Meet Tony and the sopranos

Ayton Ladies Choir. With Musical Directors Tony and Liz Turner and the choir at The Spa..Picture Richard Ponter 140835d
Ayton Ladies Choir. With Musical Directors Tony and Liz Turner and the choir at The Spa..Picture Richard Ponter 140835d

Singing in a choir is one of the coolest things you can do - to steal a cliche it’s the new rock and roll.

With his BBC 2 programmes - The Choir and Sing While You Work - Gareth Malone has banished the notion that its all surplice, ruffs and the Hallelujah Chorus. Now, choristers are just as likely to lift up their voices in a rock anthem or a swing standard.

The 30-strong Ayton Ladies Choir is no exception - though its members are no ‘Jennifers’ come lately.

The choir has been in existence since the late 1970s. Sylvia Hodgson took over the running of the choir in September 1986 and continued until her retirement, aged 80, in 2006. Pat Almond joined the choir as accompanist in the late 90s and over as conductor in 2008.

Pat then conducted from 2008 to 2010 but at the beginning of 2011 she was diagnosed with cancer and could not continue. In 2012 the choir decided to take a year off to allow Pat time to get well but unfortunately she died late that year, followed by Sylvia Hodgson and the choir lost two wonderful conductors in the space of a month.

Husband and wife Tony and Liz Turner helped the choir honour engagements during that time and have now taken up the baton full-time.

With members ranged in age from 11 upwards, they have started rehearsing for the 2014 season and the altos and sporanos are looking forward to having fun.

The all-women choir is made up of retired teachers, secretaries, a former director of policy of the Equal Opportunities Commission, a quality controller officer, a doctors’ practice nurse, a human resources office, midwives and a village shopkeeper cum postmistress.

As well as Ayton, members come from Scarborough, Sherburn, Snainton and all points in between.

Long-serving secretary of the choir Sandra Maddocks has been a member since 1994. She was persuaded to join by her friend the late Sylvia Hodgson when they were both associated with what was then Scarborough and District Light Opera Society.

“We are really looking forward to our New Year programme of music and concerts,” she said.

“Since we reformed after almost a year of hibernation the choir members have performed in a range of concerts and rehearsals have been a real pleasure. Nearly all of the original members returned and we recruited several new singers so that now we have around 30 members. The age group of the choir has been extended with quite a few younger members joining and we are keen to encourage even more new members from across the Scarborough area.

“The new programme of music for 2014 looks really fun,” said Sandra. “It includes pieces from Mamma Mia and Les Miserables as well as great swing songs like On the Sunny Side of the Street, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.”

Friends Lorraine Fletcher and Lorna Holborn are chairman and treasurer respectively.

Mrs Fletcher, who worked for the Equal Oppotunities Commission, joined after she was widowed. “It made a huge difference being able to go and sing and being with other people singing their hearts out,” she said. Until she joined the choir, she had not sung since her university days.

“Singing has many benefits and has a positive impact on the human mind and it is unifying,” said Mrs Fletcher. “We are an entity.”

Even when the choir underwent its haitus the women still met socially for dinners and lunch. They credit Tony and Liz for keeping them together.

Alto Doreen Wilson, a retired secretary, loves singing so much she belongs to two choirs, Ayton and the U3A CHoir which meets on Wednesday afternoons and then she goes to the Ayton rehearsals on Wednesday evenings.

Brenda Shaw, also an alto and who was a practice nurse at Filey and now lives in Plaxton Court, Scarborough, has been with the choir for five years. She was also involved with Orpheus the Mariner - a two-day out-door promenade performance on Scarborough seafront.

Retired shopkeeper Pauline Baker, like Mrs Fletcher, also found solace in singing when she was widowed. “It has been marvellous for me,” she said.

Friends teacher Sue Hartley and houswife Cath Palmer said they joined to give them something to while their husbands were playing golf.

It musical directors Tony and Liz stepped into the breach when it looked the choir was going to fold. The couple live in West Ayton.

Tony is well-known on the music circuit. He learned the trombone at school in Lancashire and subsequently went on to play with a number of local brass bands before training to be a music teacher. He taught at Lady Lumley’s School, Pickering, the Scarborough Music Centre, Scalby and Graham Schools in Scarborough before taking up an education officer post for North Yorkshire County Council.

He founded bands in every school he taught in and all of them enjoyed national success, with the North Yorkshire EASY Band attracting international attention for the quality of its youth music making.

Tony, who also plays the bass guitar, has always played professionally alongside his teaching career, being a member of the Graham Pinkney Band at Wallis’s Holiday Centre, the Geoff Laycock and George Bradley Big Bands, and the Dougie Stewart and Dave Clegg Bands. As well as being a member of the Yorkshire Wolds Versatile Brass he now leads the Northern Showtime Orchestra specialising in theatre shows telling the musical stories of Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington and others.

Liz grew up in Scarborough, learning to play the piano from an early age and achieved her ATCL at the age of 17 with the highest mark at that time in the North of England. She also played clarinet in the North Yorkshire County Orchestra.

She gained her M.Ed from the University of Hull in Scarborough, and stuided at Trinity College of Music, London. Liz teaches Year 1 at Seamer and Irton School where she directs the school’s popular community choir and musical productions.

Tony and Liz met when she successfully interviewed for the post he was leaving at Lady Lumley’s to move to Scalby School. They married six months later and have four daughters - Amy. Katie, Emily and Angel - and one grandson, James

The youngest members of the choir are 11-year-olds Maddison Hopper and Olivia Beaver and Olivia’s 13-year-old sister Kayleigh.

“At the age of about 11 I joined the Bolton Gramophone Society because of my developing interest in listening to music and became the youngest member ever,” said Tony. “At the time the average age was around 50 years old. I am reminded of this by the enthusiasm of the girls wanting to join the choir, even though most of ladies are rather older.

“The choir is pleased to welcome new members at any time. You don’t have to be able to read music and can join one of its three sections, either the higher sopranos, lower sopranos or the altos. And No, you don’t have to live in Ayton to be a member,” he said.

The choir meets each Wednesady at Ayton Methodist Church Rooms from 7.30pm to 8.30pm Either drop in to a rehearsal or contact 0791 8130352 for more information.

CAPTIONS Ayton Ladies Choir at Scarborough Spa 140835e

Ayton Ladies Choir. With Musical Directors Tony and Liz Turner and the choir at The Spa 140835d, 140835c,b

Musical Directors Tony and Liz 140835a