Sterndale Hirst, continuing his reflections for The Clarion, recounts how he was admonished during rehearsal by the redoubtable Dr Malcom Sargent.
WHEN did you last Jump onto the Swell? As an itinerant organist nowadays, unfamiliar with the organ, and sometimes the music, I find myself jumping onto the Swell fairly frequently - most certainly when the pointing of the psalm is different from usual, and the chant is unknown!
I well remember jumping onto the Swell in the Amen Chorus of the Messiah at the Eastbrook Hall Bradford with the Bradford Festival Choral Society and the Northern Philharmonic Orchestra under Dr Sargent as he was then.
In the intricate episodic middle section I must have suffered a temporary lapse - and the words didn't help! On reflection the total effect must have been magnificent - more so than was usual, for every artist knows that contrast is the secret of the vision entrancing, and every musician knows that most crescendos start too soon anyway! Opening the delay swell box with the Full Organ made a wonderful climax.
Always look for the silver lining: there's usually a redeeming feature! I have never been totally at ease following a conductor through a mirror-never weary, but ill at ease. The mirror is either too small, or it wobbles, or it falls down, or some choir member is obscuring the view.
But it wasn't that at Bradford. Early on in my career I was called into the Doctor's presence for not giving the orchestra time to tune up, and was admonished appropriately! Presumably the strings were deciding which A to tune to - the organ A or the customary oboe vibes!
The time came however when Dr Sargent was taken ill suddenly in Ilkley, and I was asked at a moment's notice to conduct the Messiah Concert (I, being the Chorus Master). Everything went well, and 'W.D.B.' of the Yorkshire Post reported that the Festival Chorus was excelling itself.
Shortly afterwards I used the report in my application for the post of Organiser of Music at Middlesbrough. To my astonishment I was appointed, and my life was changed for ever!
Looking back over the vocal scores I played for Dr Sargent, I realise what a great strain I was under though I enjoyed the challenge. I remember being swept off the piano stool, so that the Doctor could the better present the vocal parts in a difficult passage.
I was a 'Limpus' prize man but Sargent covered the keys with consummate ease with his long fingers - and mastery of the keyboard. (Beecham showed similar facility with orchestral scores).
Dr Sargent would not work with amateur soloists if he could possibly avoid it (in spite of his eminence with amateur choirs!) An old friend of mine loved to recall to his dying day how eternally grateful he was to Mary Jarrod (contralto) for 'nursing' him through a troublesome passage.
My amateur friend was employed to save money - very much a consideration in those days. I remember questions being asked in committee whether we could afford Kathleen Ferrier as soloist for £30!
For my Messiah concert I received £15, which helped towards the cost of my first house in Middlesbrough. It was £1,850 which I paid off in under two years!