By Jane Sargent
Welcome to the new Huddersfield Choral Society platform for news, views and updates!
We cannot begin this new phase in the life of the Huddersfield Choral Society news without first paying tribute to Stephen Brook, who was editor of the paper version of the newsletter for many years; he is greatly missed by all of us. Our thoughts go out to his wife, Janet. Sadly, Stephen died at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. Stephen was a past President and remained an extremely active member of the Society after the end of his period of office, being involved in many aspects of our work, serving on the committee and on sub-committees. He had a fantastic knowledge of choral repertoire and an amazing recall of our past concert performances. Rehearsals will not be the same without his humorous interjections, gently pointing out misprints, omissions or sometimes even correcting our Choral Directors. We have been richer for knowing him and he will not be forgotten.
The birth of the ‘new’ news format has been a lengthy process. My personal thanks go to the team who have been involved in developing this new venture, especially for the hours they have put into their exploration of how it might work best in order to successfully reach the largest audience. We hope you enjoy this new way of keeping you up to date with our news, activities and plans. Special thanks go to our new editor, Lucy Pople, for volunteering her services despite having a demanding job. Lucy has been chasing people for their contributions in such a lovely way and generally working hard with the team to get this project up and running.
The past twelve months have been exceedingly difficult for all amateur singers and those of us associated with the Society have missed the special experience live choral music offers, whether as a performer or as an audience member. The importance of music of all types for the mental and spiritual well-being of individuals has been highlighted in the media. It has been said that increasing numbers of people have turned to classical music for comfort in the past 12 months. It is an interesting development, the analysis of which I will leave to those better qualified than I am. Perhaps we might see a growth in our audience numbers when we are eventually allowed to sing again!
During the past year, the Officers and Committee of the Society have faced the challenge of how to sustain our membership and keep our subscribers and supporters feeling involved. It has not always been straightforward, but we have learned a great deal. In February 2020, few people had heard of ‘Zoom’. Now ‘Zoom’ is part of our everyday vocabulary and the backbone of communication for so many of us. For the Choral Society, it has been the vehicle for our rehearsals and activities and many of us have honed our IT skills through our experiences. Officers had anticipated a relaxation of restrictions for amateur singers as the roadmap progressed, but it was not to be and the restrictions for amateur singers remain in place indoors or outdoors.
The Society’s achievements during this past year have been built on the loyal support of our members and followers. In one dictionary the definition of ‘society’ is given as ‘a group of people involved with one another through persistent relations’. That feels appropriate for our Society, but perhaps it is more appropriate to describe our members and supporters tenacity as true ‘Yorkshire grit’ - that inherent personal quality of showing a refusal to be ground down. I have certainly seen abundant evidence of that.
We have been touched by the loyalty and generosity of our members, subscribers and supporters. Thank you all. The knowledge that we have had this continued support has enabled us to proceed with some much pared down planning for online events and these have proved extremely popular. In autumn 2020, we just managed to complete the recording for We’ll Singduring the brief relaxation of restrictions and premiered it online. Next came the Choral Christmas Hamper, which was also well received. Our two online workshops were much more popular than we anticipated, with hundreds of singers joining us from various parts of the UK and the world.
Now is the time for Huddersfield Choral Society to decide how it moves forward in the longer term. We are working in a situation in which we receive guidance at short notice, and we have had to change our plans rapidly. It has become apparent that, as we start to plan, we need to make greater use of technology in our work hence this newsletter. Holding our Choral Workshops online has enabled us to extend our international reach and engage with many more people than we could with an in-person workshop. The number of participants for the first workshop took us by surprise and gave a real boost to our work. We enjoyed the company of professional performers at the workshops. First, Roderick Williams joined us from Amsterdam where he was caught up in Covid restrictions. Next, we were joined by Iestyn Davies and Mark Seow. Both sessions proved interesting and educational. Special thanks for the success of these events must go to our professionals, Joyce Tyndesley, our Vocal Coach and our Choral Director, Greg Batsleer. Joyce is gathering quite a following for her excellent advice and tips on vocal technique. Greg showed great expertise in his leadership of the workshops and enthusiastically shared his musical knowledge. He also demonstrated excellent capability at interviewing guests, making both events very enjoyable.
Our first official HCS concert of choral repertoire will be an exciting occasion, whenever and wherever it is and whatever the programme. Selecting the music for that concert will be a headache as there is so much that we will want to perform. For myself, the idea of singing in a live concert is a very emotional thought. Any piece will raise emotions, but Messiah – well, I don’t think I will make it through without crying, such is the power of that music for me. By the time I reach the Amen Chorus I will be in tears. I suspect there will be others on the platform and perhaps in the audience who will feel similarly.
This is a strange and uncertain time – we have sadness for the past and yet happiness, excitement and anxiety for the future and the possibilities it could hold. So much has changed, but music is our constant and I hope that we are able to use it to carry us forwards together to better, happier and more fulfilled times.