New to Yorkshire and looking to build a freelance music career from scratch, I attended a concert in ’89 given by the Yorkshire Chamber Choir who were advertising for a Musical Director. I always look for potential, willingness to work hard and the vision to push the boundaries. The 28 strong ensemble, dressed in salmon-pink ‘penguin’ costumes (their description) looked as though they might qualify, so after a successful audition – I took them on.
Quickly expanding to maintain over 100 singers and renamed the Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir, 32 years later I am still their director and they have delivered on all fronts. Now, they are considered to be one of the best choirs in the country: not my assessment, but that of numerous International soloists and orchestral players.
For myself and my wife Eileen, they have become family. We have travelled together through ups and downs, through major bereavement, loss of founder members and through a highly successful youth recruitment scheme. We have shared memorable choir trips (musically and socially) to Europe, Scotland and Ireland.
The pandemic has had a devastating effect globally on the performing arts. But if there is a choir anywhere that will survive – it’s the Yorkshire Phil. There has always been a great relationship between myself, the Chairs and committee. We listen to each other, they respect my (by now) considerable experience and are willing to think outside the box and take risks.
So how is the Yorkshire Phil coping in the current situation? Obviously, concerts are out for the foreseeable future. Derek (Chair) and I have frequent informal discussions about how best to cope, then put ideas before the committee. There is a high level of communication with a spirit of co-operation and mutual respect. My assistant has been involved and consulted at every stage. He and I are regarded as the ‘dream team’ a very precious partnership in the musical world. Tom is a brilliant accompanist and organist. My strength is choir training and conducting. We appreciate each other’s areas of expertise and have a great working relationship.
Since lockdown began in March we have had regular zoom meetings and virtual rehearsals.
Then, following much research and preparation, we actually managed to arrange two live rehearsals during October, (half the choir at each) in a Covid assessed environment at the church nicknamed St Asda’s – opposite a food temple of the same name!
Members behaved impeccably covid-compliance-wise. But their delight at singing together in the flesh more than compensated for the enforced two metre distance and other restrictions. Our first item ended with a spontaneous standing ovation and the celebratory atmosphere continued throughout the evening with frequent outbreaks of happy tears. There was no hierarchy. Just an inspired bunch of assorted people who had proved time and again what heights they could achieve as a unit.
So watch this space. We will be back soon in better voice than ever.