a History of Worrall male voice choir

Worrall Male Voice Choir 1970-2019

Chairman: Martin Price

Secretary: Ian Pasley

Musical Director: Nigel Russell-Sewell

Accompanist: Stephen Vickers

Choir history

Little would the founding members who gathered in Worrall Independent Chapel on 7 September 1970 to form another male voice choir in the area give a thought to 2010 and forty years of singing. They were more concerned with local opposition in an area where almost every valley fielded a brass band competing for audiences with the choirs which formed in the hill top villages around industrial Sheffield.

A flavour of the times comes from Eric Rowlands, a member of the choir. He recalls that he could have become a member of Bolsterstone Male Voice Choir for, when singing carols in the Castle Inn he was asked to attend one of their practices (although at that time he wasn’t bothered about singing). At the insistence of his late brother-in-law, Rod Pursall, who told him a choir was being started in Worrall, Eric decided to have a look. Eric says he would have been a founder member himself but, because of shift working at the local paper mill, he couldn’t make the first two practices. It was the third Monday practice that he nervously went to Worrall.

Early Choir members with music team - Doug Crossland, Mary Peel, Monica Kaye and Lloyd Alan.

“When I got to the choir I was put with the second tenors and was given a sheet of music (No.2 in the repertoire, The Two Roses). I thought ‘I know that – they sing it in the Castle Inn’. When the piano started I struck up, ‘On a bank two roses fair…’. At the end of the first verse Bill Thompson stopped the choir, turned to me and said, “Just a minute young man you don’t sing the melody all the time in a choir”. I was put with the first tenors and have sung with them ever since. The choir has always had a place in my heart and is an important part of my life. I enjoy singing as much today as I did when I first started although the old voice is not as good nowadays.”

Eric remembers an early choir holiday in Cornwall:

“the choir had quite a few young members in those days and they all (men and women) played cricket on the beach. Unfortunately new choir members, especially young members, are hard to find today and when we go on similar trips now it’s sadly not the beach but a walk around the shops. The good thing about singing in a choir is the companionship you get. Worrall is second to none in this and I can honestly say I am proud to be a member.”

Worrall Male Voice Choir in the Victory Club, c. 1973.

The Musical Team through the Years

Bill Thompson led the choir through its inaugural months together with Jack Poutney as Accompanist and it made its first public appearance in concert in Worrall Independent Chapel on 28 October 1971.

Bill stepped down and Doug Crossland took the Conductor's baton until ill health forced his retirement in December 1995. Jack eventually stepped down as Accompanist and Lloyd Alan took over the role.

After years of devoted service, Lloyd also retired and Mary Peel took over for a number of years before ill health forced her to retire also. Michael Peaker took over the Accompanist role and with Doug as Conductor, the Choir flourished under the new musical partnership. However, after battling with ill health for a number of years, it finally took its toll and Doug was forced to retire.

Michael willingly stepped into the role of Conductor and in 1996 Elizabeth Hampshire joined the Choir as Accompanist with Michael Peaker as Conductor. After a number of months they reversed roles and Michael returned to the Accompanists role and Elizabeth took over as Musical Director.

At the end of 2004 Elizabeth Hampshire retired and Michael Peaker took over the baton. Sadly, this was to be only for a very short time. Whilst on a short Choir holiday in Cornwall in May 2005 Michael collapsed and died. Between May and August the Choir were indebted to John Kenyon, the Conductor of Waldershelf Choral Society and Deputy Conductor of Bolsterstone Male Voice Choir for standing in and conducting the Choir to allow it to fulfil its concert commitments.

Both before and after Michael’s death the Choir had difficulty in securing the services of an Accompanist. A number of people helped the Choir over this very difficult period and mention must be made of Beryl Greaves, Monica Kaye, Jill Wordsworth, Elizabeth Cooke, Rachel Atkinson, Mark Slater, Craig Harrison, Tom Owen and Gillian Farnsworth who all stood in as Accompanist at short notice to help out.

