Simon Armitage

Huddersfield Choral Society commissions two new works

in response to COVID-19 inspired by its members

Online World Premiere on 28 November 2020, 7.30pm

In March 2020, Huddersfield Choral Society was silenced – along with all music-making around the world – due to the coronavirus pandemic and just two weeks into lockdown two of its members tragically died from COVID-19. 

Huddersfield Choral Society wanted to create something new that would remember departed friends but also provide hope for choral singers throughout the UK. Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, a proud son of Huddersfield, asked each member of the Choral Society to send him one word which summed up their experience of lockdown. From this list of words Armitage has created two sets of lyrics – We’ll Sing and The Song Thrush and the Mountain Ash. Huddersfield Choral Society commissioned two acclaimed composers – Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Daniel Kidane – to set the lyrics to music. Both composers spent time with Armitage to explore the best way of interpreting his words and the result is moving and beguiling.

Huddersfield Choral Society refuses to remain silent. Whilst some brilliant work has been done with singers at home, the Society is determined to find a way to sing together safely and continue to make music. These new works capture not only the chilling impact of the pandemic but also the Society’s determination to overcome it. Huddersfield Choral Society has commissioned Century Films to create two bespoke music videos of We’ll Sing and The Song Thrush and the Mountain Ash. This week members began to rehearse in groups of fifteen, in accordance with current government guidelines, led by the Society’s Choral Director, Gregory Batsleer. Century Films will piece it all together to create two videos of each work which will receive their world premiere on 28 November at 7.30pm.  

Founded in 1836, Huddersfield Choral Society is one of the longest running choral societies in the UK with an international reputation, performing regularly for broadcasts on BBC Radio and Television, as well as a long history of pioneering recordings. It is a backbone of the community providing friendship, social interaction and improved physical and mental wellbeing though the act of communal singing.

Simon Armitage commented, ‘It’s been a great pleasure to write songs for my local world-famous choir! I wanted to try and catch some of the mood of lockdown in the lyrics, both the difficulties people have gone through and the great resilience they’ve shown. The pandemic has been devastating for the creative arts but especially hard on singers, with the world reduced to whispers and masked mumblings. I didn’t just want to put words in their mouths, I wanted to put air in their lungs and blood in their hearts!’

Gregory Batsleer, Choral Director, Huddersfield Choral Society commented, ‘Huddersfield Choral Society is an amazing community and a huge part of the city’s cultural life. For the first time in its 184-year history it has been silenced. The pandemic has brought to light how fragile the music industry is and many have been found searching the soul of their existence. We were devastated to lose two of our members to COVID and wanted to create something that provides hope but also demonstrates the importance of embracing innovation. The lyrics Simon has written are so poignant, made even more so as the members are the root of the inspiration. Earlier this week we came together in small groups for the first time to start rehearsing. It is going to be an emotional process and I can’t wait to share these beautiful two new works with music by the brilliant Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Daniel Kidane.’

James Olley, President, Huddersfield Choral Society commented, ‘Amateur music making has always played an important role in bringing communities together across Britain. Since March that vital community and cultural experience has been silenced. Thousands of singers and instrumentalists are currently denied the opportunity to come together. Many amateur ensembles now face extinction. There will sadly be too many that never return. Community music-making is essential for well-being and it is critical that we find ways to enable people to come together again on a weekly basis, to share, comfort, lighten the darkness, and experience the empowering and joyful effects of communal music making. Huddersfield Choral Society returned from its silence this week with a very powerful response to the pandemic. I hope others will follow its lead very soon.”

The world premiere will be performed on 28 November at 7.30pm and you can watch it at wellsing.huddersfieldchoral.com