Fae Jones talks about finding out about the death of John Barbirolli (conductor of the Hallé Orchestra) and auditioning for the Hallé Choir at Zion Arts Centre.
Fae: I’ll tell you a little story about the Northern because coming back from my lesson, one day, I was coming up Oxford Street—Because there were a lot of music shops on Oxford Street from the Northern. Used to have Mamalocks(?), and I think— I don’t— They were all— Well there is one or two now: Johnny Roadhouse is still there. But walking up Oxford Street, coming up to Palace Theatre crossroads, there was a Manchester Evening News placard saying—and it said: Barbirolli Dead. And I remember that so— It really struck me, because I really had been a Hallé concert girl before that and… I suddenly thought why don’t I put my… talents in singing and audition for the Hallé choir and I did in 1970 just after the death of Sir John Barbriolli and I stayed there for 15 years until—until I was very ill, I had a very serious operation in 1985. And I could have gone back, would have had to audition and… I think I was ill and I had lost my confidence so I decided to… to not bother and just remember those 15 happy years *laughs*.
H: What was the choir like at that time? What was the Hallé life?
F: Well, the choir was brilliant because of course… you know, they were just getting over the death of Barbirolli and I—he died in the July. It is the 50th anniversary this year of the death of Sir John Barbirolli and… Everyone who sang in the choir was shell shocked about his death, obviously…
F: ...because he was a huge icon in those days. Absolutely marvellous… So, we had a new conductor James Loughran and the standard was very high. I remember going to the audition at Zion Institute which… Do you know Zion Institute?
H: Is that in Hulme?
F: Yes, that was the Hallé rehearsal space.
H: Oh. didn’t know that.
F: Oh, yes *laughs*. It’s an old congregational church. So you went in the door and it was huge, I mean, it was—it like was how big Methodist churches used to be like the Albert Hall where they have rooms this and rooms for that. And I remember sitting outside with total strangers and hearing this enormous, cavernous hall people doing their auditions. And at that time you had to audition you appropriate solo for your voice in Messiah and it was Messiah only - there was no choice. So for me it was ‘oh thou that tellest good tidings to Zion’, as you know. And… I remember shuffling up off a form outside and hearing these voices and thinking ‘what on earth am I doing here, I think I want to go home’ *laughs*. And funnily enough, it’s irrelevant really, but a Danish girl who was sitting on the form next to me, who I never met in my life, said to me: ‘Oh no you’re not going home, you’re going to do it and—‘ you know ‘—we will stick together’. And she very sort of a Viking she was, and I’m still friends with her today. Fortunately we both got in. So you see my musical life then got channelled into the Hallé so it was glorious, it was wonderful.
Part of the #NSM2020 project "A 20/20 Legacy: the centenary of the Northern School of Music" supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.