In August 2005 the Choir employed its current Musical Director, Dr Nigel Russell. Nigel won a bursary to study singing for three years with Kathryn Lewis in Canterbury whilst studying for a degree in Chemistry at the University of Kent. He moved to London in 1994, joining the Philharmonia Chorus and was a founding member of the Quartet of St Giles-in-the-Fields. He continued to study singing with Brian Trueman at the London College of Music. He was awarded a Diploma in Music from the Open University in 2001 and appointed Songman in Sheffield Cathedral Choir in 2003. He has also sung a number of solo roles including recitals with Stephen Vickers in various locations throughout the region. He has a PhD in Coal Science, and was a Lecturer in Chemical Engineering at the University of Sheffield at the time he joined the choir. By 2019 he had moved to the Department of Biomedical Science at Sheffield teaching the "education" component of the specialist MSc in Human Anatomy with Education.

Sheffield Lyceum Theatre, 1992.

In September 2005 the Choir secured the services of Stephen Vickers as Accompanist. He trained as a music teacher at The College, Ripon, studying piano and voice. As well as being an accomplished pianist, Stephen sings and plays the viola. He was repetiteur for South Yorkshire Opera between 1980- 1985. As a conductor Stephen has conducted Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra, Sheffield Chamber Orchestra, and worked with the orchestras of the Sheffield Music Service. In 2003 he was appointed Conductor and Director of Sheffield Youth Orchestra. He has been a guest conductor or choral member of several choirs including The British Youth Choir, York Festival Chorus, City of Sheffield Youth Choir, City of Sheffield Boys Choir, Hallam Choral Society, Stannington Mixed Voice Choir, Millhouse Green Male Voice Choir, Teachers Operatic, and Penistone Operatic Society.

Outside Montserat Monastery, 1990, with Elizabeth Hampshire.

the choir

During its early years, the Choir was regularly asked to sing in local churches and on a number of occasions was supported by Joyce Chamber and Barbara Marshall who sang solos and duets. On one such occasion the Choir was invited to give a concert at the church in the grounds of Middlewood Mental Hospital (now defunct and a modern housing estate but the church still stands). The church was an integral part of the hospital and was open to everyone including patients. During the concert, Joyce was completing one of her spots with “Ave Maria”. Mid-way through the song the outer door of the church opened and in walked a patient and stood at the back of the church, quietly listening to the song. Slowly he started to walk up the centre aisle towards Joyce with everyone holding their breath as to what he might do.

They need not have worried. He stopped in front of Joyce and dropped onto his knees sobbing and, with tears rolling down his face, looked forlornly up at her. As the song finished he got up, wiped his eyes on his sleeve and slowly walked out of the church without saying a word. How Joyce carried on singing she will never know, but she did.

Music can be so cruel as well as being so beautiful and the song obviously touched him or brought back a memory but it was a memorable experience for all concerned.

By the mid 1980s, when the well- structured choir became a registered charity, it had sixty members. Under Doug Crossland’s inspired direction the young Choir gained a sound reputation at concerts and by coming first in numerous competitions. The first competition win was at Worksop on the 17 May 1975. In the following years the Choir entered 52 competitions as far away as Macclesfield, Biddulph, Southport, Blackpool, and in Whitby in 1982 the Choir won the Eskdale Tournament of Song beating many established national choirs. Reflecting on the competition Doug Crossland said,

“This is the first time we have ever competed in the Eskdale Tournament, and we are delighted with our success. We are particularly pleased because on this occasion we could only muster 38 singers from our normal complement of 50 due to holidays and illnesses. But we must have still done enough to catch the eyes and ears of the judges.”

The Choir also broke new ground by becoming the first “English” choir to win the Cornish Open Choral Championship for Male Voices in 1987, previously the exclusive preserve of Cornishmen. In all the Choir’s tally of success amounted to 19 firsts, 8 seconds and 8 thirds in 56 competitions – a record to be proud of!

