Dumfries Male Voice Choir
In the post-war year of 1949, while TV was still in its black and white single channel infancy, evening classes were a popular way of learning new skills. One such class, for singing enthusiasts, was coached by Andrew Young and from this beginning Dumfries Male Voice Choir was formed in 1950. Under Andrew’s guidance the choir grew in numbers and in repertoire and by 1953 had attracted the attention of the BBC who recorded and broadcast a programme for which the choir was paid the princely pre-decimal sum of £12.12.00d. Twelve guineas, not a lot by today’s standards, but at 3d per edition it could have purchased around 1,000 copies of a daily newspaper.
Through their own voluntary efforts the choir members have, over the years, raised thousands for local, national and international charities. The funds have largely been generated from local concerts and there will be few towns or villages throughout the region that have not been hosts to the choir.
Many brides can also look back on the part the choir played in their wedding ceremony.
On a competitive note the choir has taken part in musical festivals not only here in their home town of Dumfries but also in the Land of Song - Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They have performed joint concerts with choirs from Wales, Norway and our twin town of Gifhorn, Germany.
With over 400 songs now in its library, the choir has scored some notable successes, and as sole male voice choir entry in Dumfries and District Music Festival the choir over recent years has the most frequently shown name on the winner’s cup. The Millennium year saw the choir’s 50th anniversary being celebrated in style in June when the male voice choir from Gifhorn, Gifhorner Maennerchor, came over for a joint concert. This was followed in October when Dumfries Male Voice Choir went across to Germany on a reciprocal visit. Not content with the near continent, the choir jetted off to another of our twin towns, Annapolis, Maryland, USA, in 2003. Included amongst the concerts there was a memorable first with Dumfries Male Voice Choir having the honour to be the only choir to have sung in the US Naval Academy crypt, where John Paul Jones, native of Kirkbean and founder of the US Navy is buried.
Throughout its 60 years the choir has enjoyed, and greatly appreciates, the support it has had from its advertisers, honorary presidents, patrons and its loyal audiences. An enduring aim of the choir has been to encourage local musical talent, particularly amongst the youth of our region. Earlier names of artistes such as Semprini (1972) and John Heddle Nash (1977) may not be so well known now, but familiar to more of our readers will be names such as Ian Holmes, Max Houliston,
Cheryl Anne Easton, Nick Riley and Robert Lind. Emily Smith and Nicky Spence have been recent guests, both gaining international stardom but never forgetting their Dumfriesshire roots. Space does not permit us to list everyone, but the choir is proud to have been linked to all of its guest artistes.
None of the founding singers is still with us, but we do have some members who could claim long service awards. Their enthusiasm stems from Andrew Young, who sadly died in 1995. He was the driving force behind the choir from its inception until his retiral in 1994.
David McCullough, who had been assisting him, took over the conductor’s baton, and continues to this day. His patience and encouragement are legendary, delivered with good measures of Irish humour. Scott Miller joined the choir in 1994 bringing his considerable talents as our accompanist and remained with us until 2015. His dedication was shown by the fact that he travelled every week from his home in Cumbria.
Since its first major concert in 1951, the choir has given performances each year here in Dumfries and celebrated its 60th anniversary with a concert in DG One. Our guest artists were “Caledon” – Alan Beck, Ivan Sharpe and Jamie Spence – three internationally acclaimed Scottish tenors, under musical director Michael Barnett.
In November 2012 we were honoured to be part of the 1500 strong mixed voice choir singing in the Royal Albert Hall, London in the Cancer Research UK Festival of Brass and Voices triennial concert. A lot of hard preliminary work was required but the effort was more than amply rewarded, our members voicing the opinion that it was a “Once in a lifetime” experience.
This may be so but the concert organisers subsequently decided to promote a Scottish version, this being in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, on 16th November 2013. 500 mixed voices, plus the renowned Grimethorpe Colliery Band, all under the baton of Bill Relton, will ensure that the first event north of the border will again be a wonderful experience for participants and audience alike.
In between these concerts the choir has separately entertained choirs from Brittany and Austria, the latter resplendent in national costume. We also travelled to Bangor, N.I., joining their ladies’ choir in a concert in aid of St. John’s Ambulance services, this being a precursor to a 300 strong male voice concert, plus a military band, in aid of Help for Heroes, in Kendal.
In June 2014 the choir took part in a “Voices of the Commonwealth” Concert at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow together with several other choirs. Over 500 voices resounded to mark the Commonwealth Games. Also in 2014 concerts were held in Dumfries for the “Friends of Peter Pan (i.e. Moat Brae Trust) and Dumfries Baptist Church building fund.
We also performed in charity concerts at Parton and Thornhill.
2015 saw us having another (our 65th) Annual Concert and very successful it was too with guests Cargenbridge Primary School Choir and the Kings Grange Choir from Castle Douglas. We were supported for the first time by our new accompanist, Calum Wylie. Calum seems to have slotted in seamlessly and also as conductor in David’s occasional absences. This concert was closely followed by another, this time in St Theresa’s Church with the marvellous Bangor Ladies Choir from Northern Ireland. A reciprocal visit following a visit and concert we did in Bangor a couple of years ago.
September saw us travelling to Elgin for a repeat joint concert with our friends from Elgin Ladies Choir. A wonderful welcome, a great concert and super weekend.
Talking of repeats, we recently travelled to Kendall for our second massed choir concert in which we were accompanied by a military band. This was for the “Help For Heroes” charity. During this concert we were able to salute our very own War Hero as Ian Greig, our most senior chorister had just recently been awarded the “Legion of Honour” by the French Government as a veteran of the ‘D’ Day landings on the beaches of Normandy. He was, justifiably, given a standing ovation by a large audience. Well done Ian, we are proud of you.
Always keen to attract new members, Dumfries Male Voice Choir invites any male who enjoys singing to come along to our rehearsals. Please check our join us page for details.
Sol Fah the choir is in good heart – and voice – and looks forward to scaling the next 60 odd years.
The Choir bid farewell to Andrew Young