The choir was formed by Alan Jenkins and held its first rehearsal in Bingley on 1st March 1984. Initially called the West Riding Singers, the choir comprised 17 singers with accompanist Elizabeth Saunders. Alan had recently returned to England after living in the United States and he brought with him a large repertoire of unfamiliar but exciting music‚ some of which we still perform today.
The choir made its debut on 4th July 1984 at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod, as the West Riding Singers and achieved a commendable fourth in the Female Voice Choir class. Four days later the choir travelled to York University to audition for Sainsbury’s Choir of the Year‚ the day the Minster was struck by lightning! By this time the choir had been re-named Opus 44‚ a name inspired by Brahms, who wrote this work for his female voice choir. We were delighted to be chosen to enter the next round of this competition to be held in Edinburgh in late October.
At the beginning of October the choir entered the Blackpool Music Festival, coming 2nd in the Madrigal class, 2nd in the Ensemble and 1st out of 10 choirs in the Ladies Choir class, completing the day by winning the evening competition.
The choir reached the televised quarter final stage of Sainsbury’s Choir of the Year competition and a Christmas Concert held in Huddersfield completed an extremely successful first year.
Our second year with Alan was just as eventful, including winning a first and two second prizes in the first of many appearances at the Mrs Sunderland Music Festival in Huddersfield.
Under Alan’s leadership the choir had been transformed from singing traditional Ladies Choir repertoire to a Chamber Choir performing new, challenging and exciting music.
For the next eleven months June Driver, a founder member, took the baton during our search for a new conductor. Although there was now a membership of only ten, we undertook six concerts and entered two local festivals winning three first places.
11th November 1986 was the date of the first rehearsal with our new Musical Director Lynn Hudson. To date Lynn has been our longest serving MD. With Lynn, the choir continued to take part successfully in Music Festivals both locally and around the country, most notably the Mrs Sunderland Music Festival in Huddersfield. The choir also competed in Worcester, Freckleton, Newcastle upon Tyne‚ where we were named The Choir of the North‚ Newcastle under Lyme, Pontrhydfendigaid, Cardigan, Porthcawl and Blackpool. At Blackpool we were nominated to appear at The Festival of Festivals in Warwick. During this period we won many first prizes against top class competition, in particular winning the Centenary Baton at the Mrs Sunderland Music Festival, which was presented by Richard Baker. We were again successful in reaching the televised quarter finals of the Sainsbury’s Choir of the Year competition. We were also given the rare honour of being invited to perform at one of Llangollen’s Evening Concerts.
The choir performed with many young musicians, both singers and instrumentalists. This period was also notable for the number of commissioned pieces which we performed, in particular those by the composers Robin Walker, Nick Meredith, Peter Godfrey, Jonathan Morgan, Keely Hodgson and also arrangements by Thom Meredith.
1996 was the 10th anniversary of Lynn becoming MD and the choir held an anniversary concert with guests Colne Valley Male Voice Choir and a CD recording was made of this concert.
The choir was successful in obtaining a lottery grant in 1997. Keely Hodgson, a choir member, was commissioned and she composed “Songs for the Dawn” a setting of four poems, three by Elizabeth Jennings and one by Kathleen Raine. This was performed in 1998 at the Bingley Arts Centre with children from a local school. We also enjoyed a development weekend that year, again courtesy of the lottery grant, at Bretton Hall. Workshops were held with leading musicians Rosemary Broadbent, Darius Battiwalla (Musical Director of Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus), Pamela Cook (conductor of Cantamus) and Dr Eileen Bentley (Head of Oldham Music Services) who taught us songs in Hungarian!
Our next Musical Director was Jolyon Felton, who took his first rehearsal on 26th September 2000. The choir continued to enjoy success at music festivals, notably first places at Peterborough, Freckleton, and Morecambe. It was under Jolly’s direction that the choir achieved a long held ambition when we visited Norway in 2003. The choir travelled the length of the country, from Andelsnes on the west coast to Oslo, performing at a number of beautiful churches in a very beautiful country.
Alison Pryce-Jones became our fourth Musical Director and held her first rehearsal on 8th June 2004. She was with us for 12 years, her last performance with us being at the North Wales Choral Festival on 5th November 2016. We hoped to go out with a bang and, indeed, took third place in stiff competition but, sadly, the fireworks had been cancelled.
