Sounding the Century: 100 Years of Leeds Male Voice Choir

Leeds Male Voice Choir have provided a soundtrack to the city of Leeds for a century, performing in churches, cathedrals and concert halls throughout Yorkshire, England and Europe. The choir is in final preparations for Sounding the Century, its grandest performance yet on Saturday 24 September in Leeds Town Hall to celebrate the historic achievement.

Featuring some of the finest voices and brass in the region, Sounding the Century will include a wide range of music including folk tunes, pop classics, choral favourites and songs from the shows as the choir sings through favourites from the last hundred years. The celebrated special guests all hail from Leeds including 15 times Ladies British Barbershop Champions the White Rosettes and championship brass in the form of Rothwell Temperance Band, making this a unique musical celebration in the city.Leeds Male Voice Choir was formed from miners at Middleton Broom Colliery in Leeds

Under the Direction of Tim Knight since 2014, Leeds Male Voice Choir have defied the traditions of the male voice choir genre, casting aside blazers and welsh hymns, in favour of a modern approach with sharp suits and a diverse repertoire drawing influences from North America, Scandinavia and the Baltic. Leeds Male Voice Choir now boast a membership of almost sixty men of different ages and backgrounds, joining a group that has been making high quality music since 1916.

The choir’s roots sit in the mining industry; formed as Broom Excelsior Male Voice Choir in 1916 the choir was directed by local musician Thomas Crossland until 1928. Membership was drawn from workers of the Middleton Broom Colliery in South Leeds, with the choir’s first performance taking place before Leeds AFC match in September 1916 to raise money for injured soldiers. First performing in Leeds Town Hall in 1919, the choir gained momentum in their early years recording at the BBC, singing at the cenotaph at Whitehall in London and performed regularly raising money for war veterans throughout the interwar years.

With coal miners exempt from conscription, the choir continued to perform throughout the Second World War, under the baton of John Hickes, often at Mill Hill Chapel on Park Row in Leeds City Centre, where Hickes was also the choirmaster. Hickes oversaw the renaming of the choir in 1948, as the choir became known as Leeds Male Voice Choir.

The choir has not always been as buoyant as it is today, nevertheless achieving significant success locally and internationally under the baton of John Wheeler between the 1960’s and 1980’s. Wheeler and his wife, Ursula who accompanied the choir led a series of international exchanges to Leeds twin city Dortmund, enjoyed repeated competition success, performed regularly in Leeds Town Hall even finding the time to appear on Television’s Opportunity Knocks and perform at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

In the years that followed under the direction of Nigel Wears, David Burnett and Michael Grant the choir’s confidence grew as they performed throughout the length and breadth of Yorkshire during the 1990’s and 2000’s even travelling to the Royal Albert Hall on three occasions to perform. By 2013 the choir was already drawing in new members and performed with other male choirs to perform in Leeds Town Hall in a concert conducted by Will Prideaux.

Following the turn of the millennium, the choir faced similar problems to many other male voice choirs across the country in engaging and attracting younger and diverse talent to join the ranks as singing use of leisure time.

After the appointment of award winning composer and choral director Tim Knight in 2014, the choir began an ambitious expansion programme drawing in experienced singers and those new to explore their voice in a welcoming environment to bolster the choir numbers. Knight’s approach has proved popular with the men of Leeds and has proved successful in injecting new life into the male voice genre and expanding the diversity of programming and membership. Tim says “…the choir has evolved and departed from much of the traditional male voice choir repertoire, drawing on influences from men’s choirs overseas, in particular North America, whilst still paying homage to the choir’s roots. Our aim has always been to sing the widest variety of music, so long as it’s good of its type.”

Given the choirs’ continuing growth and growing audiences, Knight’s approach is proving a winning formula, with enthusiastic choristers regularly seeking to join the ranks. Rob Butler the choir’s Chairman reflects “We have found that years there has been a steady influx of men of all ages keen to join the ranks of Leeds Male Voice Choir as we’ve built towards our hundredth year. It’s a testament to the teamwork, enthusiasm and dedication of the men – and shows what can be achieved with hard work in a relatively short space of time.”

As the choir is busy in rehearsal for Sounding the Century, plans are being finalised for their first international tour in over two decades, taking their popular vocals and harmonies on the road to Bruges in 2017 and will feature as part of a major exhibition in Leeds City Museum in the autumn. Tim says “I’m immensely proud of what we have developed in Leeds, and looking forward to sharing our story and taking the show on the road to showcase Leeds Male Voice Choir on an international stage next year”.

Sounding the Century will feature a whole range of music from composers including Rodgers and Hammerstein, Randall Thompson, Giuseppe Verdi, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and even a special composition by Director Tim Knight. Joined on stage by double European ladies barbershop champions The White Rosettes and 2015 Grand Shield winners The Rothwell Temperance Band, the evening will feature a whole range of popular music from the last 100 years.

Sounding the Century looks set to be a fun filled affair for the whole family, Tim says “The men take their music making seriously, and are planning a fantastic show for the people of Leeds on 24 September. We can’t think of a better way of celebrating 100 years, than on stage of Leeds Town Hall, with some of the best voices and brass in the city. It’s going to be a very special evening.”

Sounding the Century: 100 Years of Leeds Male Voice Choir takes place on Saturday 24 September at Leeds Town Hall, The Headrow Leeds, LS1 3AD at 19.30. Tickets are available via www.leedsmalevoicechoir.co.uk or by telephoning 0113 3760318

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