How Huddersfield celebrates its musical diversity

PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 May 2018

The world-renowned Huddersfield Choral Society

The world-renowned Huddersfield Choral Society

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Huddersfield doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves, but the town has a lot to shout about

The technologically-advanced Oastler Building named after Richard Oastler, a 19th century campaignerThe technologically-advanced Oastler Building named after Richard Oastler, a 19th century campaigner

It’s time the long line of talented and accomplished people in so many areas of excellence who come from Huddersfield are celebrated. The town’s university is naming some amazing buildings after locals who’ve made their mark on the world. Some are instantly recognised, like actor Sir Patrick Stewart, former chancellor of the university, after whom the drama building is named and sculptor Barbara Hepworth, whose name will grace the art, design and architecture centre currently being constructed.

Others deserve similar recognition, like Richard Oastler, a 19th century campaigner based in the town who fought to reduce factory working hours, especially for child-workers.

The technologically-advanced Oastler Building, providing new space for the study of humanities and law, opened last year. Huddersfield-born computing innovator Karen Spärck Jones is another remembered on a rebranded building.

Deputy vice-chancellor of Huddersfield University, Prof Tim Thornton, explained the choice of figures. ‘They have a reputation in the areas that are important to us – to be inspiring leaders and entrepreneurs, innovative thinkers and inventors and people with international connections and impact. It helps us to project Huddersfield as a place to study, by strengthening the sense that this is a place with a strong tradition of excellence in a whole range of subjects.’

Sculptor Barbara Hepworth's  name will grace the art, design and architecture centreSculptor Barbara Hepworth's name will grace the art, design and architecture centre

And a Harold Wilson Building recalls another of the town’s famous sons. Emeritus Professor of politics Brendan Evans said: ‘He was very much a Huddersfield boy, born and bred here. He went to junior and secondary school here and was very proud of his Huddersfield affiliations – always an enthusiastic supporter of Huddersfield Town, had links with the university – and he liked to project the image of a solid Yorkshireman.

‘Today there’s a much more positive view of him than when he retired – his was quite a stable period of government – and he compares well with all the subsequent prime ministers. His two main achievements were that at a time of economic turbulence he kept the nation on a steady path and expanded the welfare state; and he kept British troops out of Vietnam – we were getting loans from America, and President Johnson put enormous pressure on him to contribute troops, but he refused.’

From the cutting edge of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and the university-based Centre for Research in New Music, to the world-renowned Huddersfield Choral Society, via innumerable groups, bands and projects, the town’s music scene is thriving and decidedly diverse.

Huddersfield nurtures three long-established music institutions: the annual Mrs Sunderland Competition, that since 1889 has commemorated a great local singer of the Victorian era and provided opportunities for young performers; the Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra, founded in 1862, and most august of all, Huddersfield Choral Society, formed in 1836.

Sound and visual artist Vicky Clarke delivers a DIY electronics workshop at a recent Yorkshire Sound Women Network event Photo: Elspeth MooreSound and visual artist Vicky Clarke delivers a DIY electronics workshop at a recent Yorkshire Sound Women Network event Photo: Elspeth Moore

Such organisations adapt to survive, as Margaret Atkinson, president of the Choral Society explains: ‘The usual route to recruitment – chapel choirs – is disappearing, and music isn’t a core subject in schools now, so we’re looking to grow our own, trying to find funding to start a choral academy.’ They have 140 active members, however, as well as the dynamic figure of Chorus Master Gregory Batsleer and junior choir head Alison North who ensure standards remain as high as ever.

Meanwhile the richness of Huddersfield’s music culture reflects its ethnic diversity. A notable example of this was highlighted by Huddeersfield University researcher Hardeep Sahota in a recently published book that shows how important the town was early in Britain’s Bhangra scene.

In the area of music technology – production, recording, engineering – the town has a beacon organisation in Yorkshire Sound Women Network, a group initiated by Dr Liz Dobson. Her group, independent of but supported by the university, aims to bring women and girls into this field in which they are traditionally poorly represented. And via workshops, the group is bringing in experts to work with adults and children alike, as well as giving them the space to develop skills and creativity.

This summer YSWN is running a six-day workshop that demonstrates the range of what they do. ‘The first two days are on Indian music vocal performance, then two days on sound processing. The last two days bring it all together in composing and performing. The workshops give girls aged 10 or 11 to 18 the opportunity to get hands on experience with sound equipment, and learn about composition, performance, improvisation and electronics,’ said Liz.

Former Prime Minister Harold Wilson in St George's Square, Huddersfield  'Today theres a much more positive view of him than when he retired'Former Prime Minister Harold Wilson in St George's Square, Huddersfield 'Today theres a much more positive view of him than when he retired'

Inclusivity is at the heart of what two other Huddersfield organisations, Shebang Inclusive Learning and Gladiators Boxing Academy are doing, both helped by recent injections of funding from the Health Lottery.

Shebang in Slaithwaite benefited from a grant of £28,000 to help Kim Reuter and partner Russ Elias in their work with children with special educational needs. Kim said: ‘That money is supporting a music-based project providing weekly sessions for families with pre-school children with additional needs. We do a lot of singing to teach language, and also use Makaton signing, a simplified version of British Sign Language.’

Russ writes original music for the classes, and he and Kim perform them in costume for extra fun. ‘The money will fund the project for two years,’ she added. ‘We can make that go a long way – we get people coming here not just from Huddersfield but all over Yorkshire.’

Gladiators Boxing Academy on Quay Street has received £20,000 from the same source and founder Dennis Doyle said: ‘We’ve received funding to run four sessions per week with the aim of improving community engagement and access to sport. The grant allows us to deliver three additional boxing sessions per week to reach out to more members, and once a week we run a multi-sports session for juniors.’ They’re also getting locals into running, have set up a monthly community café and are organising holiday clubs for children.

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