was frighteningly humbling.
We held a recital in Bruges Square to the percussion accompaniment of horses hooves, which after a while was quite gentle and rustic, but then a fire was discovered in one of the restaurant kitchens and we were suddenly surrounded by fire and ambulances akin to those seen on Dad’s Army
Who can remember the warm sunlight on the buildings around Sarlat Cathedral?
More to the point who can remember the warm red wine in the restaurants around Sarlat Cathedral?
The Bayeux Tapestry
The acoustic in Souillac Abbey which was so effective we couldn’t even perform ‘The Echo Carol’. Well we could have, but it would have taken 10 minutes of swirling sound rather than the proper allotted performance time of 2 minutes!
Isn’t it amazing how the brain has the facility to blot out the sad/bad things that happen. All the above seem to be positives [and thank goodness for that] but there were some low times – most of which I can’t remember – but certainly three.
There was the robbery at Honfleur in 2006!! Whilst one of our members was sitting [literally] on the key to the crypt of the church thieves broke in from below and behind the church, and rifled through handbags and personal belongings stealing a good deal of money. And all this was going on whilst we were performing. Needless to say we didn’t pay the facilities fees on that occasion, nor have we had a letter of sympathy or apology from that day forwards. It was a sad and sour start to the tour although it didn’t spoil our appetite for moules and frites as we spilled into the cafes round the harbour!!!
Peggie’s Woolford died in the Spring of 2010, the last of our founder members. She had been in hospital on and off during the previous months ‘for a little bit of plumbing’ as she put it, and being employed in the medical profession she knew what she was talking about. To you and me the official term is ‘a heart valve replacement’! This had to be repeated, and even after convalescence she never really recovered well enough to return to choir duties. The choir was her life and we know she’ll be looking down on us with pride and a critical eye, but also with a wicked quip of a comment!!
I made reference to earlier in this missive to 2008 and it was during this year that Lehman Bros put the skids under everything and everybody, and this eventually ricocheted down to us. The financial results for the year ended 31 August 2010 were not good and the AGM ended with that famous comment – ‘so the value of the company is only as good as the pile of CDs in the corner?!!!
Never a truer word spoken, but from that date the committee was determined to recover, and we did so, in good measure. It needed two years of austerity and keen budgeting, and thankfully we were helped on our way with the legacy from Peggie Woolford. There is no doubt that we have now clawed our way back to normality.
I’m sorry if this has turned out to be a long read, [it isn’t intended to replace The Queen’s Speech], but I hope it gives you a flavour of what goes on behind the scenes of a busy choir such as ours. As Andrew would say – it’s like the swan gliding serenely on top of the water - but underneath it’s pedalling like hell!!
Have a wonderful Christmas