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News > Memories at Hymers > Hymers College Choir

Hymers College Choir

Memories of my time in the choir at Hymers
OH John Warden 1964-71
OH John Warden 1964-71

John Warden recently contacted us to tell us of his memories of singing in the Hymners College choir.  John attended Hymers College from 1964 to 1971.

The earliest thing I recall was Mr Watson walking slowly along the rows listening to us sing hymns during music lessons in my first year, Lower 3B. Anyone who could hold a tune was then asked to join the Choir. Well, I got in, but by the time I was into the Upper 3rd my voice had started to break so after a short time away from choral duties I was back in, singing top tenor alongside Mr Thomson (the late Gerald Thomson, of whom more later).

It was in Spring 1968, when I was in the 4th Form, that the choir was invited to go down to Ely Cathedral to do the Choral Evensong. There were 2 or 3 other schools joining in also.

After a 4 hour long drive by coach – this was well before the M62, M18 etc – we arrived about lunchtime. After a quick lunch we started rehearsals, although we knew the pieces well, fitting in with the other schools, getting the tempi correct and getting used to the Cathedral organ with its long lag and even longer echo, took most of the afternoon.

The service itself started at, I think, 4pm and was broadcast live on BBC Radio – what was then the Home Service, now Radio 4. It is too long ago to remember what pieces we sang, but I believe there was some Bach involved.

By the time I was in the Lower 6th my voice had deepened considerably so I was then taking the bottom bass line – sometimes annoying Mr Watson by singing an octave lower than written!

Of course, the annual highlight was the Christmas Carol Concert, held on 2 nights in the last week of term. Some favourites of mine were the 8-part version of In Dulci Jubilo, sung a capella, and Christmas is Coming. Each year the basses would come up with a new set of words to replace “But a penny's better …. “ and I recall that in 1970, just as decimalisation was coming in, we changed the line to “But a new one's better, a new one's very much better …”

The last event I remember, for all the wrong reasons, was in the summer term of 1970 or 71, not long before I left. The Choir was set to do a recital at St Mary's Church in Beverley, the highlight of which was a piece by J S Bach containing the Alto solo “Tell it, tell it out upon the mountains”. I think it was his Magnificat or possibly one of his Cantatas, but I cannot be sure. Anyway, messing about as usual I was singing falsetto before rehearsal, doing a very bad impression of Tiny Tim singing “Tip Toe through the tulips” .  Mr Watson came in and called me over: “Warden, that is just what we need for the recital next week. Our Alto soloists have just said that they can't come as they are doing O Levels. You can do the Alto solo!”  So, a week later, I found myself in St Mary's, doing the Alto solo part – and singing alto throughout the recital!  I still have nightmares about that, especially the octave drop at the start where I was fearful of dropping out of falsetto into my normal register.

Gerald Thomson, the late and much lamented teacher of Greek and a very good vocalist, used to organise a group of mostly old boys, their sisters, girlfriends and wives, to do a couple of evening carol singing, all pre-arranged starting at the then private nursing home on Westbourne Avenue and visiting various masters and parents houses. I was invited to join the group in my last year at Hymers, Christmas 1970. After University in London I moved back  to Hull and re-joined the group. Normal routine was to meet at Gerald's house on a Sunday afternoon to sort out who was singing which part and a quick run through of some of the trickier carols, then two evenings of singing. Normally it was all a capella unless we visited somewhere with a piano. Doing the 8-part harmonies in In Dulci Jubilo or The Three Kings with only 2 or 3 people on each part was challenging but immensely satisfying.

I recall one particular evening when we ended up at someone's 21st birthday party at a house on Newland Park, where we sang “Past Three O'Clock” arrayed up the stairs at the appropriate time. When I left, one chap was not quite steady on his feet, so we loaded him onto the roof-rack of somebody's car and drove him home – 3 doors away, dumped him on the doorstep, rang the bell, waited until lights came on and made our escape.

Clearing through some old papers recently I dug out my original copy of Carols for Choirs, and some old manuscripts. One of these is a stencil copy of Gerald Thomson's own, hand written arrangement of “Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing” - it is quite possible that this is the last extant copy as it dates from 1969. When I get the chance I will bring it in to School, it would be nice to hear that arrangement once again.

Thank you John for sharing your memories.

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