During her 12 years with us Alison led us to 37 competition titles at various music festivals and another 18 second or third places. We were successful at Freckleton, Wharfedale, Blackpool, Mrs Sunderland, Bingley Robertshaw, Skipton, and Biddulph and Moorlands Festivals. She left us as holders of the Choir Challenge Cup at the Mrs Sunderland Music Festival, having won at least one trophy there for eleven of the twelve years in which we entered.
Compulsive listening and viewing. You sang with great abandon and no little authority the whole feel was infectious throughout. Superb programme!
Jeffrey Wynn Davies 2013
Alison’s programming was skilful as she sought challenging, exciting and enjoyable music in a variety of styles to suit concert or competition. At the Blackpool Music Festival in 2008 it was slightly daunting to be adjudicated by Robert Latham himself when we sang his settings of two folk songs; Bobby Shaftoe and Soldier Soldier. However, it was extremely gratifying to learn that we had captured the spirit of both pieces, “They were performed just as I imagined them to be”, he said. She introduced us to new composers, in particular, Stephen Hatfield, Libby Larsen and Rebecca Clarke, and commissioned music from John Longstaff, who arranged some beautiful settings of Scottish folk songs for us.
A winning choir if ever there was one. Very accomplished work. Vibrant singing.
Robert Latham 2008.
We followed Alison to both the best and possibly worst of acoustics in support of singing for the widest audiences. We have sung in museums, galleries, bookshops, cafes, bars, foyers, nursing homes, shopping centres, supermarkets, bleak concrete spaces and gardens, as well as beautiful halls and concert venues.
March 2009 was the 25th Anniversary of Opus 44. This was celebrated in March 2010 with a party to which all former members and Musical Directors were invited. A display of photographs, concert programmes, posters and videos gave all an opportunity to reminisce over the achievements and good times that had occurred over the years.
It was a wonderful occasion and it was delightful to meet up again with so many past members. All four Musical Directors were there and each conducted a favourite piece from their time with us. All members, past and present, thoroughly enjoyed singing together.
During her directorship we shared concerts with Steeton MVC, Malsis Chapel Choir, Yorkshire Youth Choir, Skelmanthorpe MVC, Rastrick High School Junior Choir, Keighley Salvation Army Community Band, Haworth Band, Band of the Yorkshire Volunteers, Stage 84, and community choirs in various ‘Sings’. She had a particular commitment to the musicianship of young performers and we shared the stage with, and gave encouragement to, many talented young instrumental soloists and singers, often Alison’s students.
In 2009 the choir recorded its first commercial CD at St Martin’s Church, Brighouse, ‘The Silver Swan’. Alison was also instrumental in the development of singing workshops organised by the choir for all local singers interested in developing choral and singing skills in the company of like-minded people. We held such open days in Cullingworth Village Hall (2010), Stones Methodist Church with Eileen Bentley (2011), Bingley Little Theatre with Robert Latham (2013), and Bingley Little Theatre again with Alison herself passing on her extensive knowledge with enthusiasm. (2015)
Paula Sides took over the baton from Alison Pryce Jones and the choir benefitted tremendously from her vocal training, discovering new vocal abilities in the process. However Paula’s commitments as a lead soprano with the English Touring Opera, together with her exciting blossoming career, meant she could not fit us into her busy schedule as she had hoped. Luckily for Opus 44, Jonny, Paula’s husband, with his impressive choral background, stepped into the breach when necessary.
Jonathan Gale was welcomed as our 6th Musical Director. This was a natural progression after standing in for Paula (his wife) when she had been unavailable in previous months and it proved to be a very successful partnership with the choir. In January 2019 he told us that, due to his busy career as a barrister, a young family and relocation to Rugby he could not continue with us beyond the concert scheduled for 23rd March. We ended on a high, giving the first performance of A Christmas Mass, by Robert Pell, who was in the audience.
After a lengthy recruitment exercise, Opus 44 members were pleased to offer the post of MD to Wil Jones and were delighted that he accepted. Wil is the 7th MD since the formation of the choir in 1984. The choir is greatly looking forward to working with this young, yet experienced, conductor. Exciting times ahead!