Yorkshire choir's determination to rehearse sees singers take over stands at Featherstone Rovers

For a choir forbidden from singing for so long, the prospect of reunion had seemed an almost impossible dream.

Featherstone Male Voice Choir socially distanced as they gather in the stand at a Covid secure Featherstone Rovers Rugby League Club  to practice together and not over Zoom sessions. Picture Tony Johnson
Featherstone Male Voice Choir socially distanced as they gather in the stand at a Covid secure Featherstone Rovers Rugby League Club to practice together and not over Zoom sessions. Picture Tony Johnson

Now members of the Featherstone Male Voice Choir (FMVC), with a rugby stadium at their disposal, have joined together in song once again.

For while modern technology has its wonders, it cannot compete with the uplifting sound of voices raised together as one.

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And for this former mining community, upon which the choir was first formed, the gesture from Featherstone Rovers for the use of its stands has proved a wonderful gift.

Featherstone Male Voice Choir socially distanced as they gather in the stand at a Covid secure Featherstone Rovers Rugby League Club to practice together and not over Zoom sessions. Picture Tony Johnson

“Singing together, in an outdoor setting, we are back as a choir,” said treasurer Richard Hirst.

“It’s a well known fact, well researched, that singing in choirs is good for your health. It improves your state of mind, just being able to come back together.

“There’s something therapeutic about being together, making music, making harmony.

“Some choirs haven’t been able to meet outdoors at all,” he added. “For those that have, I haven’t seen any that have a better set up than this.”

Featherstone Male Voice Choir socially distanced as they gather in the stand at a Covid secure Featherstone Rovers Rugby League Club to practice together and not over Zoom sessions. Picture Tony Johnson

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The FMVC, formed in 1963, has 45 members who perform at venues across Wakefield’s ‘five town’s area’.

When rehearsals in person were banned last year, they turned to technology. By the group’s admission this had proved a challenge, with many of its members being elderly.

With Zoom there were time lapses which left members singing alone in their kitchens, with the volume turned off so as not to create a disjointed effect.

Featherstone Male Voice Choir socially distanced as they gather in the stand at a Covid secure Featherstone Rovers Rugby League Club to practice together and not over Zoom sessions. Picture Tony Johnson

Still they persisted, determined to keep that sense of camaraderie alive. When the Government’s roadmap was delivered, they began making plans.

Hopes had been that from May 17 the choir could sing socially distanced within the Featherstone Methodist Church, under guidelines on capacity.

On the day they were due to begin the legislation was changed to state that indoor communal singing could not take place.

“All of a sudden we were in the lurch, there was nowhere for us to go,” said Mr Hirst. “Choirs like ours are rooted in mining communities. This has felt an existential threat. We couldn’t help but wonder how will this all work in a post-Covid world?”

Featherstone Male Voice Choir socially distanced as they gather in the stand at a Covid secure Featherstone Rovers Rugby League Club to practice together and not over Zoom sessions. Picture Tony Johnson

Generous community offer

Chief executive of the Featherstone Rovers Martin Vickers, on hearing of the choir’s predicament, has offered use of the club’s stands for rehearsals.

With stands marked at 2m spaces, up to 30 members of the choir can practice together, with a three-seat space between singers in alternate rows.

“Choirs throughout the land, throughout the world, have struggled to connect,” said member Stephen Carrington. “We tried everything as a choir, to keep interest going.

“We’re not Pavarottis, we’re just a group of men that like singing together,” he added. “At least now we can hear each other’s voices.”

The therapy of being together for the first time in 14 months is making a difference, particularly for those in poorer health.

Featherstone Male Voice Choir socially distanced as they gather in the stand at a Covid secure Featherstone Rovers Rugby League Club to practice together and not over Zoom sessions. Picture Tony Johnson

“Choirs have tried to form wherever they can, in churches, in farmers’ barns, just to get together and to safely sing,” said Mr Hirst. “Others are not as lucky as we are.

“The last song we sang together we performed in concert, called When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. It was the first song we sang together again.

“It raised the hairs, on the back of our necks, to sing it together again. It was a special, special thing.”

Support and campaigns

The Featherstone Male Voice Choir (FMVC), under musical director Edward Whelan and pianists Elaine Oakley and Mandy Jones, normally raises in the region of £10,000 for charity each year.

Now, the support of its 400 patrons has buoyed it through this past year, with many continuing to donate despite concerts being cancelled, and the choir is keen to broaden its reach with new membership and to wider audiences.

Nationwide, amateur choir representatives are lobbying Government to publish its evidence and allow more than six people to practice indoors , with some 60,000 signatories calling for the issue to be debated.

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