During the same period the choir, through Doug Crossland, Ian Pasley and later Keith Hoyland, became an influential force in Group 9 of the National Association of Choirs which comprised 19 choirs from throughout South Yorkshire and the surrounding area. For many years Doug was Chairman of the Group which regularly held Massed Choir events where all the choirs in the Group (~ 30) joined forces to form one large massed mixed choir and one large massed male voice choir.

These were held either bi-annually or tri-annually in such prestigious places as Sheffield City Hall, York Minster and Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.

Sheffield City Hall, 2001, with Elizabeth Hampshire, Michael Peaker, and Lesley Garrett.

Alongside these major concerts the Choir had several happy visits to Haworth at Christmas, singing in front of the church and outside several local hostelries, followed by a seasonal drink. Even Father Christmas put in an appearance which prompted one chorister, Chris Powell, to challenge him with “And where was my train set I asked for in 1947!”. The Grassington Victorian Market was also a venue for a number of years.

The Choir also sang on two or three occasions at massed concerts in Guildford as guests of Weybridge MVC and also organised its own Six Choir Festival at the Octagon Centre in Sheffield. During visits to Guildford the Choir stayed in the beautiful four-star Oatlands Park Hotel. On the first occasion there was a wedding reception and as the bride and groom were leaving at around 11 pm the Choir waylaid them, sat them in the middle of the bar area, and sang “Love Changes Everything” to them. The Bride’s mother was overcome with emotion and burst into tears saying that this had made a perfect end to a perfect day. Some of the wedding guests hung around into the early hours as the lads (as is often their wont) proceeded to regale the hotel with a variety of MVC songs even further into the early hours of the morning. At about 4 am the telephone rang at the reception desk. A weary voice asked the receptionist “Much as we like hearing male voice choirs can you ask them to go to bed please?” The beer had flowed and a very good night had been had by all.

Welsh Association of Male Voice Choirs “Male Voice Choir of the Year” 2003.

The next morning there were a lot of bleary eyes in the breakfast room. One of the Baritones (Peter Cowlishaw) was suffering somewhat from the previous night’s jollity and was reading the menu card when the Head Waiter, in his morning suit and with a serviette over his arm, came breezing up to the table and asked, “What can I get Sir and Madam this morning?” Peter, with a straight face, looked him in the eye and asked, “Do you think chef could do me two lightly poached Aspirins please?”

The guests had not been too irate at the late singing as a number of them asked the Choir to sing again before we left. We obliged by singing “Rhythm of Life” in the car park before boarding the coach for a very quiet journey home!

The Choir has also taken part in Massed Male Voice Choir events at the Royal Albert Hall, London where it has sung four times; twice as part of “A Thousand Yorkshire Voices” in aid of Yorkshire Cancer Research and twice with the Welsh Association Of Male Voice Choirs at their bi-annual “Festival Concert”.

Closer to home, in 1988 the Choir became involved in the fund raising concerts organised by the Sheffield Lyceum Theatre Trust to restore the fine old theatre in Tudor Square. The Choir proudly recalls being accompanied by the splendid bands of the Coldstream Guards and the Duke of Wellington's Regiment on these prestigious occasions. These events led to invitations for the choir to participate in ITV’s “Telethon ’90” and BBC Radio Sheffield concerts and Christmas celebrations.

During the early 1990’s the Choir was a regular visitor to Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire singing in the Sunday evening concerts in the Cellarium. As the Cellarium is part of the Abbey ruins it no longer had doors or windows. Consequently it was not unusual to be visited by pigeons and bats throughout the performances.

Once the Lyceum restoration had been completed the Choir promoted and participated in the first choral performance, a grand charity concert, on 8 March 1992. The James Shepherd Versatile Brass and Mary-Louise Aitken, a dazzling young soprano from nearby Stocksbridge, accompanied the Choir. Although seat prices were kept low to encourage a full house of nearly 1,000 the concert raised £3,000 for the Weston Park Hospital Cancer Fund. Both performers and audience enjoyed the glorious new decor and the fine acoustics.

Loch Lomond, 2006, with Nigel Russell.

