Organisations have fixed calendar points. Things to work to. Five year plans that are underpinned by monthly meetings and weekly deadlines. Like music, there is rhythm. New Mill Male Voice Choir is no different. Our overarching rhythm lasts twelve months. It is not a business rhythm, being more in tune with the seasons; the ebb and flow of brown leaves, grey skies, crisp dews and fields of rape seed oil, from which we come up for air every month or so to breathe in the heady atmosphere of performance. Or, prosaically, we leave the shelter of New Mill Club to sing in a concert.
Our current fixed points are Christmas, January, Spring Bank, and the Summer break, peaking a the October Town Hall concert with star guests. We have other engagements when we ourselves are the guests. Mostly fund-raisers, these concerts can recur but many do not.
Christmas is a convenient start. Our annual pilgrimage to Christ Church is an opportunity for the New Mill community to join with their male voice choir in a mix of popular and seasonal musical items. We can all then decant to New Mill Club for eats, drinks and some pretty decent informal singing. That’s shorthand for choir members doing their ‘turns’. These are men who can remember their words and just love the adulation of the mob. It’s our Christmas party.
Almost since our inception we have guested in December at Low Moor, Bradford, once Allied Colloids and now BASF. Our members who spent their working lives with the company provided the original link which, despite the inevitable losses with time, feels to get firmer each year. We usually sing at nearby Holy Trinity, but due to structural issues last year, we had to switch to the works canteen. We share the stage with local primary schools so the audience is substantial, and it’s still pretty good after the calls for bedtime. Anyway, these young choirs give our musical director an excuse to wear a silly outfit. There are two lady vicars, jolly and serious, and there always used to be a bloke from the company who sang Home Sweet Home.
The Scarborough rehearsal weekend used to be in Llandudno, but it moved some years ago. Whilst they share seaside viewpoints and marauding seagulls, Scarborough has the edge on challenging weather. Cold offshore gale-sized wind to be precise, along with icy pavements and impenetrable fog banks. Thankfully not all at once. As the musical work and fun progress within the safety of the hotel, excursions may be limited to the most hardy. New songs are introduced and older ones are spruced up. Those individuals who love the adulation of the mob get chances to hone their acts, both in reserved slots during rehearsal and as part of a gala night that we put on at the Highlander Hotel on South Cliff. We have occasionally broken the journey home with concert performances, notably at the Riley Smith Hall, Tadcaster and Helmsley Arts Centre. It’s a weekend when the bonds between choir members grow, and, given you can’t know everyone, new bonds are created.
Spring Bank is the time when we go on tour. Festivals of music beyond our familiar meadows, during which our sound actually gets better, unlike the performance of your average touring rugby or cricket team. A short list of highlights from our visits include Tintoretto’s church in Venice, world heritage site Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic, Pablo Casals museum, Barcelona, Auschwitz and the Chopin Institute in Poland and The Menin Gate in Ypres. Flanders. The guys still talk about the Roman Arena at Verona where we did an impromptu performance of The Anvil Chorus, accompanied by workers on hammers and steel girders who were building the set for the opera Aida. Though not a regular competition choir, a recent addition to our touring schedule is the Cornwall International Male Voice Choral Festival, where contesting is shared with more relaxed gigs in great venues such as Tate St Ives and the Eden Project, accompanied by blue cloudless skies and light breezes. Incidentally and proudly, previous forays into competition (2009/10/11) resulted in two wins and a second at the Don Valley Festival held at Elsecar, near Barnsley.
After the summer break, the lull before the storm, comes the mighty Huddersfield Town Hall concert. Since 2000, firstly every two years, and now every year, we invite a star to share the platform with us. Sir Willard White, Aled Jones, Julian Lloyd-Webber and Alison Balsom have all played and sung with us. Groups also come. Morriston Orpheus, a top Welsh choir, is a high standard to compare yourself against. We gave a poignant welcome to The Band of the Yorkshire Regiment at a time of national and local grief following deaths in The Middle East. Young Opera Venture were simply a talented delight to help out with the chorus in Bizet’s Carmen.
Our other concerts when we are guests often produce great moments in brilliant venues: Royal Albert Hall, Cardiff Arms Park, York Minster, Sheffield Cathedral, Elland Road, Fountains Abbey, Blackpool Winter Gardens, Scarborough Spa and our own Huddersfield Town Hall. And raising not inconsiderable sums for worthy causes.
Now forget all the adrenaline and fireworks of the Town Hall. Underneath all the froth of the great venues and star guests, down amongst the muck and bullets is the weekly rehearsal in New Mill Club. You can set your watch by it. Two hours of super coaching to sing in harmony and to perform. Two hours away from your normal duties in the company of Musical Director Allan Brierley and Pianist Emma Binns. Everyone grafts. Drinks and food follow and the bonds continue to grow. We are so lucky to have New Mill Club; a powerful factor supporting the closely knit choir. This weekly foundation is the fuel for those ultimate moments of performance.
Another important factor in our choir fellowship is illustrated by Andy’s piece. The diversity of member’s jobs and interests is considerable. So strong in some cases, small groups actually want to meet between rehearsals to pursue their passions.
A final thought about choir health. Our committee meets monthly; a bit of a headache which they gladly suffer to enable the choir to function at the basic level; essential stuff if we are to thrive and triumph on the concert platform.
Behind the broad sweeping movements of the seasons there is a steady beat. All those beats count.
Caravanners, sun-tanners, ex-pats and gym rats, Heavy drinkers, heavy thinkers, trumpet players, soothsayers, Organic bakers, micky-takers, runners and joggers, gardeners and loggers, Teachers and preachers, straight talkers, fell walkers, Writers, right-wingers, folk singers, old swingers, Dropouts and artists, sculptors, conductors, Ballroom prancers, Morris dancers, computer geeks and techno freaks, Lawyers, accountants, political wets, the hunting, shooting and fishing sets ...