The choir is founded
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
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
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.
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
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
Cellist and composer Cedric Sharpe
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
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
12th March, 1925:
Norland-born operatic tenor Walter Widdop
Bass-baritone Harold Williams
Singer John Coates
Soprano Joan Elwes
Baritone Keith Falkner
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.
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 of Coronation Street, of course.
...and from the sixties and seventies
Soprano Margaret Curphey
Bass Philip Ravenscroft
Tenor Eric Baskeyfield
Contralto Jacqueline Veazey
Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Gale
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.
In 1999, for the Grand Centenary Concert, it was only appropriate that the choir should once again perform 'Hiawatha's Wedding Feast'.
You might like to follow up these links:
- Harpist Miriam Timothy
- An Edith Penville flute
- Louise Kirkby-Lunn on Cantabile-subito
- Biographies of Haydn Wood at the Robert Farnon Society and on Richard Scowcroft's site.
- Richard Scowcroft also mentions Cedric Sharpe
- There's more on Manuel Quiraga on the American Record Guide
- Biography of Roland Hayes
- Alfred O'Shea on ScreenSound
- Mostyn Thomas on the BBC site — a fabulous Real Audio clip of him recalling the first ever Radio Broadcast from Wales.
- Walter Widdop at Bach-cantatas.com, Cantabile-subito and Malcolm Bull's Calderdale Companion
- Ronald Gourley at Wireless Works
- Articles on Violet Carson at Perspective and Corrie.net
- Anne Sessions and Ralph Mason in Who Was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company
- Kathleen Livingstone at Bach-cantatas.com
- A list of our conductors
Thanks to Margaret and Jeff Nicholson for supplying many of the early photographs.
Please feel free to email in any additions, comments etc.