THERE’S banter and laughter and plenty of hard work then one of those moments when your scalp tingles and your hair stands on end.
Music shared with Honley Male Voice Choir can do all of those things as I discovered when I crept into a rehearsal at Honley Infants School where the singers gather twice a week.
Having watched television’s The Choir, one of the surprise success stories of recent BBC programming, I was curious to know how one of the area’s many well-established groups of singers manage to retain the magic.
After all, many would say that much of the remarkable results of television’s The Choir is down to charismatic choirmaster Gareth Malone.
His latest piece of wizardry has been to go into South Oxhey, a town built at the end of World War Two to house Londoners who had lost their homes in the bombing and somehow, to get many on this forgotten Hertfordshire estate singing.
It is a result that may have astounded many but not you suspect those who already sing in organisations such as Honley Male Voice Choir.
Visit Honley in rehearsal and you’ll discover that they are long on fun, hard work, friendship and history and perhaps a bit short on new young recruits.
Talking to two of the newest recruits, Dan Thompson who is 37 and Edward Wohlman, who at 27 is the choir’s youngest member, I quickly confirmed that singing isn’t to do with age.
At Honley at least it is down to a warm welcome, good music, a bright new musical director and more than a few laughs on the way.
The rehearsal starts with warm-up exercises, plenty of shoulder rolling and breathing exercises. Then its down to the business of singing and a spot of polishing of the song You Raise Me Up, which will feature in a fast approaching concert before new man with the baton Keith Roberts introduces songs which are firmly on the Christmas menu.
There’s a fun 10 minutes as the singers get a vocal work out on an arrangement by Flockton’s Alan Simmons of Deck The Hall.
Keith’s a fan of this arrangement and he spreads the enthusiasm liberally among the choir with a bit of good natured ribbing and loud applause for the basses when everything goes well. Choirs too have their in jokes.
The mood switches as Keith directs the singers to Tenderly Sleeping, known to many as the Meltham carol and one that these singers are keen to help keep alive.
A chat with accompanist Sue Ogden and assistant George Oldfield reveals they have no piano part for Keith’s next mission, to work on a version of the well-known carol, The Holly And The Ivy.
Unfazed, music teacher Keith nips on to the piano seat and fires directions to the singers as he points out what fun the piece is. Especially for the conductor.
Dan Thompson, who sings in the choir’s baritone section, has a young family and a love of singing.
He is from York though now lives in Honley and works for Yorkshire Water. After the technicalities of his day job, singing is a great way to relax.
“It’s a bit of a release really after a day’s work to be able to come here and sing,” said Dan.
He enjoys rehearsals and concerts with the 55-strong choir but can see why some people would think singing in a male voice choir isn’t for them.
“I think choirs these days have a bit of an image problem. I think in some ways it is a bit of a throw back to gentler times,” he said.
“Before I joined them I’d never heard the choir sing and I think I expected them to be singing a lot more older stuff. But this choir from what I’ve experienced is more modern in terms of repertoire than some of the other male voice choirs.”
Edward Wohlman agrees. He sang in a church choir at Croydon and when his family moved north, joined one of Huddersfield Choral Society’s choirs for young singers.
“The Choral tends to be classical music and I thought I would rather do something lighter.”
Some said they enjoyed the pure physicality of singing and for others, it was the friendship that adds that extra sparkle.
Andy Gledhill, who travels from Ossett to rehearsals, said: “They are a good set of lads. I enjoy it. You have a good bit of craic.”
Brian Winterbottom, who with 44 years in the choir is its longest serving member, started singing as a 10 year old at Wilshaw Church and like many of his generation, progressed on to the male voice choir via his church choirmaster.
“It’s really part of my life. It is part of me. I’ve put music first for the last 40 years and now my joy is golf!”
But it doesn’t stop Brian looking back to happy memories of overseas trips with Honley and forward to the choir’s 75th anniversary celebrations in 2011 for which he and other members are busy raising funds.
A few hours with them in rehearsal proved that Honley Male Voice Choir not only produce a terrific sound but have a great time doing it.
Stand with them as they close the rehearsal by singing unaccompanied the lovely Deep Harmony and I defy you not to feel your spine tingle.
Deep Harmony might be part of choir tradition but it also says much about what singing has to offer. No wonder rehearsals finish with smiles – and a pint – for those who want to share them.
If you want to join them, call Steve Hepworth on 01484 608963 or choir chairman Norman Mellor on 01484 851060.