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Hayley Westenra

Methodist Choir aim for special Messiah

By The Huddersfield Daily Examiner

IT COULDN'T be a bigger year for Huddersfield Methodist Choir.

Sixty years old this year, the choir is celebrating in style.

First comes a jubilee performance of Handel's Messiah at Huddersfield Town Hall on December 6 followed 11 days later by a Christmas concert at the same venue featuring the New Zealand singer Hayley Westenra plus the Pennine Brass Band.

The choir has been singing Messiah at the Town Hall since 1946 and they aim to make this year's performance particularly memorable. The choir was formed when around 400 singers from chapel choirs across Huddersfield came together at the end of the war to sing Messiah.

Today the choir is no longer a religious organisation but comprises singers who simply love to sing.

That first performance in Huddersfield Town Hall on December 17, 1946 was packed. Tickets cost between one shilling (that's about 5p in today's parlance) and three shillings (that's about 15p).

And to mark those wonderfully nostalgic prices, the choir agreed to sell the first 10 tickets bought for next week's concert at 1946 prices. So some lucky concertgoers have snapped up tickets for next Tuesday's (December 6) celebratory concert at just 5p for a gallery seat, 10p for an area ticket and 15p for the privilege of sitting in the balcony.

The jubilee concert is certainly capturing the imaginations of many connected with the Methodist Choir both present and past. Supporters are travelling from all corners it seems to hear a concert which will be packed not just with present choir members but with some of its former singers and with guests voices from other well-known local choirs .

Word has it that there may be as many as 50 "extras" turning out to join the ranks for this very special event. Of that number who turned up for rehearsals over a two week period, eight were tenors with another nine singing bass, a remarkable feat for any choir!

Some of the singers are from Huddersfield Choral Society, both present and retired members, some are from Wakefield Festival Choir and some from Holmfirth Choral Society.

"One has sung with the London Festival Orchestra and another with the Hallé. There are a few coming from the U3A Choir and members of the Methodist choir have come out of retirement to sing," said a choir spokesman.

And some are literally going the extra mile to get involved whether as singers or in the audience.

Brian Bullick, a retired minister, and his wife Anne will be travelling from St Anne's to be there - as will Ron Horn who will make the journey from Keswick.

Photographs and memories have been flying in thick and fast from choir officers who have found that ads and stories about the jubilee have sparked off lots of reminiscences about the choir and about that first concert in particular.

That first concert, staged as the country was still struggling to come to terms with a new life after the end of World War 2, hoped to raise money for the Methodist Appeal for Bombed Churches. The choir's charity this year is the Yorkshire Air Ambulance

The massed voices in 1946 were accompanied by Mr Ernest Cooper at the organ - a tradition which is still maintained, the organist for this year's performance being Simon Lindley. That early choir was conducted by Mr A S Frost and the choir's current man with the baton, Alan Brierley, will lead this year's Messiah.

According to the Examiner review pubished the day following the debut concert: "The choir had a good balance, their singing had always confidence in attack and in such choruses as For Unto Us, Mr Frost was able to secure an easy and fluent rhythm as well as a fine tone."

The soloists were Miss Hilda Broadbent, Miss Elsie Jackson, Mr Jack Ardron and Mr H Wingfield Sykes.

The soprano Miss Hilda Beaumont was said to sing with a voice of "lovely quality".

Miss Elsie Jackson, it said "Sang the contralto solos with a fine appreciation of their value but it was probably nervousness that surprisingly robbed this singer of the power to finish long phrases with complete effect".

"Why Do The Nations? was sung by Mr H Winfield Sykes with a freedom, robust effect and full generous tone that were wholly engaging."

"The tenor solos were well sung by Mr Jack Ardron. His production was a little on the tight side but the tone had clarity and resonance and his singing of Thy Rebuke and the succeeding numbers was marked by a deep understanding of the music and an expressive power that had both complete sincerity and vocal finish."

Mr Cooper's organ playing was also highly praised. "The accompanist secured often an effect of genuine brilliance".

After reading about the 60th anniversary performance of Messiah in Denis Kilcommons' Examiner Diary, Jack Ardron's cousin Mrs Mary Newman came up with some photographs which you can see above.

Music clearly ran in the family because she too was a singer with the Glee & Madrigal and with St Mary's Outlane. Jack sang for both.

Soloist H Winfield Sykes sang with the Choral and Elsie Beaumont sang with the Choral, Lindley Zion and with Huddersfield Ladies.

Bags of memories then and a feeling of much to celebrate as Huddersfield Methodist Choir prepares for another, milestone Messiah.

Saturday 17 November
* Tickets for the concert at Huddersfield Town Hall on December 6 at 7.15pm on 01484-542257.

Info uploaded 20051201 : Source: Jon Voslo


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