With a partnership of more than 30 years standing, there is no doubt that Halifax Choral Society and John Pryce-Jones are pretty much a perfect fit.
Passionate about the desire to make the best music they can, music director, choir master and conductor John is proud to be taking the baton at the society’s 200th season which mixes new music with traditions the current choir’s early 19th century forbears would have recognised.
Having opened the season with the world premiere of composer Philip Wilby’s The Holy Face in October, the society return to one of the most famous of all musical works when they perform Handel’s Messiah for the 199th time at Halifax’s Victoria Theatre on Sunday, November 26 (6.30pm).
Joining them will be the Black Dyke Band, who will again link up with the choir for some Carols and Brass at the same venue on Wednesday, December 6, and appear alongside the singers on the 200th anniversary recording of The Holy Face on CD - “it features some fantastic playing from the band and was quite an undertaking with 300 participants including three choirs,” said John.
Society director Paul Cairns indicates Halifax is lucky to have a consummate veteran like John shaping and encouraging performance with a passion for music education, especially for the young, and reaching high standards while making sure the fun element of music making remains a cornerstone.
“He likes to help willing and able amateurs perform well and ‘put music over’ to their audiences. He is a great believer in what he terms ‘the power of music’,” he said.
John is appreciative of the commitment of choral society founder William Priestley, who shared that passion for music at a time when Halifax was at society’s cutting edge - The Piece Hall dates to roughly the same period - and the choir has a heritage to cherish and build on in what is undoubtedly a “big year”.
“This event is unique in the world at the moment. No other choral society is 200 years old. In about 20 years’ time Ipswich will also be 200 years old.
“Georgian Halifax was an important centre. Then people like Liszt were coming to perform there in the 19th century.
“It all started with the businessman who began music making and put Halifax at the forefront of performance of contemporary works, which is what we are doing now.
“We are doing The Messiah with Black Dyke and have previously recorded it with them but it is hardly ever done with a brass band.
“It is a hectic and financially expensive season but you are only 200 once. It is very challenging because some of the music, for example Phil Wilby’s new oratorio, is a major piece of 50 minutes and some of it is very difficult,” he said.
But these are the type of challenges the choir always strives to meet, and having the same man at the helm at each stage of performance helps raise higher the standard of the performance, he believes.
“Some choral societies have a choir master and perform with a guest conductor, but if you have the same person I like to think you can get the best results.
“You have to have a rapport with an amateur choir to work with them - and it works very well,” said John.
He retains his belief in the power of music, as a way of meeting people that is simply good for the soul.
“Every term we are getting a few more younger people in and it is a great thing. Recently I heard something on the radio about singing in a choir, where your voice becomes bigger because it is joined by other people, an amazing way of sharing and bonding,” he said.