Gresley Boys Choir

The Story and Update of Gresley Boys Choir , by Roy Atkins

After sixteen years it has been decided to suspend rehearsals and take a sabbatical whilst we take a new approach to gain new members. The choir had lost three members since the seasonal concert in 2012 leaving only three members. Having agreed that the Boys Choir would take part in the SDDC Chairman's Charity Concert these boys would just be referred to as Gresley Boys so not to mislead the public. The boys performed very well under Karl's guidance and Gerald on the piano, a variety of songs, part songs and solos and were very much appreciated by the audience.

It is worthwhile reviewing the history of Gresley Boys Choir and it's contribution to the community.

In the mid 90's the GMVC was aware that there was a loss of choristers coming out of the churches because church choirs were suffering losses of memberships. In addition the teaching of music in schools was being affected by the change of peripatetic teaching regulations by the government, so the choir decided to form a boys choir.

It was agreed that the musicians should be independent of the adult choir and Roy Davies who was in retirement from conducting GMVC agreed to take on the responsibility of training the choir. Roy joined me in visiting around 40 schools covering the catchment area stretching from Tatenhill to Ashby and Appleby Magna in the South. Many of the head teachers or deputies agreed to hand out letters to parents giving details and the date of the inaugural meeting. Only parents for nine boys turned up at the meeting but from comments made at the meeting it was understood that others were interested which could bring the number to twelve. It was agreed to go ahead and Gerald Rodgers, currently the organist and assistant pianist of the adult choir, agreed to take on the responsibility of accompanist until a Boys Choir accompanist could be found. Ken Wildes, Secretary of the Special Purposes Committee, agreed to take on the secretarial duties of the Boys Choir.

The day after the meeting a lady 'phoned me and said, “Is it too late for my son to join the choir, my boy's school didn't let us have the letter until it was too late”. (All the letters were in the schools at least two weeks before the meeting) The lady's name was Jill Hines, who eventually had two boys singing in the choir and her sister made all the choir's uniform waistcoats. Jill has remained a supporter of the choir throughout its existence.

The boy's debut performance at Trinity Methodist Church in May 1997 was very special and will stay in my memory. It was the first Gresley Male Voice Choir's Charity Concert and with our special guests Ilfracombe Male Voice choir but the heart warming moment was to see each boy as he arrived at the church looking smart and 'well scrubbed' for what those fourteen boys were about to experience, with a nervous excitement on their faces, as they entered the vestry and were helped into their uniforms by their parents. The boys did not appear in front of the audience until they were introduced and paraded into the church for their contribution. The performance was well received by the audience, an impressive start.

Within twelve months the membership had doubled in size to the mid 20's! and peaked at 30 members by 2000. The boys had many notable venues to sing in, travelling far and wide. In addition to singing in many local churches the boys performed at the Brewhouse Arts Centre on a number of occasions, at the annual youth music group concert, also at Burton Town Hall in joint concerts of NAC choirs and in Derby Cathedral with adult choir. Concerts outside the area included a visit to Bryan Hollins son's Methodist Church in Wantage Oxfordshire, a Charity Exchange visit with the adult choir to Audley & District MVC in Cheshire, a number of visits to NAC group 10 concerts in the Midlands and not forgetting the visits to Scarborough twice, singing in the Spa's open air Sun Lounge and the visit to join the adult choir's tour to sing in the Railway Museum in York.

Sadly the choir’s membership declined over the first few years in this century despite annual letter drops to the schools at quite an expense. There seemed to be an increase in school activities - drama, rugby, cricket and football.

It was also commented that on a number of occasions that boy singers were ostracized by their friends.

