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About A Week: Voices In Harmony

Peter Hinchliffe home town is noted for its choral singing.

Britain’s hills, vales and dales really are alive with the sound of music.

There are 25,000 registered choirs. Hundreds of thousands of choristers meet regularly to rehearse and frequently perform in public.

The BBC is tuning into this choral outpouring of harmonious sounds with a new prime time TV programme – Choir Wars.

Choirs of all kinds will be invited to prove that where there is harmony there can also be the excitement of competition. Classical, gospel, folk and rock – all will be invited to demonstrate their talents in the BBC’s biggest ever talent search.

No broadcast date has been fixed for Choirs Wars, but it will be hoping to win the major share of the peak Saturday evening viewing audience.

Viewers will be able to vote for their favourite choir – and one choir will be eliminated from the competition each week.

Folk in the part of England where I live already know the best choir in the land, the great and mighty Huddersfield Choral Society.

Huddersfield is not perhaps the sort of town where you would expect to find one of the world’s greatest choirs. It’s a gritty, industrial town. For decades it produced fine woollen cloth. Metal clanged in dozens of engineering workshops, and a huge chemical works dominated the scene.

Yet it was in these surroundings that Huddersfield Choral was founded in 1836. http://www.huddersfieldchoral.com/

Down the years the choir has been conducted by well-known musical maestros, perhaps the most famous being Sir Malcolm Sargent.

The choir is famed for its December performances of Handel’s oratorio, Messiah. So popular were these performances that at one time people ‘camped’ outside Huddersfield Town Hall night-long to obtain tickets.

Huddersfield Choral is the UK’s leading and largest choral society. Its 220 members, men and women, produce thrilling sounds.

Two weeks ago I heard them perform Puccini’s Messa di Gloria and Rossini’s glorious Stabat Mater. They were accompanied by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Vasily Petrenko, formerly the resident conductor at St. Petersburg State Opera and Ballet Theatre.

It was an evening to remember forever. Two hundred voices singing as one, convincing every member of an enthusiastic audience that there was nowhere else in the world they would rather be than in that concert hall at that time.

The members of Huddersfield Choral are amateurs from all walks of life – ordinary folk whom you meet almost every day of the week. Yet they are capable of thrilling discriminating audiences around the world.

Three months ago they sang Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem in Osaka, Japan. In May this year, when Queen Elizabeth and her consort the Duke of Edinburgh visited Huddersfield, the Choral and the Orchestra of Opera North performed to an outdoor audience of 10,000.

The Choral is by no means the only choir in the Huddersfield area. There are five well-known male voice choirs, ladies’ choirs, junior choirs, and umpteen church choirs.

Stanley Solomons, a member of Honley Male Voice Choir, says, “One of the major delights in being a member of a choir is the comradeship. You become one big family. And it’s fun to learn new music. We rehears twice a week and regularly give public concerts.’’

The Honley Choir, which has more than 50 singers, is always on he lookout for new members. http://homepage.ntlworld.com/s.hepworth/page2.html “Our aim is to entertain audiences,’’ says Stanley Solomons. “We have introduced songs from the shows into our programmes. Shows such as Les Miserables and Joseph And His Technicolour Dreamcoat.’’

Liz Robison, who sings with Almondbury Ladies Choir says, “Someone once said that being in a choir is similar to being in a shoal of fish. The shoal moves first one way, then the other, all behaving as one. That’s a good way of saying what it is to be in a choir.’’

Of course it was an English voice which enchanted – and still enchants - audiences round the world in one of the most popular films of all time, The Sound of Music. The 1965 film featured the story of the von Trapp Family Singers, with Julie Andrews playing Maria von Trapp. It contains many popular songs, including "Edelweiss", "My Favorite Things", "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", "Do-Re-Mi", "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" and "The Lonely Goatherd", and of course the title song.

Millions know the tune of the song The Sound of Music.
Here are some of the words. Come on now! Don’t be bashful. Even though you may not be in a choir, sing them out loud. You’ll feel better for doing so.

The hills are alive with the sound of music
The songs they have sung for a thousand years
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music
My heart wants to sing every song it hears

My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds
That rise from the lake to the trees
My heart wants to sigh like the chimes
That fly from a church on a breeze
To laugh like a brook when it trips
And falls over stone on its way
To sing through the night
Like a lark who is learning to pray

I'll go to the hills when my heart is lonely
I know I will hear what I've heard before
My heart will be blessed with the sound of music
And I'll sing once more.

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