Greenbank Church, Darlington
In the series Our Choirs and Choirmasters by Rev. C.R. Dalton
“WHAT A poor time the preacher seemed to have this morning!” one sometimes hears remarked from scattered groups after a service, not seldom with evident sympathy.
Usually the preacher is quite as conscious of the “poor time” as his people. How often he wishes that there were some method of escape via the pulpit floor or that he could slink away to his home without meeting anyone, there to pour out his soul to his Lord!
Yet the cause is not always with the preacher. A “poor time” in the pulpit sometimes means there has not been a good time in the pew—and the choir. Every preacher knows how much a successful service, both in liberty and spirituality, depends on the service of praise. He who chooses his hymns at haphazard has failed to tap one of the great sources of inspiration. And we would advise the preacher’ who wants at his command one guarantee of a good time to keep on good terms with the choir and never to send them “on strike.”
Most preachers who have occupied Greenbank pulpit—and what memories that pulpit recalls!—will bear us out in saying that their “poor times” (if they have had any) have not often been caused by an indifferent praise service. Mr. Heslop and his singers do not believe in “preliminaries.” The service is a great unity, to whose oneness they contribute no small part. They are not a negligible quantity in church life by reason either of spasmodic attendance or of lack of interest in the work. The conductor seeks to instil something of his own exalted conception of the service of song into his followers, and largely succeeds. It is a choir of young people—even though some have seen thirty years’ service — and possesses the enthusiasm of youth, as well perhaps as some of its exuberance (in choir practices!). They have the good quality of attending in force the morning service so that the minister is relieved of the onerous responsibility of being leading singer, and of the painful necessity of choosing his metres accordingly. What tales might be unfolded of the pulpit’s efforts to “supply” for the choir! At Greenbank, too, there is no need to ask: “Do you sing this hymn?” ‘There are few tunes, if any, in our Hymnal that Mr. Heslop and his singers do not know. He is a strong believer in fitting harmoniously the sentiment of the words and the rhythm of the tune, and in singing the tune that is written to the hymn. Variety thus takes the place of sameness and considerable aid is given to the spirit of worship.
How often a service is marred by the discord between words and music! Nor does this mean that the choir monopolises the singing. They lead the praise but the congregation is quick to follow and enter heartily into the song. The endeavour is made to combine spirited with intelligent singing. Precision is joined to power, harmony to heartiness, expression to enthusiasm, sweetness to sound. Music is made contributory, to the higher life. This effort, united with what in our judgment is one of the most helpful orders of service we have used, makes the Greenbank worship most inspiring. A regular feature, especially in the evening, is the anthem or solo introduced by the choirmaster, which adds to the helpful enjoyment of the service. The members give their time and ability voluntarily to Christ and the Church—in fact, paying for such a privilege, and as an aid to esprit de corps and are always ready to render necessary assistance. Lectures and public meetings, by whomsoever promoted, are frequently graced by their presence and help.
By the arrangement of high-class concerts and the rendition of the best composers’ works the Church funds have repeatedly been augmented. The £400 organ is a testimony to their devotion. Owing to liabilities already heavy, the trustees could not undertake any additional responsibility. The members of the choir then shouldered the burden, raised the entire amount and publicly presented the instrument to the trustees. Another pleasing feature, which we could wish were true of all our choirs and which accounts for much we have recorded, is that choirmaster, organist and the majority of the choristers are members of the Church. Where love is, there is service.
In other Churches, too, the choir is ever welcome and always ready to render assistance.
The choirmaster, Mr. W. Heslop, Senr., is so well known that to write of him seems superfluous. His name is a household word in North of England musical circles, and the service of praise in the Teeside and Cleveland districts owes much to his devoted labours. For fifty-five years he has been choirmaster, first at Shildon and then at Darlington. He has been leader at Greenbank since its erection, and strange indeed would be the church without his characteristic conductorship. He is an example of enthusiastic determination triumphing over serious difficulties. He is largely self-taught and only a passion for music and for the efficiency of the service of praise could have brought him where he is. He is the originator of the Darlington and Stockton District Psalmody Association that has brought the choirs of the District into touch with some of the finest tunes in our Hymnal and some of the best works of the masters. His ability has secured Connexional recognition, for he served upon the Committee that compiled the Hymnal Tune Book of which as a Church we are justly proud. That Tune Book is enriched by one of his own contributions, named after his native place (Shildon). Of many interests, music, especially in relation to the Kingdom of God, lies nearest to his heart. He is an idealist in the matter of church praise and devotes the best of his energy to its perfection.
The organist is a Primitive Methodist and a musician of the third generation. He is the son of the choirmaster, and his grandfather was leading singer and local preacher at Shildon for many years. Mr. Heslop, Junior, has caught the spirit of his fathers, and adds his quota to the worshipful tone of the services. For more than fifteen years he has presided at the organ with marked ability. His voluntaries and improvisations are calculated to enhance the restfulness of God’s House. It will interest some to know that he is an old Elmfieldian.
A characteristic of the choir is the number of its members capable of sustaining the solo singing with credit. Amongst the many, we may mention Mr. R. Davison (tenor), and Mr. W.H. Rycroft (bass), who have rendered useful service for many years. They are still actively connected with the choir and able to creditably take their part in this department. Mrs. Rycroft has also served efficiently as leading contralto. Of more youthful talent, Miss Miriam Naisbitt is the possessor of a rich soprano voice. She is a welcome artiste on the concert platform for miles round, and two years ago ably sustained the part of soloist at the Psalmody Association’s Annual Festival, at which some of the leading principals of the day have appeared. Mr. W. Ormerod, too, has a baritone voice of powerful quality, and upon him falls in great measure the individual work on the bass side. He always acquits himself well and is appreciated wherever he goes. One rejoices that our young friends are consecrating their musical talents to the service of God and in the ministry of song blessing their fellowmen.
Greenbank Choir is famed afar but none appreciates the valued services of Mr. Heslop and his co-workers more than the officials and members of their own Church. We should like to know that their zeal and enthusiasm were in all the churches so that the service of praise may lead the people into the Holiest of All where the Divine message shall be more distinctly heard and more readily obeyed. Certain it is that this famous choir has done much to reveal the true function of a choir and to help others to realise it.
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1909/303