God's Choir


One man's musical memories

A Wonderful Choral Adventure

pic        This is the story of one man's struggle with an annoying metaphorical musical itch, the long journey in search of that elusive cool, soothing Elysian stream to find comfort, and the surprising pot of gold he stumbles on at the end of the rainbow, or more precisely within a local former mining community astride the East Lancashire Road. Once a music loving boy soprano, a flamboyant confident show-off and compulsive singer, with an ambition to perform at La Scala, now with maturity a more nervous, unassuming and camera shy fellow with more modest aspirations, Bob Crotchet is looking for an alternative outlet for his artistic whims and fancies as we follow him through some disappointments and anxious moments before finally finding his true destiny in a most fulfilling and rewarding musical hobby which was to span almost four decades.
God's Choir
       It's marvellous how certain people come together at a particular time and place, to create an amazing shared experience leaving a lasting impression on those involved and to a great extent within the wider local community. I think it's called serendipity, although in this particular case it was not purely chance or luck, it was mainly brought about by some very talented people all pulling together over a sustained period of time under great leadership. An organisation not only providing a fantastic social experience for like minded people with similar interests and taste, but also promoting and sharing a passion for choral music with a wider audience, a continuous source of sheer unadulterated harmonious pleasure. This is God's Choir (an entirely appropriate description), a choral society which members and ex-members alike feel proud and privileged to be, or have been associated with and often "sing" its praises.
An early start
       As a boy soprano, a compulsive singer with a love of music from an early age, a fearless precocious personality and a cheeky grin that could charm the birds out of the trees, young Robert joined in enthusiastically with the singing at primary school, in music lessons, assemblies, concerts and sometimes inappropriately impromptu. At this age he thought himself a budding Richard Tauber, was confident in his ability and having no inhibitions whatsoever, thoroughly enjoyed every minute in the limelight. Sadly it didn't last, with maturity the "boy wonder" became more self conscious, and after his voice broke found himself with a rather mediocre light baritone sound, seemingly small lungs and a rather limited range. From this time on he started to feel less confident about singing, a difficult thing to come to terms with, since he still had the compulsion and the musical brain and ear for pitch. In footballing terms, transformed from a prolific goal scoring striker into a lacklustre midfielder, a team player but nothing special.
The in between years
pic       After losing interest in modern music at the end of the sixties and seventies and having a liking for the outlandish and unusual, Bob followed the trend towards folk music for many years attending concerts which included visits to the folk nights at the Rugby Club to see the Auld Triangle, "the Bolton Bullfrog" and others, Steeleye Span at the Guild Centre Preston and Max Boyce at the Free Trade Hall Manchester. By now he's approaching a mid-life crisis and having thoughts like "so much left to do and so little time left, to do it", principally caused by his frustrated passion for singing. At this time he was entertaining himself singing folk songs with the guitar in the bathroom, having learnt a few songs from Mike Harding's songbook and other sources and mastered the art of finger picking, he could now do a fair impression of the Spinner's 'The Manchester Rambler'. This was keeping the poor man amused but it wasn't very satisfying, in fact it was quite a lonely pastime. Sadly he took his guitar to many a party but nobody asked him to play (his better half wasn't over impressed by it either). Most people's taste had moved on by this time and there were new kids on the block who preferred Eric Clapton and "Take That". Then in the nineteen-eighties, something extraordinary happened, the wanna-be minstrel was invited to a charity concert at The Queen's Hall, Wigan given by a local male voice choir, the programme including religious music, opera choruses, comic ballads and traditional male voice pieces; the music sometimes quite moving, sometimes rousing, sometimes amusing, but always tuneful and entertaining. It had a profound effect on the listener, who sat open mouthed and quite still throughout, full of admiration for the disciplined and professional performance, an experience that opened his eyes to the opportunities for making music in the area and something he desperately wanted to be part of. However, not having the social skills to make taking part in such activities relatively easy, Bob spent some time after the concert thinking of excuses, why he couldn't do it, all the time lamenting a lack of courage to make that phone call. Moping about for weeks imagining the terrifying ordeal of being on stage facing a large audience, previous attempts at singing as an adult in public resulting in embarrassment, nerves taking their toll as memory loss and voice tremble kicked in. Eventually "her indoors" became weary of his feeble lamentations and miserable prevarications and arranged for her precious Uriah Heap to be ever-so-humbly dragooned (frog marched) into taking the first steps.
In the beginning
pic       Of course nothing is straightforward when you are a tad shy and about to achieve a very scary life's ambition, yes, by the time Bob had girded up his loins and mustered the requisite confidence, the choir were out of town on a European tour to Stuttgart, (or was it California?), anyway after finally being introduced to the conductor, there was a further delay before he could be given the necessary voice test to allow membership. In the meantime he attended several rehearsals, sitting on the sidelines just listening, meeting some of the members and hearing of their experiences, increasing his enthusiasm and whetting the appetite even further. During this period Bob also started to hear the classic repertoire which the choir had at its finger tips, possibly twenty four pieces at concert pitch, eighteen of which could be included in a concert programme at the drop of a hat, with a further twenty which could be brought up to scratch with just a little spit and polish. Pieces of music which he would come to learn and love, like:- Morte Christi; The Soldier's Chorus from Faust; The Song of the Jolly Roger; Love Could I Only Tell Thee; and many more. Given copies of the music he soon became familiar with many of the pieces and was joining in from the back of the rehearsal room. When the Musical Director was ready, the prospective recruit was invited to his home for a voice test, it was to be completely informal, but not knowing what to expect he took the precaution of learning "A Policeman's Lot is not a Happy One" from the Pirates of Penzance, a favourite piece from Gilbert and Sullivan. However, at the last minute, imposter syndrome rears its ugly head and panic sets in, "Boris Godunov is no longer confident he's Goodenough" and instinctively asks "can I bring my guitar?" A stroke of genius as it transpired, allowing him to stay closer to his comfort zone, he just sang the Irish folk song "The Spinning Wheel" and later was asked to repeat a few notes of the scale played on the piano. Impressed or not, we don't know, but the musical director seemed satisfied, and offered Bob a place in the second tenor section of his choir. What a relief! At the very next rehearsal the conductor placed him at the side of an experienced, very tolerant and friendly second tenor called "Jim", at last he was following his dream and didn't look back. Within weeks he knew enough to take part in his first concert, an amazing experience, and needing only a little prompting from his colleague at his left ear they made a reasonable fist of the new member's debut concert, suitably further back in the ranks of the eighty strong choir to avoid any nervous reaction caused by exposure to an audience.
He's arrived
pic       What a fantastic hobby it turned out to be, rehearsing twice a week, enjoying the company of like minded choristers and singing delightful music in the most relaxing atmosphere, Bob started to imagine he had joined the heavenly chorus. Over the next almost four decades he enjoyed some of the most awesome experiences with the choir, acclaimed and appreciated by audiences across the whole of northern England and further afield. Best of all every now and then the choir got to dress up in evening suits and black bow tie, not caring that it was vain and pandered to his inner Walter Mitty, Bob thought it was wonderful and made him feel six feet tall. Although he personally never went abroad, the choir enjoyed a long relationship with similar choral societies in Germany, particularly those in Stuttgart and made several tours to various parts of the United States. Throughout this period the choir carried out a full concert programme often with two concerts a month during the season and maintaining the high standards of performance by taking part in many competitions, notably the International Eisteddfod during the summer months at Llangollen and other festivals in Worcester, Freckleton and Blackpool, as well as the Northern, later becoming the National Male Voice Choir Championships in Huddersfield Town Hall. The choir was judged fifth best in the International Eisteddfod in 1991, at other times may have achieved third or fourth, but the winning choirs always seemed to be the foreign choirs, particularly those from the US who were often young and affiliated to educational colleges.

