Concert news

In July 1968 the first official concert performed by the newly-formed North Herts Guild of Singers was Haydn's Nelson Mass. On a glorious summer evening fifty years later, we revisited that work for our anniversary concert.

Before a packed (and rather warm!) audience at our most regular venue, St Mary's Church in Hitchin, the largest group of singers we have ever mustered came together to present a programme of much-loved music to celebrate our half century of enjoyment in singing. With our friends in the Hertfordshire Philharmonia giving their usual wonderful support, we performed Parry's I was Glad, Handel's Zadok the Priest and Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring; organist Jonathan Lilley provided the accompaniment for Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb, and soprano Claire Ward was applauded to the rafters for her solo Exsultate Jubilate by Mozart. Claire and our other magnificent soloists Alexander Turner (counter tenor), William Glendinning (tenor) and Allan Smith (baritone) then joined us for the main work of the evening, Haydn's thrilling Nelson Mass.

It was a real pleasure to mingle with guests in the church grounds during the interval, enjoying a glass of wine and special NHGS cakes served by the Daisychains charity. Many old friends, former singers and even a couple of former committee chairs, came from far and wide to join in this very special occasion.

And as if all that were not enough, at the end of the evening our musical director Stephen Bullamore introduced one of the most popular pieces of choral music ever written, and we rounded off the event with the Hallelujah Chorus. How could we not?; it was a charity performance of Handel's Messiah that really began the Guild story.

Our founder John Railton started things off with an Instant Messiah in 1968, and on May 12 2018 we recreated that event with a Come and Sing performance in aid of Garden House Hospice Care, held at the Letchworth Free Church.

Stephen Bullamore and our regular accompanist Colin Spinks ran things and our soloists were Lindsay Williams (soprano), Eva Bullamore (mezzo), William North (tenor) and Andrew Gibson (bass).

For bass section leader Barry Goodman, this was his first Messiah for many years - he used to sing it every year at Westminster Abbey, and once attended a Messiah from Scratch with David Wilcox. "I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of singing the work twice, in the rehearsal and at the performance. It was wonderful to have such a good-sized choir, and the bass section was a real joy to be part of: 20 basses all singing at full pelt! The soloists put on a fine show on their Messiah debuts, and our visiting singers seemed to enjoy themselves."

Two of those visiting singers who joined in with the sopranos agree with Barry that it was enjoyable to sing in a choir in which the men sounded so strong. "I thoroughly enjoyed the day," said one. "The incumbent choir gave a solid core to each movement and the choir leader was a pleasure to follow (as a Come and Sing enthusiast I can vouch for the fact that some of these are less so!)"

The direction was widely praised. "Stephen seemed really happy and relaxed," commented one soprano. "I think he enjoyed it and we did too, probably because it’s well known by so many so we sang confidently." And a fellow soprano noted that Stephen did a magnificent job of encouraging the singers to give of their best.

The welcome given by Guild members was much appreciated by our guests. One said: "Members of the resident choir were so friendly and welcoming and the choirmaster was very nice. I think we sounded pretty good too!"

The tenor section had three visiting singers, two of whom enjoyed themselves so much that they might join the choir on a more regular basis. Section leader Richard Dean said: "Although I have sung the Messiah before I remembered very little of it and thus had to concentrate very hard on the score. I loved the piece and had a really good sing. The soloists and organ, enhanced by the acoustic of the room, were striking."

Alto Shena Surgenor thought that the event was a great way of introducing new members.

"Having the opportunity to sing one of the greatest choral works, without any pressure, was a lovely way to spend a rainy Saturday," she said. "It also offered an excellent opportunity for prospective new choir members to try us out, and for the soloists to make their debuts in a low key setting, all whilst raising money for a great cause. I really think we should do more of these!"

Alto and choir librarian Frances Chamberlain can vouch for the fact that a Come and Sing can lead to greater things. Four years go she was a member of the audience at another NHGS Come and Sing Messiah, but didn't have the confidence to join in the singing. "Having enjoyed that I took the plunge and went along to rehearsals where I was warmly welcomed and encouraged. Over time I have become more involved and have got to know many more people. This year I was able to join in the singing with gusto and really appreciate the opportunity to learn and sing a wide range of beautiful music in the company of a great group of people. Thank you NHGS. Here's to the next 50 years!"

Of course this event was not just for the singers - the audience members were important as well! A friend of soprano Wendy Heaney's described it as "an inspirational evening" and alto Evelyn Marsh said: "An elderly lady in the second row caught my eye. As we began to sing I saw she started to sing along and we smiled at each other. At the end of our performance I went over to her and asked if she had enjoyed the evening. Her daughter told me her mother had sung in the church choir in her home village in Yorkshire and often sang choruses from the Messiah. It increased my enjoyment of the evening, knowing the lady and I had shared that pleasure."

A guest alto described the whole experience as "great fun", but as Barry Goodman says: "It’s difficult not to enjoy singing Messiah."

The concert raised £1,360 for Garden House Hospice Care. Go to the News page for a picture of the cheque presentation

 

 

[Photographs courtesy of John Chamberlain and David Tinney]

 

 

 

 
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