The Choir has been a part of our lives in Dentdale for nearly 50 years; it continues to be an important part of the lives of its members, and the community enjoys its contribution to carol services, special events and other church services. Although not a church choir, we love singing in St. Andrew’s Church in Dent and St John’s in Cowgill, both of which have a wonderful acoustic, and also in the Memorial Hall, in Dent, where we have occasionally sung less formal works. Often referred to locally as “Dent Choir”, as it grew it was realised that a proper committee was needed and, along with that, a constitution which formally named us as “The Dentdale Choir”.We have Judith Bush to thank as the main founder of The Dentdale Choir. The following is an extract from an interview she gave to the Dent and Sedbergh Oral History Society. In it she talks about the more than thirty years she spent as the Choir’s conductor.
“In 1975 six members of Dentdale WI decided to enter the WI choral class of the Mary Wakefield Festival, which is held in Kendal every two years. Afterwards they decided to keep singing together, so we formed a little choir. I think there were only six of us to begin with, then more members of the WI joined us. We sang quite simple stuff, like folk songs, and gradually got more ambitious. We tackled Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols,” which we sang in Dent church. One evening, we’d just been rehearsing, and everyone went out of the church afterwards, singing plainsong all down the Main Street, with the snow falling. Quite an occasion.
So, gradually, we built up in numbers, we did the carol service and a spring concert as well. We sang “Come Ye Sons of Art” by Purcell, “Gloria” by Vivaldi and “Mrs Beeton’s Diary.”
After a few years some of the men in the village said: “why can’t we join the choir?” So, in around 1985, we became a mixed voice choir and numbers built up even more, and I conducted the choir for, I think it was thirty-one years, which seems amazing looking back!
The choir had some great accompanists who worked hard to play the piano for us over the years: Joan Richardson; Janet Gornall from Cowgill; Sheila Gunson; Rita Corpe, who also helped conduct in later years and, of course, Roger (Judith’s husband).
To celebrate nine hundred years of Dent church, in 1980 Kim Lyon wrote a work called “Heritage,” a pageant covering the history of the Dale. The choir sang and I composed some pieces for that. I was also asked by David Boulton to do a setting of a poem, by Hartley Coleridge, called “Dent.” This was when we were still a women’s choir. He was making a film for Granada about Adam Sedgwick called “Adam in Paradise,” and part of that film showed Dent choir singing this setting of the poem.”
When Judith finally resigned from the choir, she was happy to know she was leaving it in capable hands. Rita Corpe, a local Dent resident, kindly stepped forward and it was under her baton that the choir sang a lovely performance of Mendelssohn’s “Hear My Prayer.” Rita was followed by another musically gifted local, Linda Fawcett, demonstrating the amazing wealth of talent we were lucky to enjoy in our quiet dale. Linda takes up the story.
“2004 was a special year. I had remarried and I had offered to take on the Dent choir with the proviso “until they find a younger model.” I had been conducting The Ambleside Choral Society for an enjoyable short time. Choir began in September and almost immediately half the choir left for their holidays, to their families and to travel. I had to trust they would return.
There was always a shortage of Tenors and sometimes Basses. This made it difficult to balance four or more voices. Now we are fortunate to have a good number of men in the choir. They make a huge difference.
The highlights of my six years with the choir included an atmospheric performance of Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols.” We processed around the unlit Church carrying candles as we sang.
We sang excerpts from Verdi’s “Nabucco” and struggled with our French in Bizet’s “Carmen,” but we enjoyed dressing up, (that is true, we did! Ed.) with members of the choir taking the solo parts.
In 2010 we gave a performance of “The Armed Man. A Mass for Peace,” by Karl Jenkins. An undaunted group of youngsters aged 7 – 11 from Dent Primary School sang the treble solo and a Muezzin from Lancaster came to take part. It was a work that caught the Choir’s imagination. It began to have a life of its own. The final chorus, “Better is Peace,” is as telling now as it was in 2001 when the CD was released. I felt so blessed to have had such a memorable musical experience with Dent choir. They were better than they thought they were, and they always rose to the occasion.”
