This account of York Celebrations Choir is drawn from programmes, reports and reviews. Many people will remember the choir, which achieved national celebrity in the early 1970s, with affection, but printed information is hard to find.

The Choir was formed in the late 1960s, when York had many fine small and medium-sized choirs but seemed to lack "a choir of large forces which would be able to undertake major choral works." Perhaps memories of large scale performances of the Monteverdi Vespers in the York Festivals of the 1950s, made this lack seem particularly acute when plans were being made for an exceptional celebration in 1971.

1971 was York's 1900th Anniversary, and was marked with year-long celebrations, incorporating the usual Triennial Festival, due the following year. To quote from a programme note:

"It was during the York Festival of 1969 that the first moves were made, after a plan was put before the Festival Director, Graham Beynon, by Fred Bradbury, who has been very active in Brass Banding circles in the York area for a number of years since World War Two.

The plan was to give York a choir of about 400 voices by inviting the many smaller choirs in York to come together. Initial meetings took place which were attended by some fourteen choirs, including some Schools, and the Youth of the City. The result of these meetings saw the first image of what is now known as the York Celebrations Choir, and the first concert was given in York Minster on 7 November, 1970 to over 1,500 people.

The choir was trained by John Warburton, whose musical activities in the City of York are very well known.

By this time Richard Afton had been appointed Celebrations Director and in that capacity had attended the Minster Concert and was immediately impressed with the standard, and within a short space of time had arranged for the choir to take part in major concerts during the Celebrations Year."

The objects of the Choir were, as set out in its Constitution: "to educate the public in the arts and sciences, and in the particular the art and science of music, by the presentation of concerts and other activities" and its intention, as stated in a Choirmaster's Report, was "to give York a large choir, capable of performing large scale choral works and also to give anyone with a love of singing the opportunity to take part in the performance of such works". The Choir attracted and welcomed not only members of York choirs, but a large number of unattached singers. Rehearsals, good-natured jamborees of these diverse forces, were soon in full swing in the Autumn of 1970, largely at the Tempest Anderson Hall in the city centre.

Two main types of performance interlocked from the first. There were full-scale choral classics, in the oratorio tradition, presented with orchestra, usually under the aegis of the Festival. Secondly, there were shorter choral works, often given with brass bands, an influence here being Fred Bradbury, who was President of the British Bandmasters' Association. Although the majority of performances were given in York and Yorkshire, both of types of performance provided a 'London corridor', as the list of performances given later shows. An association also began with Yorkshire Television's Stars on Sunday programme. An initial engagement for nine performances led to recordings which were screened almost weekly for several years.

Recordings
The Celebrations Choir made three LP gramophone records. These were produced by Decca. The first was issued by its York Records associate, firstly as local pre-issue in time for the York Festival, then as a general release as BYK709 (stereo), 1971. The other records were issued on the Decca Eclipse label, ECS 2133(stereo), 1973 and ECS2159(stereo), 1974. Details follow:
 