The Choir now enjoyed a higher profile bookings calendar engendered by success and celebrated its Silver Anniversary, on 5 February 1995, by a repeat performance with its accompanists from the Lyceum opening concert. Miss Aitken was now in her final year at the Royal Northern College of Music and a member of the chorus at Glyndbourne.

Since then Worrall Male Voice Choir has attended some 35 engagements a year including weddings, after dinner shows, concerts and competitions to keep its members on their toes. Such a commitment would not be possible without the loyal support of the non- singing Friends of the Choir and members wives during their frequent bouts of grass widow-hood. The Ladies Support Group help by organising fund raising and social events, and providing spectacular Yorkshire teas for these and the annual Cricket Match against the Grenoside Male Voice Choir from across the Don Valley.

In July 1998 Gerry Kersey, a local Radio celebrity, became the choir’s President. He had been associated with the choir for some ten years.

A typical Spring Fayre.

The Millennium saw the Choir’s thirtieth anniversary which was celebrated with its first foreign tour to Catalonia where venues included Barcelona Cathedral and the famous monastery at Montserrat.

On the trip out there was time to spare in Dover awaiting the Eurostar train to take us into France. One of our First Tenor’s, Roger Jones, was asked if he had changed any currency, which he hadn’t. It was explained to him that he would need some French Francs for the overnight stop in France and some Spanish Pesatas to see him through the first few days in Spain. Roger duly went off to the Bureau de Change and asked if he could change some Sterling. “Certainly, Sir” came the reply, “What denomination?” “Church of England” replied Roger, “but why do you need to know my religion?”!

Baritone, John Wilkinson recalls “It was a fine morning as we set out to visit Montserat. On arrival at the top of the mountain, via a very twisting scenic route, we all congregated in front of the Monastery and had a quick rehearsal. Elizabeth gave us a briefing and we entered the monastery with due reverence. It was a particular honour to be invited to sit in the arc of seats normally reserved for the monks taking part in their services. Our performance was given to the highest standard and as pilgrims ascended the steps to pay tribute to the Madonna, Elizabeth was clearly enthralled with our performance. Photographs were taken outside and after wetting our whistles we left for our trip to Barcelona.”

2001 was a very busy year for the Choir. It began in March in Sheffield City Hall when the Choir was asked to join Cantores Novae and Grimethorpe Colliery Band in a memorable concert with soprano Leslie Garrett. In May the Choir toured Cornwall again for concerts with Mousehole, Newquay and Loveny Male Voice Choirs.

In March, the Choir joined other Male Voice Choirs in the Welsh Association of Male Choirs at the Albert Hall in London for their “Thousand Welsh Voices in Song” concert.

One of the Choir’s greatest achievements took place in 2003 when it entered and won the Welsh Association of Male Choirs Male Voice Choir of the Year Competition beating twelve other choirs in the process. It also undertook its second concert tour abroad with a visit to Malta with three concerts including one in the open air in Valetta and an appearance on a Maltese TV Telethon Appeal for children in Central America.

2006 was a year of consolidation with a completely new musical team but the Choir still managed a concert tour of Scotland with concerts in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The tour coincided with the first anniversary of the death of Michael Peaker and the choir held a moving remembrance for him on the banks of Loch Lomond.

Outside the Royal Albert Hall, London, 2009.

A new CD was released at this time – “With a Voice of Singing”. The choir also introduced a pre-Christmas community sing in Worrall Chapel, seeking to encourage the local community to cherish the local carols and also seek to recruit new members.

The Choir remained very busy through 2007 with concerts with Waldershelf Choral Society in April at St. Matthias Church, Stocksbridge and in July at St. Andrew’s Psalter Lane Church. In September it visited Weybridge to join old friends Weybridge Male Voice Choir for their Annual Autumn Concert. That was followed with a visit to Huddersfield in October to join with New Mill Male Voice Choir for their Autumn Concert.

Baritones amongst 1,000 voices in the Royal Albert Hall, 2009.