After Linda stood down, following her six years of leading the Choir, Anastasia Micklethwaite took up the baton for three years. The Choir gave a concert called “Music from the Shows,” which included songs from, for example, Les Miserables, West Side Story and South Pacific. In her short time with us Anastasia brought great enthusiasm and talent to the choir, expanding our repertoire, much to the enjoyment of audiences and members.
In the Choir’s 40th year we were lucky enough to cover an interregnum, between Anastasia leaving and Richard Bruce joining us, with the very able assistance of both Jolyon Dodgson, MBE and Chair of the Westmorland Music Trust, who led our contribution to the Christmas Carol Services, and Owen Davies, conductor of the well-respected, South Lakeland, “Allegri” choir. He led us in our 40th Anniversary Concert, where, amongst other works, we sang Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” (although the draft advertising poster proudly stated Vivladi!).
Richard Bruce took over as conductor in 2016, braving a journey of an hour and a half from Durham across the Pennines each week! He must have thought we were worth it! His first concert featured Duruflé’s “Requiem,” a challenging work which the choir mastered successfully. As before, members of the choir sang the solos.
Richard Bruce joined the choir as the permanent musical director in September 2016 and he recalls his experiences below:
“In 2016 I had the pleasure of joining the choir as their musical director. I was immediately struck by the good fortune of the community to have in its midst a strong, well-balanced and committed choir. At the time I was relatively new to choral conducting and working with Dentdale gave me a fantastic opportunity to learn and develop with a supportive group of singers.
Never a group to shy away from a challenge, our first big work was the Duruflé requiem which we explored throughout Autumn 2016 and Spring 2017. The choir is fortunate enough to be supported by Roger Bush as regular accompanist and organist and Roger’s able support on this complex organ accompaniment made it possible for us to explore and perform this beautiful but challenging work. To this day I’m so impressed with what the choir achieved in their Spring concert, although, in hindsight, I could have started my appointment with something simpler.
Whilst the choir enjoys tackling large works (we also successfully performed Schubert’s Mass in G) in alternate years, we enjoyed exploring some pieces (mostly a capella) from classic and contemporary chamber choir repertoire, including familiar music by Mozart, Grieg, Rachmaninov and Tallis but also newer works by Gjeilo, Esenvalds, Pärt and Todd. Some of these works became firm favourites and I hope some will stay in the choir’s repertoire for years to come.
In March 2020 our singing was (of course) rudely interrupted by the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic. I remember well that a member of the choir approached me a couple of weeks before lockdown and said that perhaps we could try and meet as a choir by Zoom. At the time the idea sounded fairly ridiculous but, in the absence of any other way to sing together, that is indeed what we did. As anyone who has experienced Zoom choir knows, it is not actually possible to sing together over Zoom, so the choir was treated to a long period of me singing and playing piano or backing tracks from my home office and keeping people entertained in whatever way possible. This stretched to a performance of Will Todd’s ‘Like a Rainbow Shining’, written by Will for choirs to sing together in lockdown, which we put together by recording on phones and ipads. https://youtu.be/EtfOTRSdr2Q Our Christmas carol service was also stitched together in a similar way and included our usual Normandy setting of ‘Away in a Manger’ https://youtu.be/jQTf4HQjN6k . Hats off to all the singers who gave this a go. Recording your voice on your phone and sending it off to your director takes some nerve.
Although the pandemic period was challenging for all, the resilience of the choir to keep engaging with singing together in any way possible was commendable. While Zoom choir was hardly a satisfying experience our singers kept showing up and it was clear how important choir was in people’s lives. Sadly, after the pandemic, many choirs came back smaller or even disbanded altogether. By contrast, The Dentdale Choir actually attracted and retained new members who eventually met each other in person and the choir is going from strength to strength. I’ve enjoyed being a part of the Choir’s history and look forward to hearing them sing for many years to come.”
With Richard giving us good warning of his intention to focus on singing and other musical endeavours closer to home, we started our hunt for a new musical director. Despite being a rural choir, we were lucky enough to attract four applicants, one dropped out but, following due process, we were extremely pleased to welcome Jen Hartley as our next director.
