John Pomphrey, conductor of the St Ann’s Hospice Festival Choir, talks exclusively about how music touches the lives of so many at St Ann’s.
St Ann’s Festival Choir is a force to be reckoned with, raising more than £500,000 for the Hospice since it began in 1991. It’s a career that includes two performances on the inaugural Songs of Praise, partnerships with the BBC Philharmonic and Hallé Orchestras, concerts in Manchester’s magnificent Cathedral and a Christmas album. It can also boast the first live broadcast from The Bridgewater Hall. Co-founder, conductor and choral master, John Pomphrey, talks to Belinda Hanks exclusively about how music touches the lives of so many at St Ann’s.
LEFT: The choir’s popular annual Christmas Concert at the Bridgewater Hall
Music can bring incredible joy to people’s lives. Do you agree?
Yes absolutely. Music is just an incredible way to bring people together. Some people in the choir are dealing with illness or bereavement so it’s an emotional thing for us all. I have a big pile of letters written to me from people about the choir. You realise the choir is not just making music and raising money, but letting people know all about St Ann’s.
When did you first fall in love with music?
“As a child. I’ve always been passionate about choral music since I became the male boy choir conductor in Stretford. I trained in piano and singing at the Royal Northern College of Music but decided early on I wanted to teach.”
It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
“[laughs] Yes. For more than 40 years. I was also assistant chorus master for the Hallé Choir and director of the Maia Singers.”
So how did the Festival Choir begin?
“It was a chance phone call. I was about to retire and was asked to conduct Voices For Hospices in 1991, which was the first national choral event to encourage local choirs to sing Haydn’s The Creation and Handel’s Messiah in aid of local hospices. We did it again in 1993. It was so successful I just had to speak to director of fundraising and said ‘we’ve started something and can’t let it go’. By 1994 the Hospice choir was founded.”
How many people are now involved?
“185. And many have some connection with the Hospice. I think they like the idea of coming together to raise money through singing. The youngest is 25, but I daren’t hazard a guess as to the oldest.”
Most memorable moment?
“The first ever live broadcast from the Bridgewater Hall. It’s an incredible venue. Such a great attraction for Manchester and a place few choirs can afford to play.”
How do you choose the songs and control all those people?
“I don’t have a set idea. Rehearsals are a real challenge. You have to plan carefully so they enjoy it. And I’m conscious that people have given up 9 weeks to rehearse. “
Can anyone join?
“There is a short audition and we have a rolling programme of voice appraisal for existing members.”
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