The choir was originally formed as an evening class in September 1974, run by Harrogate Further Education College. It was led by Peter Fletcher and approximately 16 singers met in a college building located on the corner of Victoria Avenue and West Park in Harrogate. By the late 1970’s and early 1980’s the group were being invited to perform small scale concerts at private functions.
Godfrey Barton took over the choir in the early 1980’s and the rehearsal venue moved to the vestry of St Wilfrid’s Church, Duchy Road in Harrogate. Godfrey introduced Early Music to the repertoire and the choir, now known as Harrogate Chamber Singers, began performing public concerts. Godfrey also entered the choir in to the Harrogate Competitive Music Festival for the first time. This tradition was carried on until the early 1990’s with the choir earning many distinctions over the years.
By the mid 1980’s Cathy Roberts had taken over the baton and the choir, now rehearsing in the more spacious surroundings of St Wilfrid’s Church Hall had broadened its repertoire to include European madrigals. There was also a memorable performance of Schubert’s Mass in D.
Gordon Estelle followed on from Cathy and in 1987 Clive McClelland took over as Musical Director. Harrogate Chamber Singers gained a reputation for choral excellence under Clive’s directorship. The choir had a slightly nomadic rehearsal venue era, meeting at Queen Ethelburgh’s school (at the former Harrogate site), the Lower Hall in the Wesley Chapel in Harrogate before returning to St Wilfrid’s Church Hall. Membership of the choir grew in this period to 30 singers and Clive continued to extend the choir’s repertoire. Clive’s passion for English madrigals, Tudor music and European sacred music became a staple of the repertoire. The repertoire was mainly a capella but occasionally performed larger works with orchestral accompaniment, notable examples being Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’, Faure’s ‘Requiem’ and Haydn’s ‘Nelson Mass’.
The choir registered as a Charity in 1989 and this cemented our aim and purpose as a choir to improve, develop and maintain public appreciation of music by giving concerts and through the making of grants and donations.
In 1990 the choir had a brief flirtation with TV when they sang Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus for Harry Secombe’s ‘Highway’ when the programme featured Harrogate. This involved a memorable trip to Tyne Tees studio in Newcastle to record the audio and at a later date filmed ‘performing’ at Harrogate Pump Rooms Museum!
Clive organised several audio recording sessions over his time as MD and the choir enjoyed producing a couple of CD’s. The choir also celebrated two notable anniversaries during this period: the 21st Anniversary season included a particular focus on Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces and, four years later, the 25th Anniversary concert comprised a full-scale performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers (1610) with Capricci Musicali, a period music orchestra.
Clive left Harrogate Chamber Singers in early 2002 to focus on his academic career at the University Of Leeds School Of Music – he later became Associate Professor there. At this point Tim Knight became our Musical Director and under his directorship, the choir changed its name to Vocalis in late 2004. Tim, who is also a well-regarded organist and composer introduced the choir to his own English style choral music which has a following in the UK and USA. Tim also took the choir abroad, arranging two separate very successful choir exchange singing tours to The Netherlands and Hungary.
Paul Dyson followed as MD in late 2009. Paul who is a conductor, composer and pianist continued to improve the quality of the choir’s singing technique. He introduced the choir to collaborative singing with school choirs and introduced the choir to German repertoire. He also lightened the repertoire with his own arrangements which are still part of our current programming. It was during Paul’s time as MD that Vocalis first collaborated with the English Touring Opera by supporting them with their ‘Festival of baroque opera & music’ production.
In January 2012 Vocalis appointed Edmund Aldhouse, then Assistant Musical Director at Ripon Cathedral, as our Musical Director. Edmund conducted Vocalis in several acclaimed performances, including a popular 'Come and Sing' Olivet to Calvary. Vocalis also enjoyed its second collaboration with the English Touring Opera in their performance of Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse. Edmund took up the post of Assistant Organist at Ely Cathedral in September 2013 - he is now Director of Music there. At this point Alexander Kyle was appointed as our Musical Director.
Alex has continued to grow the choir membership and introduced Vocalis to performing with small instrumental groups and more collaborative performances with local choirs including school choirs. He has expanded the choir’s repertoire considerably including larger scale acapella works such as Herbert Howells Requiem and Vaughan Williams Mass in G Minor plus memorable performances of the requiems of Mozart and Duruflé and Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. In addition, since 2018 Vocalis has collaborated with John Longstaff, MD of St Peter’s Church choir in Harrogate and the Handel Players for some exhilarating performances of larger works by Bach and Handel.
The choir will always be extremely grateful to Alex for keeping us all going throughout the Covid lockdown periods when we were unable to meet in person. It was a difficult time for all choirs and we count ourselves lucky that Alex was prepared to continue rehearsals via Zoom. Once we were able to meet again in person, but only outside with strict distancing regulations, we were extremely fortunate to be able to meet at our local football club – an experience we will all remember for a long time. This really kept the choir going and meant that, once the pandemic was over, we were able to meet with renewed enthusiasm.
Vocalis is extremely fortunate to have had such talented Musical Directors over the last 50 years but is also extremely privileged to have such gifted musicians forming its membership who have provided a wealth of support over the years including Deputy MD’s, accompanying for rehearsals, singing solos and playing a variety of instruments in performances.
To mark our 50th Anniversary we are performing music from our wide ranging repertoire throughout the 2023-2024 season and we invite you to celebrate with us.