So which song did you come out singing to yourself? From the wide variety of music performed by New Mill Male Voice Choir and the celebrated Sir Willard White, many people in the audience were humming ‘Deep River’ as they emerged from Huddersfield Town Hall on 18th March. Not just because it’s an old favourite, nor because it’s in the repertoire of many choirs but because it seemed to sum up the entire concert. It’s a good tune, it’s familiar, we all like it but it was sung so beautifully and with such depth of feeling. The same could be said for the rest of the programme.
Introduced by compere Jim ???????, NMMVC opened with a trio of songs – ‘With a Voice of Singing’, the Czech song ‘True Love’ and ‘Arwelfa’. These set the tone for the evening. The choir sang better than I’ve ever heard them before, especially ‘True Love’ the lovely song by Janacek and a firm favourite in the choir’s repertoire.
Sir Willard White sang with a deep resonance and clarity. The audience expected this world-renowned artiste to be good but he exceeded expectations. The voice, which filled the Town Hall, was deep, dark velvet. In ‘Tu sul labbro’ from Verdi’s Nabucco, he created a solemn atmosphere suited to the piece. The power of his voice was well illustrated in ‘The Vagabond’ from songs of Travel and ‘Bright is the Ring of Words’ by Vaughan Williams was truly beautiful.
‘To Music’ and ‘My Luve is like a Red, Red Rose’ from the choir kept up the standard. These boys were motoring! Their enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment, as well as the fact that they were on stage with an acknowledged master raised their game. Or was that down to plenty of rehearsals and hard work by the men under Elizabeth’s guidance?
The Benjamin Britten arrangement of a quartet of traditional songs by Sir Willard was, I felt, the weakest part of his performance. Although his bass-baritone voice gave depth and feeling to these simple and familiar songs, they didn’t quite make the spine tingle. But the joint singing of ‘Bui-Doi’ from Miss Saigon certainly set the hairs on the back of the neck rising! It was fantastic. Amazing. Moving. When did the chaps get to be so good? The dynamics were there, everyone sang with feeling and conveyed the sadness of the song. Superb.
The second half began with ‘Rhythm of Life’, ‘Li’l Liza Jane’ and ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’, sung by the choir with energy and a clear understanding of the meaning of the lyrics. Basses, baritones and tenors sang their parts well – they even remembered all the words! – and the result was an harmonious rendering of old favourites.
Sir Willard opened his third set of the evening with a moving interpretation of ‘If I Loved You’ from Carousel. Several ladies had tears in their eyes! ‘Every time mi’memba Liza’ was a little formal and consequently lost something but Sir Willard obviously enjoyed singing the humorous ‘Cudelia Brown’. ‘I Got Plenty O Nuttin’ was a celebration of life, a philosophical appreciation of what we have.
On to ‘American Trilogy’, by the choir. What can I say? It’s a personal favourite and the chaps put their all into it, the basses especially – perhaps they think they’re Elvis?
‘Deep River’ was fantastic. This was the definitive version of a song we all know. ‘Joe Hill’ is an inspirational song by Ballard, the pseudonym of a Swede who went to the US to make his fortune. It was written in an attempt to improve working conditions in the US. ‘Scandalise My Name’ was sung, unaccompanied, by Sir Willard at the request of Keith Bradley, who was the instigator of the coup to get Sir Willard to perform with the choir. Apparently, Mr Bradley is a cousin of Eddie Hambleton who is, we all know, married to Elizabeth, the respected Musical Director of the choir. Keith taught science at the school Sir Willard attended as a child and also helped out with the music teaching. This song reminded Sir Willard of the many influences on his life and took him back to his childhood in Jamaica. ‘Old Man River’ was so relaxed and easy! Another standard but fabulous all the same.
All in all, an excellent concert, one to remember for a long time to come. Sir Willard White sang superbly, exceeding expectations. But the biggest accolade must go to the ‘Green Jackets’. They sang their hearts out with skill, talent and obvious enjoyment. Not once did their confidence or ability waver. Admittedly, they had Anne and Elizabeth to accompany and direct them but they rose to the occasion and gave a better performance than they ever have before. A brilliant concert and a wonderful evening. Thank you.