In the passage of time since 1933 there are a few individuals who, in their own special way, have left their mark on the choir. Some are sadly no longer alive but others are still hail and hearty and playing their part in the activities of the choir. This web page is meant as an acknowledgement of the service of some.
Pride of place must go to Sam, who joined the choir on its formation in 1933. When he finally put away his music scores in 2003 that worked out as 70 years of service. What a record! No mean baritone either, he still kept in touch with the choir and its activities, even though he lived some 25 miles from Ballyclare. One of the greatest supporters of the choir was his lovely wife Sally, to be seen at Sam's side at many events. Sadly, Sally passed away in August 2004 in her 90th year and in the 57th year of their marriage. Sam lived for a further 9 years until he passed away in October 2013, just 3 months after celebrating his 100th birthday.
A school teacher with 45 years service he retired in 1978 as a Senior Master having been responsible for many school musical productions.
Succeeding his brother as Deputy Conductor of the choir in 1969 Sam was eventually called upon to lead the choir for a few months on the unexpected death of Billy Thompson in 1998. Sam served the choir well, as Past President, accompanist for 40 years and if that wasn't enough he even held the post of secretary for 38 years from 1933. He was the only Honorary Life member of Ballyclare Male Choir.
Known by all as Billy, he was appointed in 1965 and thus began a relationship which was to leave an indelible mark on the history of Ballyclare Male Choir.
A former shipyard worker and keen amateur footballer Billy had a delightful tenor voice that brought him personal success in festivals, concerts and oratorio. A perfectionist, no false note or bad entry escaped his notice. Those that did would often produce a stern gaze followed by a neat line in animated footwork. With boundless energy and enthusiasm Billy also had time to conduct four other choirs, notable among these, the Downshire Ladies Choir. Under his baton the Ballyclare choir went from success to success, the most notable being in 1977 when it swept the boards at a festival in Wharfedale, winning Best Choir award, Male section and Best Musical performance. With his many connections, Billy brought the choir to perform to packed houses right across Ireland. In the mid eighties Her Majesty the Queen recognised his contribution and service to music in the community by honouring him with the MBE.
Sadly in 1997 Billy was diagnosed with a terminal illness, a legacy of his shipyard days. A deeply religious man he was finally called to greater glory in February 1998 and as someone remarked at his funeral he is most surely now conducting the heavenly choir. His life's companion, wife Edna, maintained her association with the choir as a Vice-President until her passing in March 2015.
With Albert McClenahan as its first conductor and William J Stewart (Sam's brother) as chairman, the choir was established in September 1933. Albert was an instinctive musician with no formal training, neither did he play an instrument. However, he had a tremendous gift for interpretation and musical arrangement and had the ability to put over his ideas to the choir. He was also a member of a male quartet and regularly broadcast in the early days of the wireless. In his 28 years as conductor he led the choir to many successes in festivals across the UK and in local broadcasts. However, his era came to a premature end in 1960 when due to failing health he was forced to stand down. Though eventually confined to a wheelchair Albert was able occasionally to attend rehearsals.
In 1979 Cec George was on a business trip to Germany where he met Hans Braune just by chance during a train journey. It was discovered that both sang in the bass section of a male choir. In the course of the subsequent conversation Hans revealed that his choir, MGV Sangerkreis had an exchange visit arrangement with male choirs in Norway and Finland and was keen to now include Ballyclare in the family. Returning to Ballyclare, Cec found that support for the idea was forthcoming from his choir committee and in May 1980 the choir travelled to Wulfrath, near Wuppertal, to be followed by a return visit by the German choir to Ballyclare in 1981.
In 1984 Ballyclare combined with Hoybraaten Sangforening from Oslo and Laulu Veljet, from Hameenlinna (birthplace of Sibelius) in Finland to travel to Wulfrath Germany for the centenary celebrations of MGV Sangerkreis. Such was the success of the event, that in 1988 all four choirs assembled in Oslo and again in 1992 in N.Ireland. The last time all four choirs joined forces was in Hameenlinna in 1995 celebrating 30 years of Laulu Veljet. However in June 2001 Ballyclare travelled once more to Wulfrath for another enjoyable visit. The choir also took the opportunity to perform a concert in Dorsten which is twinned with Newtownabbey of which the town of Ballyclare forms a part.
The photograph was taken during the 2001 visit and shows Cec, in the middle and Hans, on the right, having been presented with their momentos. On the left is a very pleased Theo Reuter and in the background Willi Storing, chairman of MGV Sangerkreis.
Cec George sadly passed away in February 2018 after a period of failing health at the age of 97. He had joined the choir in 1968 and for the next 46 years went on to proudly serve it in a number of roles. He had been a choir committee member for 14 years, 3 of which as Chairman. Cec was also Choir President for 5 years and latterly for some 7 years acted as one of the annual auditors of the choir finances.
Paul was appointed as Conductor/Musical Director in October 2012 and settled into the roll in a very short time. He brought with him a keen sense of duty and quickly gained the respect of the members and established a lasting bond with the choir accompanist Sheelagh Greer.
He rebalanced the choir which involved the voice testing of every member. This enabled him to readjust the numbers in each of the four sections resulting in a much improved overall choir performance.
Paul changed the focus of the choir by concentrating much more on the entertaining element of performances rather than musical exactness. This generated a sense of fun which permeated through the choir and audiences alike. During concert performances or church services he always struck up an easy and warm rapport with the audience or congregation. This was expressed on many occasions by his reflective presentation of An American Trilogy. Paul was an accomplished organist and when the opportunity ever arose he would leave the podium and accompany the choir in the last section of the piece with Sheelagh now conducting.
Paul introduced the choir to the world of audio and internet technology with backing tracks for some pieces, recording rehearsals for later analysis and where necessary producing recordings of each choir section for personal practice. Part of his legacy will be the recording, editing and production of the two well received CD's produced during his time with the choir.
Paul informed the choir in September 2019 that he intended to retire in May 2020 to enable him to have more time with his wife Esther and their family. However, during this, his last season he was diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer and very sadly passed away in December 2020, age 68.
There is no doubt that those eight years of the Ballyclare Male Choir will come to be remembered as the Paul Briggs era and to the significant contribution he left behind.
© 2015 Ballyclare Male Choir