Some results achieved at the National Male Voice Choir Championship:-

YearPosnTest Piece 1Test Piece 2
19853rdFeast of FeastsIn Nomine Jesu
19861stI Was GladGo Lovely Rose
19871stLord LovelaceAdoramus Te
19882ndA Crown of PraiseDrunken Sailor
19891stKing HalThe Fire Kindled
1990-U-The Unanimous DanceFire Fire
1991-U-Blow Blow thou Winter WindThe Wanderer
19923rdBermudasInto Exile
19932ndWar TrumpetOn Newlyn Hill
19942ndLord LovelaceNone but the Lonely Heart

Many choristers would come away from competitions quite deflated and disappointed, disputing the results, whether justified or not. The more philosophical, came home with an immense feeling of satisfaction, having been on stage with some of the best musicians in the world and having had a really good day out to boot. Didn't we do well!!!
O' What Delight
pic       To say that singing in harmony is therapeutic is a bit of an understatement, when leaving rehearsal at ten o'clock you would swear you were walking on air, and often after concerts, following what had become something of a tradition, the choir would assemble at a nearby hostelry for a beer and another good sing, 'The Two Roses' based on a German folk song and 'Mulligan's Musketeers' were particular favourites often sung at these gatherings which were mostly well received and appreciated by the locals. On one particular occasion the choir had been invited back to the nearby rugby club for a post concert drink, after a particularly enjoyable charity concert at St Luke's Church. When the choir arrived at the venue at 9.30pm, the local team were celebrating with the opposition from the day's game, a team from south Wales. Both having been drinking since tea time, the scene which greeted the newcomers was extremely merry and boisterous, the atmosphere so jolly and friendly, it appeared both teams had been on the winning side, the actual result long forgotten and irrelevant. Anyway when the choir started singing, the Welsh team all joined in and there were tears in many eyes as the strains of Cwm Rhondda and Gwahoddiad rang through the rafters. The long suffering driver of the coach, who had been struggling to get his charges into the coach for half an hour already was getting desperate and threatening to leave those behind who insisted on, 'just ten more minutes', as his driving hours available for the journey home dwindled like water out of a leaky bucket. No sooner had he got some individuals on the coach than they reappeared in the concert room as soon as his back was turned. A most enjoyable and memorable evening, as were all the concerts, especially those concerts at St Helens Town Hall and the Mill at the Pier when the choir was conducted by Geoff Love and the concert at St Thomas' Church, when the choir sang the hymn 'Just As I Am' as Easter approached, a favourite piece and a very emotional experience for choristers and audience alike.
       picDuring these four decades Bob became a reasonably competent sight reader and could hold on to his part against the most powerful voices, in fact he used to get a lot of pleasure standing next to a top tenor and just savouring the blend between the two parts. The choir sang many fun songs, hymns, opera choruses and stirring anthems including: 'The Goslings'; 'Ave Verum Corpus'; 'O Isis and Osiris' from Mozart's Magic Flute; 'The Prayer' from Wagner's Lohengrin; 'The Pilgrim's Chorus' from Tannhauser; and 'The Prisoner's Chorus' from Beethoven's Fidelio ['Oh what delight in sunshine bright, to breathe the air of Heaven'], not forgetting the mighty 'Nidaros', but best of all members have been able to hear at first hand some beautiful songs sung by extremely talented amateur singers from the local area, 'The Serenade from the Fair Maid of Perth' from a talented second tenor, 'Abide with Me' and 'The Old Rugged Cross' wonderful bass solos and 'Polly Perkins of Paddington Green', a baritone solo with choir accompaniment in the chorus, a wonderful 'Gendarme's Duet' attributed to Offenbach and sung by two brothers with wonderful bass voices, and a few Franz Lehar compositions from a further three of the choir's genuine Richard Taubers. A golden age of music with wonderful accompanists and leadership both musical and administrative - Truly God's Choir!!! Long may it continue.