Throughout 2008, alongside the normal singing events, the Choir prepared for the Royal Albert Hall Mass Welsh Choir Concert in April 2009 which included nine pieces in Welsh, quite a challenge. One of the newer members, John Adamson, who sang with the choir at that concert relates his personal experience of the preparations:

“I joined the choir in July 2008 after a lifetime working in the steel industry. Never having sung in a choir before, or indeed never having sung! - I was completely ignorant of the terms used. I was entering a world whose language I little understood. Firstly, the musical score was about as decipherable as Egyptian heiroglyphs. Then there were the songs to learn in Welsh – not an easy task. But perhaps the most difficult was the musical terminology. Crotchets, quavers, minims, staves, sharps, flats, triplets, etc. Then there was a term used which I didn’t really understand – dipthongs. I always thought they were an item of ladies underwear and I was totally baffled, nothing made sense. On consulting a dictionary I realised my mistake! However, I can now say that all those early mists and uncertainties are now passing and I am really enjoying my singing. To any budding choristers the journey into male voice choir singing is exciting, a challenge but very rewarding”.

By way of contrast the Choir participates regularly in the important carol singing season, which ranges from concerts, carols on the wards at the Northern General Hospital and a local Nursing Home, to the more homely informal ‘sings’ in local pubs. These have their own long-standing tradition of local Christmas carols rarely heard in churches. Some of these were incorporated in the Choir's ‘Blue Book’ entitled “The Joy of Christmas” which, since Christmas 1982, has sold in its thousands both at home and abroad to Yorkshiremen who have settled as far afield as Australia and the USA. A Second Edition of the ‘Blue Book’ was produced in 2002.

Late in 2008 the Choir undertook a unique project. Both Worrall and Bolsterstone Male Voice Choirs had been invited to a seminar in Southend- on-Sea organised by Leigh Orpheus Male Voice Choir which outlined what they had done to increase the membership of their choir. This had involved a mass publicity campaign around their local area. As both Worrall and Bolsterstone were suffering a fall in membership it was agreed that something must be done to halt the decline. Following detailed discussions into the complexity of how it would work the choirs finally agreed, with some trepidation, to join forces and pool finances and expertise to see if they could use the LOMVC model to increase their respective memberships.

Welsh Association of Male Voice Choirs Festival, Royal Albert Hall, April 2009.

2009 saw the start of the “Come and Sing” project which involved trying to secure 40 new singers (although this was not a limit!) who would find their voice and be able to sing as a stand alone choir at a prestigious concert to be held in the International Hall, Ponds Forge Leisure Centre. Following six months of hard work the new choir took to the stage together with Bolsterstone and Worrall MVC’s and Sheffield Youth Orchestra in front of an audience of over 650 people.

The project and the concert were a huge success with the new choir performing beyond all expectations. After the concert, the project effectively ceased and the new singers were given the option of joining either Worrall or Bolsterstone as full singing members, and a small number did.

Come and Sing Male Voice Choir with Bolsterstone Male Voice Choir, Worrall Male Voice Choir, Sheffield Youth Orchestra, their conductors, accompanists and Christa Ackroyd, Ponds Forge, 2010.

Our 40th Anniversary Concert took place in Sheffield Cathedral on Saturday 11 September 2010 when a full house audience were treated to an evening of superb music. Our guests were Weybridge MVC, New Mill MVC and soprano Kathryn McAdam and the concert was compered by BBC Look North presenter, Christa Ackroyd.

In 2011, we held 11 concerts, and sang at two weddings. The first wedding led to us learning a piece in Danish as the bride was from Denmark, and the second was the Marriage blessing of our own Second bass Barney and his wife Judy. The highlight of the year was the Choir trip to Devon, where we performed a lunchtime recital in Exeter Cathedral, and a concert with Brixham Orpheus MVC at Paignton.

In 2012, we held or participated in 11 concerts, sang at one wedding, and attended a celebration for the 50th Wedding Anniversary of our Second Tenor and former Treasurer, John Wilkinson, The highlight of the year was undoubtedly the concert in aid of “Help for Heroes” held at Ponds Forge in November, which raised £ 2,500 for a very worthwhile cause.

