Huddersfield Singers are harnessing the skills of their newly-appointed musical director Alexander Douglas – a classically-trained conductor, jazz musician and gospel composer – to host a Come and Sing Gospel choral workshop.

It will be a new and exciting venture for the 40-strong chamber ensemble, which has a wide-ranging classical repertoire honed over a 140-year history in the town.

As committee member Richard Hallas says: “Gospel is something of a departure for us but one of our remits is to educate the public about music in all its various guises and as we have just appointed Alex we thought we might take advantage of this opportunity to raise the choir’s profile. Alex is a very talented musician with a background in classical, jazz and gospel and has this added string to his bow.”

The workshop, which is open to choristers and members of the public, will take place on Sunday, May 17, at the Huddersfield Methodist Mission, from 2pm to 7pm.

Alex, who took his gospel ensemble AINE (from the Irish for joy and peace) to the finals of the BBC Songs of Praise Gospel Choir of the Year contest in 2014, started work with the Huddersfield Singers in September last year. Unusually, Alex has three masters degrees covering quite different fields of music. His first was in jazz piano, the second in ethnomusicology (putting music into cultural contexts) and his third in choral conducting, specialising in baroque sacred music. He has particular and diverse interests, from gospel to the music of Bach.

As Alex points out it’s not uncommon for conductors to be interested in many different types of music, but it is relatively rare for a conductor to pursue a number of genres professionally.

He explained: “In my case the first thing I became known for was as a jazz pianist and then as a gospel conductor and now I’m an early classical director. Classical music is so absorbing that people tend not to go back to jazz, but I am doing three genres with ferocious dedication.”

Alexander Douglas, new conductor of The Huddersfield Singers

The conductor, who spent his early childhood in Tanzania but now lives in Manchester, always loved listening to music. However, it wasn’t until his family moved to Britain that he began having music lessons, playing the piano and clarinet. A clarinet teacher spotted his burgeoning talent and encouraged his ambitions to become a professional musician.

Alex is aware that as a black musician his classical training is sometimes a surprise to others and he clearly enjoys proving that he is just as proficient conducting a Bach cantata as he is composing gospel. In fact, after this year’s gospel workshop he wants to plan for a event next year in Huddersfield that will see Bach cantatas performed in churches all around the area.

“It will occasionally happen, because I’m black, that people will assume that the music I do is not classical,” he explained.

“But then they discover that I’m serious about Bach and Brahms. Both my parents, who came from Guyana, the only English-speaking country in South America, were interested in music and I grew up, unusually for a black kid, going to classical music concerts from a very early age. I was brought up in Africa with a mixture of European music and the indigenous music of Tanzania.”

His gospel background also began in Africa.

“The sound of traditional music stayed in my head,” says Alex, “but the music I heard in the churches my family attended in England was more conservative. My real interest in gospel developed from listening to recordings and going to London (where he studied).”

Alex is now a composer and arranger of gospel music and founded AINE to explore the sound. The group will sing at the gospel workshop. His members come from all over England - the only requirement is that they are Christian. “They are mostly Seventh Day Adventists and mostly black, but not all,” says Alex. “What is more important is our spiritual and musical bond.” AINE, he says, is an ensemble that has the emotions and ‘vibe’ of traditional gospel but controlled with the precision that his classical training has given him. It is a sound he describes as “slightly straighter and purer.”

To those thinking about joining the Huddersfield workshop he says: “This is for everybody and what we don’t want to do is try to shackle the participants into becoming a black American choir. We will be finding our own sound.”

For details and to book visit or call 01422 822342. Admission for the day is £10 per person.