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Thornes House

The School Choir

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The choir's early days from :

"Thornes House : The Story of a School"
Nora J. George

When Margaret Markland went first to Thornes House in 1938, she had nineteen girls in the school choir. They practised the usual part songs, progressed to madrigals.

When the school became mixed Miss Markland suggested a mixed Choir, and although there was a cheerful description of 'Crows' Chorus' the actuality was a very very good beginning with several good voices, a tenor and bass section giving added weight.

The Darlings, Tony Schollar and E. Darlington were some of that weight. In July, 1947, the School Choir broadcast from Leeds for the first time. They sang 'The Cherry Tree' in the series: 'Children Singing at Christmas."

THE SCHOOL CHOIR : from "The Stork" (undated)

'During the past year many Musical Activities have taken place, and because of these we have had very few ordinary choir practices, so that we are at the moment feverishly rehearsing for the Summer Concert which must take place before the Higher and School Certificate examinations begin.

The concert last summer was well attended and most people enjoyed the singing of the first part of Haydn's "The Creation" and "The Lady of Shalott." The soloists in the first work were Marjorie Pygett, Edward Darlington and Mr. Stanley Mitton, who was kind enough to come over from Elland to sing with us.

Before the Christmas Holidays the usual Carol Concert was given to parents and friends of the pupils and this, too, was well received, but the most important event to the Choir was the Broadcast which was made before the end of term and which was heard on Christmas Eve. For this we sang two groups of carols and Christmas music, and Beal School in Northumberland provided the rest of the programme.

The great excitement of going to Leeds and the terrible suspense which lasted until the actual broadcast was heard, made some members of the choir expect too high a standard and not a few people were rather disappointed when they heard the programme. This feeling of disappointment, however, may have been due to too much merrymaking at Christmas or the lateness of the hour at which the broadcast was relayed. This was the first time that Thornes House Choir had been "on the air" and we hope that on future occasions we shall be better satisfied.

During the year the Madrigal Choir has not been able to have many practices owing to the new dinner arrangements but this "1st XI" of the school did have two outside engagements, one at Sandal Methodist Church, which the male section also attended, and one at Zion Methodist Chapel. The Church of England, however, was by no means neglected, for the whole Choir sang at St. George's Church, Lupset, after the carol concert, and on Rogation Sunday at Alverthorpe Church.'

John Pritchard of the B.B.C. and Glyndebourne was living in Wakefield at this time, and together with Mrs. East, Secretary of the Associated Board, he planned a Spring Session with the Grammar School Orchestra, the Old Savilians (Wakefield Boys' Grammar School old students) and Thornes House Choir, culminating in a presentation of Vivaldi's The Seasons.' In Miss Markland's words, 'A great conductor and a great experience.'

The Festival of Britain of 1951 produced a contest, and the Thornes House choir of sixty voices entered the Yorkshire Area, getting as far as the semi-finals at Hull, beating Sleights, Bradford and Fairlea, and beaten by Hull by only one point, and Huddersfield by six points.

At another contest in Harrogate, Ted Darling (who retained his own name on the stage, his brother taking the name of John Wakefield) entered the lieder class, and the choir returned with trophies gained in the choral and madrigal class.

Fruit picking at Mr. Brookes' farm in Wyckhambrook, Suffolk, brought a chance encounter and a very happy evening. Mrs. Smith, of Gifford Hall (recorded in the Batsford Book of Houses) heard the choir members singing whilst picking fruit and invited them to the Hall for 'songs and lemonade' and to see the garden. They found a garden full of plants, nothing that was not mentioned in Shakespeare, and a beautiful room full of rare old musical instruments. Amongst the choir that year was Oliver Broome.

A highlight in 1951 was the choir's invitation to sing to the Queen when she visited Wakefield. This entailed a great deal of planning. Finally, the choir was grouped outside the Town Hall, as the focal point, to allow other children from other schools an opportunity. These pupils were grouped around the Town Hall steps.

There were inter-House competitions which were entered into with joyous and occasionally noisy enthusiasm - rivalry was friendly as 'J.E.' reported one year:

'The afternoon saw the return of the morning's excitement. As time went on the atmosphere in the hall became more and more intense. The suppressed excitement was only relieved during the performance of such items as the fascinating glimpse of an Elizabethan Evening, and the delightfully saucy singing by Marjorie Holdsworth of 'Seventeen come Sunday'. By the end of the Competition the atmosphere had become almost intolerable, and, when the final results were announced, the road of triumph from the throats of the victorious members of Kirkgate House was like the bursting of the wall of a great dam. As the shining laurels were borne away, the other Houses were already plotting revenge next year.'

Such was the enthusiasm for music engendered by Miss Markland, and the members of staff who helped her equally as enthusiastically, that on leaving, several began the Thornesian Guild of Singers under her baton. There had been from the establishment of the school always a friendliness between Wakefield Boys' Grammar School and Thornes House, and Grammar School friends were added to the choir - Bill Brotherton, Stanley Roper, Jack Copley, John Holt, Gerald Smith among them. Some of the early Thornes House ('Thornesians' were E. Darling, Barbara Hall, E. Darlington, Marjorie Pygett (Mrs. Greenwood), Oliver Broome, D. White, Peter Johnson, Patrick Hely, David Wade.) This Choir was the Nursery for what is now the Yorkshire Chamber Choir.

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Last revised: 01 March 2013