THE Shiney Row Male Voice Choir has been entertaining Sunderland for more than 50 years – now it is looking for new young members in a bid to keep its tradition alive. Cara Houchen reports.
ON May, 15 1959, a meeting was held in the school-room of Station Road Methodist Church, Shiney Row.
Here the male selection of the church choir decided to increase its numbers by inviting men from other churches to join them.
Ten men were present and donations were given totalling £1 to buy music.
Fifty years on and the choir is still practising in the same church and going strong. It now has 50 members, two of which are original members, and choir secretary Ron Wilson explained it is like being part of a family.
He said: “I’ve been singing with the choir for 12 years but before that I had never been a singer. My family are quite musical, they played instruments, but I was a bit late in finding my passion.
“I decided to join after I went to watch one of the Christmas concerts. They were on the lookout for members and I wanted to join in and see what I could do.”
As well as its annual concert which is the biggest performance of the year, the choir also perform as part of citizenship ceremonies, at schools and this year it will be performing at the Royal Albert Hall.
Ron explained: “It’s in aid of cancer research and we were invited down to be part of the Festival of Brass and Voices.
“There will only be 30 of us going down to London as the other members are older and unable to travel. It’s a real challenge as choirs are not allowed to hold music during the performance.
“So we have to learn and memorise every piece, which may not sound hard, but for us older ones your memory starts to go and it’s difficult to memorise an entire set. It’s something we have been looking at introducing into all our performances but it takes time, especially as we have a break in the summer and when everyone comes back they have forgotten what we learnt two months before.”
The choir has a real mix of ages, the youngest being 40 all the way up to 86 years old, but recently it has produced a development plan with the sole aim of encouraging youngsters to get involved.
“We are looking to build links with schools and colleges,” said Ron. “But also with youth groups within the community. We want to make the choir as viable as possible for future generations to join and enjoy through practise and concerts.
“That’s why we’ve moved with the times and changed the music that we sing. We do still perform a lot of classics from musicals like Les Miserables but during our stage shows we do things like Westlife – in fact we’re better than Westlife!
“Ironically we also learnt One Moment in Time by Whitney Houston just as she died, so we sang that as a tribute at our concert at the time.”
The choir practises every Friday night for two hours.
Ron said: “There’s expectation that choir members try to learn between practise sessions. 90 per cent of them are retired so they have a lot of time on their hands.”
The choir takes a break between May and July because the majority of members enjoy playing bowls. Ron said: “They would never miss bowls so we have to stop rehearsals or there would be no one there.”
The choir is made up of four voice groups, the top tenors, second tenors, baritone and bass and that’s the order in which they stand to perform.
“That’s the way it has to be,” said Ron. “The music and songs just wouldn’t sound right if we moved around and mixed it up.
“We do have soloists, there are six of them who can be called upon to sing on their own – they are the ones brave enough to do it!” In 1960, at the annual meeting 21 members were present and the balance in hand was reported as a healthy £7 and a penny ha’penny. At this meeting it was decided to hold an annual concert, establishing the tradition of inviting professional guest soloists to sing as part of the show and this has continued ever since.
This year it’s all change for the choir, Ron said: “We received a grant from the community chest which enabled us to buy a uniform so we look the part in matching pullovers and shirts.
“And we have decide to involve instrumentalists so the concert will now feature the Prince Bishop Brass ensemble – we felt this might attract a younger audience.”
He added: “It’s not just about singing, we have a real comradeship and we all get on really well. For the older members if they didn’t have the choir they would really miss the companionship that comes with it.”
l For more information contact Ron Wilson on 0191 527 9734