Palfreyman April 2023 - (apologies for the occasional flight of fancy and liberal poetic licence)

picFarthingale Publications:... Is a hobby web site containing articles of local interest to Lancastrians, some favourite walking and cycling routes, selected words and poetry, and some writings of more general nature as well as the authors own picture gallery. Access is available via the homepage and menu at the head of the page.

picLocal Interest: Richmond Hill Dairies; Mind Your Language; John Lancaster Wigan MP; Thomas Aspinwall Miners Agent; Thomas Aspinwall Obituary; Upholland Telephone Exchange; Thomas Linacre School Wigan; God's Choir; Scot Lane School Wigan; The Lindsays of Haigh; Dust Upon God's Fair Earth; The Nurburgring 1960; Wigan Advertisements 1960; Wigan Soldier Missing in Action; It's a Funny Life; Private Thomas Whitham VC; Isaac Watts 1674 - 1748; Wigan Old Bank 1792; The Brocklebank Line; John Byrom 1692 - 1793; The Holy City Liverpool; Jubilee Park Memorial, Ashton in Makerfield; Little Ships at War 1918; A Cricket Calypso; Not Much of a Warrior; Peveril of the Peak.
Walking & Cycling: Moss Eccles Tarn; Abbey Lakes to Coppull Moor; Chorley Ice Cream Walk; Douglas Valley Dawdle; Three Counties Cycle Ride; Haigh to Borsdane Wood; A Lancshire Linear Walk; Blackrod or Bust; Cycle the Sankey Valley; Cycle the Monsal Trail; Wigan Circular by Bike; Freshfield to Crosby; Irwell Valley Trail (Bury to Rawtenstall); Irwell Valley (Bury to Salford).
Words & Poetry: Only a Cranky Owd Foo'; Martin Chuzzlewit; Dover Harbour; Rogue Herries; The Heart of Midlothian; King Cotton; The Family Man; The Pickwick Papers; The Fair Rosamond; The Fair Rosamond Comic; A Legend of Montrose; When Winds Breathe Soft; The Wreck of the Hesperus; God Bless these Poor Wimmen that's Childer; Dombey and Son; Aw've Turned me bit O' Garden O'er; On Th' Hills; Four Favourite Poems; The Darkling Thrush; The Glory of the Garden; The Rolling English Road; The Antiquary; Hymn Before Action; Dust upon God's Fair Earth; Mind Your Language; Jeff Unsworth's dialect poetry; Martyrs of the Arena; Th' Coartin' Neet; Boat Song; Toddlin' Whoam; A Lancashire Mon; Calm is the Sea; The Bride of Lammermoor; Redgauntlet; A Tale of Two Cities.
Wallgate Chronicles: Hugo Boss comes to Wigan; In the footsteps of the Manchester Rambler; Fun with Trigonometry; Surprise at the Philharmonic; The Marriage of Figaro; Cat Bells; A Walk in the Hills; Eay Times Uv Changed; Fidelio; The Ravioli Room; Desert Island Discs; Travels in Time 1960; Travels in Time 2010; The Spectroscope; The Bohemian Girl; Bookcase; Barnaby Rudge; Romance on a Budget; The Battle of Solferino; The Getaway Car; The Switchroom Wigan; The Force of Destiny; Adolphe Adam; The Fair Maid of Perth; Ivanhoe; Semele; Lohengrin; The Old Curiosity Shop; Hard Times.

picThe Langdales from Moss Eccles Tarn