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Voice choir ends on high note

PUBLISHED: 09:29 07 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:52 03 July 2010

Many of them had never sung before, but over 10 years they have delighted audiences and raised tens of thousands for charity.

On Saturday the Norfolk Millennium Male Voice Choir gave its final performance at the John Innes Centre in Norwich.

Many of them had never sung before, but over 10 years they have delighted audiences and raised tens of thousands for charity.

On Saturday the Norfolk Millennium Male Voice Choir gave its final performance at the John Innes Centre in Norwich.

The choir was formed at the beginning of 2000 and was initially only intended to last for a year, but it did so well that it has carried on for 10 years. Now the organisers have decided to step down and enjoy their retirement, though some members are hoping they may be able to carry on and form a new choir.

The choir was the idea of Neil Rout, 74, a retired company director, who persuaded David Storey to become its musical director. For Mr Rout, who lives in Eaton, said it was the culmination of a childhood dream which began in 1944, when aircraft engineers from the nearby USAF base would sing in his home in Banham. He said: “They used to sing the gospels and spirituals and they were absolutely brilliant. I thought, 'One day I want to sing like that.' Fifty years later, I was retiring and I thought 'How are we going to do this?'”

Mr Storey, 67, former headteacher of Heigham Park First School in Eaton, said: “I believe we have all got a voice. Everyone can sing. Some of the men had never sung before and discovered they could sing.”

The first big fundraising concert was in December 2000 at the John Innes Centre, in aid of the We Care appeal. They have held a concert there every year since.

They have raised £43,000 for charities including Chatterbox, kidney disease research, the churches they have performed in and many others. The choir itself makes no charge for concerts - ticket prices are set by the charities benefiting and go straight to them.

Members come from across Norfolk, including Diss, Holt, Shipdham and Ormesby. They rehearse in St Andrew's Church in Eaton and have performed all around the county, including tiny village churches.

Claire MacArthur, from Eaton, has accompanied the choir on piano and organ for all but two of their hundred-plus appearances. She said: “There have been some interesting experiences - churches where the piano is in a corner so you can't see the conductor, or when you have to climb up virtually a stepladder to get to the organ in the gallery.”

The choir started with a letter to the EDP asking those interested to come to a meeting in St Andrew's Church. Mr Rout recalls: “We had no idea how many people would come. I was a bit late and when I arrived there were 38 people there, all singing. I thought 'We are in business.'

The hymn they were singing was Morte Christe, an old Welsh hymn which became one of the choir's favourites. It is on the programme for tonight's performance, and there will be tears in a few eyes as it is sung.

Roy Davies, 77, a retired science professor at University of East Anglia, is originally from Wales. He dreamed of being able to join a male voice choir like those of his homeland, but never thought it would happen - until the choir formed, just round the corner from his home in Eaton.

He said: “It has been absolutely wonderful. So much joy.”

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