“I’m as old as Her Majesty,” explained Wellingborough Orpheus Choir’s longest serving member Bob Timpson when I brave the somewhat rude question all reporters have to ask: ‘how old are you?’
With the Queen’s age never foremost in my mind, a quick Google revealed this to be 87. But this isn’t the only statistic that Wellingborough Orpheus Choir shares with our monarch.
Sixty years ago this year, crowds gathered for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation and, somewhere in Northamptonshire, in a completely unrelated event, the Wellingborough Orpheus Choir formed, and is still going strong today.
Boasting about 50 members, the choir has somehow stood the test of time and is still going strong, despite the many populist entertainments which have since commanded the public’s attention spans (DVDs, home computers, TV...). Somehow people today still have time to sing.
Former chairman and current publicity officer Maureen Williams said: “I should think it must be one of the oldest choirs in the county. It was founded by Frank Stalvies, who used to conduct the Technical Singers.
“He did evening classes at the technical college and ran a choir there and in 1953, he founded a new choir. Originally it was by invitation only. Looking back, they seemed to do far more concerts. I have their repertoires, they did 50 songs and they did lots of concerts in Wellingborough and the surrounding areas. We have one photo from the early ‘70s of them singing in a carol concert and they had 300 in their audience.”
Maureen has been busily tracking down old photos of the choir as well as details about its past as she is currently compiling a history she hopes will be available later this year. Maureen said: “In the 1960s the choir performed in a concert recorded for the BBC, although I didn’t find the name of the programme. Then, during the 1970s, we joined with lots of other choirs and went to sing at the Albert Hall. It was organised by Malcolm Tyler, he was head of music for Northamptonshire county. We did that four times.”
Maureen, who lives in Northampton and joined in 1979, is among the members who remember singing at the Albert Hall. She said: “It is actually quite difficult to sing there as all you can hear is yourself. The acoustics are fantastic for the audience, but you do feel very exposed.”
It is perhaps ironic that although the choir can still pack venues, attracting new singers is not always easy, even though there is no audition policy.
Maureen, 62, said: “I think it has been struggling a little but I think the TV programmes with Gareth Malone have made singing more popular.”
She continued: “It has always been difficult to attract younger members. When I was at school, singing was a lesson and there were lots of school choirs. That has been true more recently, but it hasn’t been a tradition. It might change.
“It is really difficult to get men into the choir too, most choirs are short of tenors.”
Although today the choir itself now has charitable status and has to manage to balance its own budgets, since the very beginning it has found the means to raise thousands of pounds for an array of charities including Age Concern, the Army Benevolent Fund, Barnado’s, the Talking Newspaper for the Blind and The Meningitis Trust, to name but a few.
Other achievements have included forging close links with a choir in Wellingborough’s twin town of Niort in France and holding concerts in both locations.
Bob Timpson, from Wellingborough, was one of the founding members of the choir and is still involved today. He said: “You wouldn’t stay with any organisation for 60 years if you didn’t enjoy it. It is because of the songs, and the music, and if we aren’t singing in English it will be in Latin, and we have done things in German and French.”
The youngest member of the choir is 12-year-old Charlotte Buck, for whom performing with the Wellingborough Orpheus Choir is a bit of a family tradition as she is the third generation of her family to join. Her mum, 42-year-old Rebecca Buck, is still a member.
Charlotte, from Earls Barton, said: “I do like learning all the new pieces. I play the tenor horn and it helps with music at school as well.”
Rebecca said: “Carmina Burana was Charlotte’s first piece and I joined when I was 14 when we sang Carmina Burana too. It is a nice social thing to do. I was the youngest member for about 20 years, until Charlotte came along.”
Cath Fuller, 63, from Irchester, is the current chairman of the choir. She joined in 1981.
She said: “I had always sung in choirs from being at school and there was an advert in the Northants Telegraph that the choir wanted more singers. I have always loved singing.”
The subscription rates for singing with the choir are £72 for a year, £69 for concessions and free to students. It seems that every penny counts as staging concerts can be expensive.
Cath said: “Soloists aren’t cheap and we do try to get professional soloists which can lift the whole performance. But it doesn’t mean we have to make money. What we remember is we are here to provide live music in Wellingborough and surrounding areas and that we make music that people can come and enjoy.”
Cath would also like to see the choir attracting more new members. She said: “Perhaps there was an age range where people did not sing at school or did not see singing as something you do for enjoyment...and people can get a bit embarrassed.”
Chances to hear the choir, or to join in...
The choir can be seen performing on October 26 at Great Harrowden Parish Church and on December 21 at the United Reformed Church in High Street, Wellingborough. Both concerts start at 7.30pm.
To find out more about joining the choir, ring Maureen Williams on 01604 870318 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-For information, visit www.orpheuschoir.info or find the choir on Facebook. To watch a video of the choir, see www.northantstelegraph.co.uk.