Richard Oliff: Choir medal made it all seem worthwhile

Richard was blessed with a naturally well pitched singing voice
Richard was blessed with a naturally well pitched singing voice

When I joined a church choir I must have been no older than six or seven.

I’d been blessed with a naturally well pitched singing voice which lent itself well to the great hymns and psalms sung week in week out in churches across the country.

However, I don’t think I was quite prepared for the discipline, physically or vocally, required to train my voice to meld with the well drilled harmonics of any choir.

Enter Ted Duncan, choir-master extraordinaire, affectionately known as “Charlie”, the man who recognised my potential: instantly becoming my musical tutor, second head master, and unquestionably another major educator and influential force in my life for at least six years.

In the beginning I wore a blue cassock which denoted my status as a novice.

A church choir in the 1960s invariably followed an archetypal and expected Christmas card image.

Two rows of schoolboys either side of the chancel, behind who stood the men, with the ladies bringing up the rear.

We would practise every Wednesday from 7pm and every Sunday morning following the communion service, though the Sunday evensong service was a favourite of mine, containing the coup de force of vocal discipline that is the psalms.

We’d sing the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis with full force and vigour, interspersed with beautiful hymns and replies, though I do remember that sometimes it was difficult not to make some of our “work” sound too glib.

We’d be given two shillings (10p) for attending a wedding or a funeral.

When one was finally inducted into the full choir one was presented with a red cassock, white neck rough and white surplus during a point in a Sunday service.

Eventually becoming head chorister, having too the privilege of wearing a bronze-like medal hung around my neck denoting my authority to all and sundry and singing the solo first verse of Once In Royal David’s City at Christmas seemed somehow to make it all worthwhile.