In 2013, we held / participated in 11 concerts, sang at one wedding and one Funeral and participated in two communal Carol Sings. We also began a recruitment drive by holding two workshops prior to the Summer Concert in July. We ventured outside Sheffield to hold a concert in Dronfield which was a successful fundraiser for Bluebell Wood Children's Hospice. Also, representatives of the choir attended the Official Opening of the New Recovery Centre at Catterick Garrison.

In 2014, we held / participated in seven concerts, sang at two weddings and participated in two communal Carol Sings. Members also participated in two Workshops in the build up to Christmas singing Local carols. The main highlights during the year were a free concert on the Weekend of the Grand Depart, which raised £170 for Yorkshire Air Ambulance, and the Autumn Concert, which featured a tribute to the fallen particularly those connected with Worrall and the Choir members.

In 2015, we held / participated in seven concerts and participated in / organised two communal Carol sings. Members also took part in two Carol Singing events in conjunction with The University of Sheffield. The main highlight of the year was the joint concert in late June when we joined forces with Bolsterstone MVC to organise a concert at Victoria Hall in Sheffield in aid of Help for Heroes with guests "The Military WAGS" choir form Catterick - this concert raised £1500 for the charity.

Joint concert with Bolsterstone MVC, Simeon Wood and Sian Voller at Sheffield Cathedral, 2016.

In 2016, we held / participated in seven concerts including a communal Carol sing. Members also took part in two Carol Singing events in conjunction with The University of Sheffield. The main highlight of the year was the joint concert in May when we joined forces with Bolsterstone MVC to organise a concert at Sheffield Cathedral in Sheffield with guests Simeon Wood and Sian Voller.

In 2017, we held / participated in eight concerts including two communal Carol sings. Members also took part in two Carol Singing events in conjunction with The University of Sheffield and one after-wedding entertainment. The main highlight of the year was the joint concert in May when we joined forces with Millhouse Green MVC to organise a concert at Hillsborough Trinity Methodist Church to celebrate the life of David Hawksworth and to raise funds for Cavendish Cancer Care..

By way of contrast the Choir participates regularly in the important Carol singing season, which ranges from Carol concerts to the more homely 'sings' in local pubs. These have their own tradition of district Christmas Carols rarely heard in churches. Some of these were incorporated in the Choir's 'Blue Book' entitled "The Joy of Christmas" which, since Christmas 1982 has sold in its thousands both at home and to Yorkshiremen settled in Australia and the USA.

Worrall MVC supports the David Clover Competition, the Sheffield spring music festival, practically, financially and by providing the Doug Crossland Memorial Shield for the most promising female entry, and the Michael Peaker Memorial Trophy for Oratorio and Sacred Song (aged 18 yrs and under). This thoroughly versatile choir performs not only the traditional works associated with the male voice but a wide range of popular songs and arrangements tuned to the taste of modern audiences. In meeting the challenges of high standards and demanding judges the Worrall Male Voice Choir has earned a place in the unique musical history of' the former West Riding of Yorkshire.

endings and new beginnings

It was with great sadness in 2019 that the following was announced:

"At an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Choir held on the 21st of January 2019, the decision was taken to close the Choir. As a registered charity it can no longer fulfil its objectives under Charity Commission rules. Due to falling membership and the inability to attract new members, the Choir has become financially and musically compromised and the decision to close has become inevitable. Can we take this opportunity on behalf of the Choir to thank all who have helped or supported the choir over the years."

This was not, however, to be the end. Following careful consultation and deliberation by all choir members, it was decided that the choir should transfer its funds to a trust to ensure the name of the choir and our history is not lost. The choir has always supported the development of musicians by providing a platform for them to perform and through sponsorship of prizes at the David Clover Music Festival: the Doug Crossland Memorial Shield and the Michael Peaker Memorial Trophy. The choir therefore invested its funds and the income from this is being used to support musicians in the Sheffield City Region through the Worrall Male Voice Choir Musical Grants Foundation. Trustees are drawn from the choir and its musical team, and the door is not closed should the choir form again in the little village on a hill outside Sheffield: Worrall.