Unfortunately things went sadly wrong in 2005. In Roy Davies's final year in 2004 the Little Theatre Drama Company were attempting to present Lional Bart's musical "Oliver" at the Brewhouse. The GMVC received an invitation for the Gresley Boys Choir to help the drama company by augmenting the singers in the show. The boys choir committee gave careful consideration although there were some doubts about the possible effect on the boys choir activity. There were parents in attendance at the meeting and it was felt that we should give the boys the opportunity of taking part in the show providing it was the wish of a large majority of the boys. The boys joined the show and enjoyed it as detailed in the Sol-Fa-So Good history book.

The choir proceeded through 2005 with Sue Shuttleworth now promoted from Deputy MD to the main roll of MD.A number of concerts were completed but as we moved into September the attendance at rehearsals was quite poor, worrying because the boys had an engagement in November. Apparently some of the boys had joined the Little Theatre group, so out of the fourteen boys that appeared in the photograph at the end of 2004 the choir lost six members. Sue, Gerald and I grasped the nettle and the membership remained low but new members came along and the choir had some happy times as commented earlier. Because of work commitments Sue retired from the choir in 2009 and Karl stepped in as MD and has served the choir well over the last three years.

Gresley Male Voice Choir has a great deal to be proud of with the sponsorship of the boys choir.In the early days the expenses for the uniforms and music etc.was covered until the choir could support itself. Fortunately, the boys choir had many supporters and donations including some very generous bereavement donations from the wives of choir members who had passed away.

On the cultural side the boys choir provided boys with musical enjoyment and training through the years. From membership statistics 66 boys benefited from the experience in the choir. It doesn't seem very many for the choirs existence over 16 years. However, 35 of these received long service certificates for at least 3 years service; in fact many of them did 4 or 5 years.

The lead up to the Chairman's Charity Concert was very concerning, in particular because Mick Bale has been a good friend of the male voice choir for many years. When the request came last year for the concert to take place on the 19th. January, the boys choir was asked of the possibility of taking part. The membership at that time was down to 6 boys only. One of the boys was destined to leave the choir at the seasonal concert last year because of his voice maturing and extra personal commitments, he was asked if he could delay his retirement and take part in the programme and he agreed. All the other five boys were available. Unfortunately the snow caused a delay and lost us a member and two of the other boys changed their minds.

The remaining three singers, Karl had every confidence in them carrying it off on their own, and how right he was, they were brilliant, not just my comments but a view of many people. We were able to support Mike Bale and he wanted to show his appreciation to the boys as he did the last time they sang in his concert.

On that occasion he presented each boy with a council mug, see page 118/119 in Sol-fa so-good. So following this latest concert the boys sang again for Mick and his wife in the Guild room preceding an event in which the Council Chairman presented the boys with their long service certificates.

The recipients and star performers at the event were Kyran Parker (5yrs service), Jak Grainger (4yrs service) and Sam Atkins (3yrs service).

The parents who have been administering in joint duties of registrar, secretary and uniform co-ordinators, Mandy Parker and Judith Mitchell, were presented with the MVC Centenary Souvenir Engraved Glasses for their support over the years. In addition the Council Chairman presented each of the boys with an exclusive South Derbyshire badge along with a bag of chocolates.

We also took the opportunity of expressing our sincere thanks to Ken Wildes who has produced all the long services certificates throughout the life of the choir. Gerald, of course, when the choir was formed, agreed to accompany the choir until a boys choir accompanist could be found. Well, although we had conversations with other accompanists and even a visit from one pianist we were unsuccessful. Gerald has remained the accompanist for all the sixteen years.

Many thanks Gerald.

It was not the sad time it might have been, the boys clearly ended on a high, certainly with their performance in the chairman's concert both in public and in the privacy of the guild room. Let us hope that the Male Voice Choir is able to re-establish the boys choir in the future. Members of the boys choir have automatic entry into the membership of the adult choir. Who knows, we may see these boys again, singing in the male voice choir.

The following previous boys choir members have sung in concert with the adult choir - Simon Baldwin, Daniel Andrews, Jonathan Hines, Stephen Hodgett, Sam Bowskill and of course Robert Salmon who is currently very active in the choir.