BYK709
A Choral Celebration in Honour of the 1900th Anniversary of the Founding of York. (Stars on Sunday: Requests from the Television Programmes.)
York Celebration Choir Choirmaster John Warburton
Grimethorpe Colliery Brass Band Conductor George Thompson
Hammond Sauce Works Brass Band Conductor Geoffrey Whitham
Organist John Warburton
Conducted by Sir Vivian Dunn, CVO OBE FRAM RM
Produced by Jess Yates and Keith Morgan
Recording Engineer Vic Maile
Dies Irae from Requiem - Verdi
Hallelujah Amen from Judas Maccabeus - Handel
Battle Hymn of the Republic - Wilhousky
Ave Maria - Schhubert
Jerusalem - Parry
O God our help in ages past - arr.Dunn
Onward Christian Soldiers - Sullivan arr. Rogers
Easter Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana - Mascagni
Abide with me - arr. Rogers
Unfold ye Portals from The Redemption - Gounod
The Holy City - arr. Arnold
Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah - Handel
ECS 2133
A Choral Festival - York Celebrations Choir
conducted by John Warburton organist: Charles MacDonald
A Ray Horrocks Production
Recording Engineer: Michael Mailes
Recorded at the Lyons Concert Hall, University of York
And the glory…Worthy is the lamb…Amen Chorus from Messiah - Handel
Amazing Grace - America Tune, words John Newton, arr. J Warburton
Sanctus from Requiem - Verdi
Guide me, oh Thou great Jehovah - Cwm Rhondda - John Hughes
Mary's boy child - J.Hairston, arr. Bowsher
Awake the Harp…The Heavens are telling from Creation - Haydn
Kwmbayah - African tune, arr. K.J.Dinham
Steal away - traditional, arr. R.Burnett
Carol of the drum - trad.Czech, arr. K.K.Davis
All people that on earth do dwell - Old 100gth words, W.Keihe, arr.J.Warburton
ECS 2159
Great Sacred and Operatic Choruses
York Celebrations Choir
conducted by John Warburton organist Charles MacDonald
A Ray Horrocks Production Recording Engineer Michael Mailes
Recorded at York Minster
Thanks be to God…He that shall endure to the end…And then shall your light break forth; from Elijah - Mendelsshon*
Smuggles' Chorus (Act III)…March and Chorus (Act IV); from Carmen - Bizet*
Humming Chorus (Act II Part I) from Madam Butterfly - Puccini
Praise to the Holiest in the height, from The Dream of Gerontius - Elgar
Speed your journey (Act III) from Nabucco - Verdi*
Grand Chorus (Finale Act II) from Aida - Verdi
Agnus Dei - Bizet*
*items arranged by J.Warburton

 

Concerts

1971

June 4 : York Records releases choir's first LP

June 12 : Verdi: Requiem, York Minster, with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Antal Dorati. (Rita Hunter, soprano, Maureen Guy, mezzo-soprano, John Mitchinson, tenor, Simon Estes, bass.)

June 13 : Verdi: Requiem, Royal Festival Hall, London, forces as above.

June 27 : Recording at Yorkshire Television, Kirkstall Road, Leeds, for Stars on Sunday from 9am to 6pm (8 choral numbers scheduled)

July 4 : Recording at Yorkshire Television, Kirkstall Road, Leeds, for Stars on Sunday, (7 choral numbers scheduled) with Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

September 30 : Concert, York Minster, with BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, cond. Bryden Thomson. Walton: Gloria, Beethoven: Choral Fantasia (Peter Wallfisch, piano). Programme also included: Gabrielli: Sonata Octavi Toni; Janacek: Sinfonietta; Mozart: Haffner Symphony.

1972

March 15 : First Annual Concert, Wesley Chapel Priory Street, York, with Elizabeth Simon, soprano and Maureen Murfitt, organ. Programme included: Handel: Zadok the Priest; Mendelssohn: Elijah Chorus; Verdi: Dies Irae and Sanctus from Requiem; Elgar: Praise to the holiest from Dream of Gerontius, etc.

June 24 : Concert, York Minster, with Forbes Robinson, bass, Black Dyke Mills Band, cond. Geoffrey Brand, included Gilbert Vinter's cantata The Trumpets.

October 14 : Concert, Royal Albert Hall, London, National Brass Band Championship of Great Britain, guest conductors: George Hurst, Geoffrey Brand. Choral items included: Handel: Zadok; Spirituals: Steal Away, Go Down Moses; Jacob: Sea Song Suite.

December 5 :Haydn:The Creation, York Minster, with BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, live broadcast.

December 17 : Christmas Concert, Huddersfield Town Hall, with Black Dyke Mills Band, cond. Roy Newsome

1973

January 6 : Fanfare for Europe Concert, York Minster, with Black Dyke Mills Band and GUS Foortwear Band, cond. Geoffrey Band (Choir's Vice-President). Choral works included: Vinter:The Trumpets, (soloist: Forbes Robinson, bass) Martin Shaw: Fanfare; Adams: The Holy City; trad: Amazing Grace.

January 7 : Fanfare for Europe Concert, Royal Albert Hall, London, as above.

February 11 : Recording session for Decca at Lyon's Concert Hall, York, with Charles MacDonald, organ.

