The Halifax Chamber Choir

The choir is founded

Harry Shepley

The moving spirit behind the inauguration of the choir was Harry Shepley, who brought together two choirs which he already conducted, the West End Glee Union and the Square Music Society.

The choir gave its first concert in 1899, a performance of 'Hiawatha's Wedding Feast' by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Harry was to conduct the Madrigal Society with great success until his death in 1942.

The Edwardian Era

Programme from 1905

In this period the choir was in great demand, performing concerts across the North, its membership increasing to over 120 singers.

As far as we can tell, it was a largely middle class membership — mill owners, managers and teachers.

The Edwardian Era — Picnics!

These photographs of a day trip to the country with Harry suggest that it was a sociable society.

International Music Festival, Paris, May 1912

Yes, Paris!

The choir gave a performance in front of none other than the President of the French Republic.

“The highly-organized training of the Halifax choir told at every point. The technique was perfect... the six-eight fugal passage on the significant words 'La, la, la,' etc. was sung so delicately and clearly that one might have been listening to the finest string quartet.” — The Musical Times

Victories at Blackpool

A photo taken about 1913. The choir are showing off the Blackpool Challenge Shield, which they had won three times in a row.

Photo from 1913

Royal Performance

George V; Ferdinand and Sophia

Still in 1913 — A command performance at Windsor in front of King George V and Archduke Ferdinand, whose assassination the following year prompted the First World War. The choir sang various works including two pieces by Max Bruch.

The First World War

Account book

The choir still possesses a big old accounts book, begun in 1914. It tells us, for example, that in 1915 the Choir gave a total of £45 to 'Local War Relief Funds' —The Mayoress of Halifax Fund, the Mayor of Halifax Local Relief Fund, and the Halifax Belgium Relief Fund.

The accounts book also gives us a record of the principals paid to perform with the choir — here are some...

Harpist Miriam Timothy

Contralto Louise Kirkby-Lunn

Haydn Wood, most famous for having composed 'Roses of Picardy'

Flautist Edith Penville

Edna Thornton

Cellist and composer Cedric Sharpe

Frank Mullings

At the Proms

In 1923 the choir had the honour of being the first to perform at a Henry Wood Promenade concert.

And not a taxi in sight.

Between the Wars

More principals in the twenties and thirties...

Violinist Manuel Quiroga appeared with pianist/organist Berkeley Mason and Mignon Mirada

Norman Allin

Roland Hayes — 'the first black male to win acclaim in America and Europe as a concert artist'

Sopranos Olga Haley, Dorothy Silk and Dora Labette

Irish-Australian tenor Alfred O'Shea

Welsh baritone Mostyn Thomas

[Walter Widdop]

12th March, 1925:
Norland-born operatic tenor Walter Widdop

Bass-baritone Harold Williams

Singer John Coates

Soprano Joan Elwes

Baritone Keith Falkner

Arthur Cranmer

Baritone Roy Henderson (teacher of Kathleen Ferrier)

Pianist, entertainer and whistler Ronald Gourley (1935)

There are records from 1919 to 1934 of an 'Entertainment Tax' being levied. In December 1921, for example, £34 7s 7d was paid for a concert at the Victoria Hall, Halifax.

Postwar

Some principals from the forties and fifties...

Soprano Doris Gambell — for TV anoraks, to become Harry Worth's housekeeper in Here's Harry

At the Alexander Hall, Halifax, the soloist was bass Owen Brannigan.

At the Marlborough Hall, Halifax, the soloist was Violet Carson — she was paid £31 10s 0d.

[Ena Sharples]

— Ena Sharples of Coronation Street, of course.

...and from the sixties and seventies

Soprano Margaret Curphey

Bass Philip Ravenscroft

Tenor Eric Baskeyfield

Contralto Jacqueline Veazey

Doreen Walker

Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Gale

David Fieldsend

Anne Sessions and husband Ralph Mason

Scottish tenor Neil Mackie and soprano Kathleen Livingstone

A New Name

By 1989 the name 'Madrigal Society' was considered to be off-putting, and the name 'The Halifax Chamber Choir' was born.

This also reflected the range of music it tackled — Renaissance polyphony, anthems and motets, more modern works — and of course madrigals.

The Halifax Chamber Choir in 1997

In 1999, for the Grand Centenary Concert, it was only appropriate that the choir should once again perform 'Hiawatha's Wedding Feast'.

Centenary programme

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Thanks to Margaret and Jeff Nicholson for supplying many of the early photographs.

Please feel free to email in any additions, comments etc.