SHORT HISTORY OF THE CHOIR
“There is not any Musicke of instruments whatsoever, comparable to that which is made of the voices of men, where the voices are good, and the same well sorted and ordered.” This quotation is from William Byrd in his “Psalms, Sonets and Songs of Sadness and Piety” published in 1588. This is still true today when listening to the unique sound of male voices in concert. These words were in the opening of the first history of Felling Choir by one of its great conductors, Norman Williams, from Stanley, County Durham.
On the 28th September 1919 the choir of Holly Hill Wesleyan Methodist Church, Felling was performing the Cantata “Daughter of Moab” by Isaac Andrew. The conductor, Bob Gibbon, was so impressed with the ten men singing that he suggested that they should continue to sing together. Thus was born the “Felling Wesleyan Male Voice Party”.
The choir grew in strength and numbers and gave its first performance in February 1920 at a concert in aid of Sunday School funds. They sang two numbers, “The Owl and the Pussycat” and “My old friend Joe”. At a special meeting in April 1920, with 19 members present, the name was changed to the “Orpheus Male Voice Choir” and finally on the 15th October the name “Felling Male Voice Choir” was adopted. The first secretary was Ted Harrison who held the position until he retired in 1959 due to ill health. He continued singing in the baritone line until he died in 1964.
The choir continued to grow in numbers and competed in many music festivals around the country. The most popular competition was held in Blackpool in the autumn, usually the week after the “illuminations”. This was the contest which brought together the finest choirs in Great Britain in fierce competition. Felling were successful many times during their visits to Blackpool. One year which stands out was when the choir won first prize with the test piece “The Fighting Temeraire”. What was most memorable about this performance was that the choir had won this competition fifty years previous and had five of the original men singing who were in that choir. They were given a special mention on the stage and later on their return home, a special spot on the local TV news programmes. The highlight of the choir’s contest achievements was in 1951 when against competition from all over the UK the choir won the “Festival of Britain Trophy”. This was against fourteen choirs in the Festival Hall. The skill of the conductor, Tom Mearis, was demonstrated not only in the wonderful singing of the choir, but his excellent ear for music. When the official accompanist gave the choir the wrong starting note on the piano, Tom asked for it again, “but the correct one this time”. All his years as a piano tuner had paid off on this occasion. The adjudicators remarks were full of praise for the choir. Ernest Bullock on his own composition said “I shall not again hear it sung like that”. Dr. Herbert Howells – “One listened in admiration and ceased one’s scribbling”. The trophy has a place of honour in the Gateshead Mayor’s Parlour to this day. Other trophies won over the years are: The Cork International Festival, BBC Choir of the Year, North of England Festival and over one hundred first prizes at many other festivals. The choir competed at Llangollen many times, were finalists at the Albert Hall in the Sainsbury’s Choir of the Year. The choir were also guests on a number of occasions of the 1000 male voice concerts at the Albert Hall. Other venues have included singing in Cathedrals all around Britain. There have been twelve conductors over the last ninety-five years of the choir.
As well as male voice choirs from all over the UK, the choir has many overseas contacts including: Montreal Male Voice Choir, The Metropolitan choir of New South Wales, the MGV Harmonie of Lindenholzhausen, The Stoerbelt choir from Korsor and the Assen Male Voice choir. There are also many contacts with choirs from all over the British Isles, including some excellent mixed, ladies and young peoples choirs, too numerous to mention. The choir has shared the stage with some of the top names in music and guests have included Owen Brannigan, Sir Thomas Allen, Stuart Burrows, Marian Nowacowski (Polish Bass) and John Holmes. The choir has performed with the Royal Northern Sinfonia Orchestra and many of the top brass ensembles in the country including Jimmy Shepherd’s J&S band and Harry Mortimer with “Men O’Brass”.
Present membership includes men from the manufacturing and professional ranks i.e. doctors, nurses, chief engineers, railway engineers, miners, ministers of religion and teachers in our ranks over the years. One or two stand out such as John Richardson who was the draughtsman for the engineer “Frank Whittle” who designed the Jet Engine and another who was chief draughtsman for the shipyard that produced the aircraft carrier “Ark Royal”. The things that bound them together was the love of the wonderful sound of male voices in harmony together with a feeling of friendliness which has always been our aim to cultivate. The wonderful social atmosphere overshadows divisions of other interests in the quest for a perfect sound which pleases ourselves and the listener.
Today the choir sing at many events such as concerts, charity concerts, social events and weddings.
A warm welcome is always given to visitors and men with a love of singing together.