Monday, 17 January 2011

Legacy

Mum (and Dad) passed on to me a love of music, especially singing. Nymphs and Shepherds was a regular request on Children's Choice, a popular radio show of my childhood. I thought that the choir was a professional one and it was only after I moved away and had my own family that Mum told me she'd sung on the recording. She was one of 250 children who sang with the Manchester Children's Choir.

The photograph is unique in that it records the only collaboration between the universally renowned orchestra and a choir of 250 working class school children lacking conventional musical training
The photograph was arranged spontaneously, thus the children are not in concert dress, but dressed in school uniform or evening clothes and they are out of formation; it is the first photograph of any sort of the choir. As the prints cost 5/- each at the time, the children, given their background, could not afford copies (only six of the 180 members contacted in 1975 held a copy).

The Children's choir recorded a version of Purcell’s Nymphs and Shepherds (with the Halle Orchestra conducted by Sir Hamilton Harty) at the Free Trade Hall in 1929. The 78rpm recording became a huge hit in record shops across the country. “After a year of training, they recorded Purcell’s Nymphs and Shepherds – and it started selling like hot cakes.These children were singing their hearts out and it just choked the nation."

The Choir consisted of 60 boys and 190 girls, aged 9 to 14, drawn from  Manchester Elementary schools (mainly 'central'). Grammar School pupils were assumed to have no time to spare for non-academic endeavours such as this, which required two evenings a week rehersal throughout the whole academic year.

The choir was predominantly working-class since those children whose parents could afford musical instruments and music lessons went into the School Children's Orchestra.  Estimates state that a third of the choir's parents were unemployed. The children were taught to sing phonetically to erase local dialect and Gertrude Riall did a wonderful job in eradicating the extremes of the Manchester accent. Fifty years later Gertrude Riall conducted members of the 1929 choir at a reunion in the Manchester Town Hall.

The whole endeavour encapsulates the social history of Manchester at the time. The photograph shows the old Free Trade Hall, before the interior was destroyed during the bombing of 1940-41. The orchestra consists entirely of men because of the conductor's (Hamilton Harty) insistence that, during the Depression, women were not to be employed as they might be taking a place that a man, as the dominant bread-winner of a family, could fulfil.


Nymphs and Shepherds - Purcell

video

And the B-side - Dance Duet from Hansel and Gretel (HUMPERDINCK)

video