May 4 & 6 : Charity Concerts, Futurist Theatre, Scarborough

June 17 : York Festival Concert, York Minster. Gordon Jacob: Psalm 103, with Black Dyke Mills Band, cond. Geoffrey Brand (first performance); also Bach: God Liveth Still; Noble: I will lay me down in peace; Spiritual: Down by the river side.

June 30 : York Festival Concert, York Minster. Rachmaninov: The Bells, with New Philharmonia Orchestra, cond. David Atherton (soloists: Jane Manning, soprano John Mitchinson, tenor, John Noble, baritone). Concert also included Tschaikovsky: Sixth Symphony.

September 23 : Concert, Spa Royal Hall, Bridlington, with Brian Elliot, bass, choir accompanist, Joyce Ellery, choral classics and spirituals.

November 29 : Yorkshire TV Masters of Melody recording

December 8 : Handel: Messiah (arranged Mozart), York Minster, with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. George Malcolm (soloists: Elizabeth Simon, soprano, Alfreda Hodgson, contralto, Ian Kennedy, tenor (a former member of choir), Brian Rayner-Cook, bass).

December 16 : York Annual Community Carol Concert

?: Stars on Sunday special concert for Canada Fund, with Jess Yates, Bev Jones & York Singers, Beverley Sisters, etc.

1974

Link and Mecca Concerts

February 3 : Concert, Rialto Cinema, York, with Brian Elliott, soloist

June 6 & 7 : Minster recording of LP by Decca

October 3 : Congress Link Concert in Theatre Royal.

December : Carol Singing for Lord Mayor's Christmas Cheer Fund.

1975

May: Walton: Belshazzar's Feast scheduled with University and St.John's Choir

Autumn: Popular Concert tentatively scheduled

November: Wesley Chapel concert scheduled.

After the 1973 York Festival, there was a feeling in the city that three major festivals in six years was too much of a good thing. For a time, there was some uncertainty about whether to hold a festival in 1976. This did not help the Choir's planning; neither did the dwindling sense of grand occasions to look forward to. A tour of Canada seemed a real possibility, and intensive funding drives and social occasions were organised. These were successful, but uncertainty about travel arrangements and engagements meant that the tour had to be postponed. 1974 was also a year in which several concerts for which the Choir was engaged were cancelled by their organisers. The year's main event was the recording of a third LP for Decca. Many members were finding commitments to their regular choir - or choirs! - and intensive rehearsal with the Celebrations too much to manage. Membership declined. 1975 saw more wrangling about administration than music making. Thereafter the Choir's fortunes faded. Ironically, it was still seen in at full strength on television: YTV's latest recordings showed it augmented to a claimed thousand voices.

 

Chorus Masters report refers to 1974 as a year of non-events, and is critical of the auditioning which has led to a changed nature for the choir.

Auditioning Com present a defensive report.

Suggestion for alternative tour of Holland AGM 7th March Graham Cox's Chairman's Report mentions lethargy and disharmony, need for true sense of purpose and loyalty, and mentions: July 3 : new tour committee set up to replace Canada tour com. It recomm considering Canada tour for spring 76 10th-24th April, and obtains tenders from 6 travel agencies.

November 15 : Minster Concert with Marines? caneleed

postponement of Canada tour, because of operator unable to provide firm costing, and lack of firm dates from concert venues. 'Marines' concert was cancelled.

 

Reg as charity with Charity Commissioners under the Charities Act 1960, Reg.No. 502350.

Stars on Sunday

This long running show was according to a lavish Souvenir Programme issued at the Canada Fund Concert:

created in 1969, for tvs Holy Hour, with Bible readings as the kernel of each programme.

 

'YTVs design dept. have provided some fine sets and they are responsible for creating the noe famous "Home" of Stars on Sunday, which has become as much a reality in the minds of many viewers as has The Rovers Return of CoronationStreet, and the village of Ambridge in the radio programme The Archers.

It is a truly magnificent setting, with its façade of the West Front with 30feet high pillars and dome viewed \across an ornamental lake..the splendid waterfall, cascading down into the lake; the rose garden - where roses seemingly bloom all the year round; the Hill of Dreams