Jen lives in Sedbergh - which is rather more convenient than Durham - and has an enviable list of musical skills and experience to bring to the choir, along with the personality to cope with our wonderful mix of individuals! We very much enjoyed working with Jen during our 2022/23 season and flourished under her guidance which culminated in a very successful spring concert in April 2023, singing to pretty much a full church!
Unfortunately, due to professional circumstances beyond her control, Jen had to leave us in the summer of 2023 for maybe a year or so (we'll really miss her!), but she arranged for an old friend, Nicholas Hurndall Smith, a professional tenor, music teacher and voice coach, to lead us in her absence. Nick lives in Staveley and we are continuing our development with him during our 2023/24 season, working towards our spring concert in St Andrew's, Dent, on 27th April, 2024.
Watch this space!
As mentioned earlier, we have been privileged to have the support of Roger Bush, our accompanist for the full, nigh on, fifty years of the choir’s existence – surely this must be a record?
Here are a few of Roger’s memories:
“There have been many memorable concerts and occasions when my accompanimental services have been stretched to the limit (and beyond!). 2016 stands out however, for all the wrong reasons, when the choir took part in the Sedbergh Music Festival of that year. I had been knocked sideways four days previously by a medical condition (on my birthday to add insult), requiring me to wear an eye-patch, all 10 muscles in the left side of my face being suddenly and temporarily totally paralysed (Bell’s Palsy). The organ console in St Andrew’s Church Sedbergh is in the worst location for an accompanist to watch a conductor (or even hear the organ properly for that matter). With my one eye I could just see the conductor (Owen Davies on this occasion) in the afternoon’s rehearsal if I twisted right around on the organ bench through a convenient gap left for me in the back row of the sopranos. Imagine my horror in the evening when the choir stood up for the first item to find that this gap had been nicely filled and Owen completely out of sight!!! The problem was, however, sorted during the interval. That problem, that is. I had to clamber over seats to get through the choir to the grand piano on the north side of the church, for the second half of the concert, only to find that the lights had not been switched on there. I could barely see the music with my one, uncovered, but badly-watering eye, by the fading evening light coming through the stained-glass window. I don’t know how I managed that concert. Maybe, from the audience point of view, I didn’t! A concert I would rather forget about!”
I think most of the choir and the audience were blissfully unaware of this episode, and, thankfully, these occasions are rare.
Roger continues to accompany us with great skill; he also performs separately in our concerts, so as to allow the organ at St. Andrew’s, Dent, to be used to its full capacity and to demonstrate his wonderful talents.
Looking back, The Dentdale Choir has flourished thanks to all the talented and dedicated people who have guided and supported it over the last nearly 50 years. Here’s a final word from Judith, written in early 2023:
“Something that has given me great satisfaction is that, when I decided to retire, the choir carried on and they’ve had Linda Fawcett, Anastasia Micklethwaite, Richard Bruce and now Jen Hartley, which I think is amazing! So, I am so pleased that the Choir has continued and goes from strength to strength.”
A recent development has seen the choir purchase about 40 collapsible chairs which are now stored in a box pew in St Andrew's, Dent, with the full permission of the Parochail Church Council. The chairs were purchased with a grant from the Sedbergh Community Fund and have enabled the choir to avoid the annual problem of carrying the heavy, metal collapsible chairs from The Memorial Hall and back for concerts and rehearals, this process being necessary because the available chairs in the church at the time were too large and not in sufficient numbers to adequately seat the choir. The new chairs are for the priority use of the choir and use within the church by the PCC as and when needed.
Please use the link below to access the user Guide for Choir members
The Dentdale Choir has around 35-40 active members and is based in the small historic village of Dent in Cumbria. It rehearses in The Memorial Hall in Dent on Tuesday evenings from 7.15pm until 9pm. The choir "year" is divided into two terms, the first from early September until Christmas and the second from early January until our spring concert which is usually in late April or early May. We perform a wide range of SATB choral music, including major traditional "classical" repertoire by well known composers, as well as more modern a cappella works, folk and traditional music, along with songs from stage and screen.