Helen Kay, Denis Kay and I outside St Mary in the Baum church, Rochdale.
Dennis Kay is the Principal Conductor and Director of Music of Tideswell Male Voice Choir. Helen Kay, Dennis’s wife, works alongside him providing ideas and support in every aspect of the choir’s life. Dennis joined the TMVC when there were 30 or so members and in the intervening 8 years the group has grown to 63 members.
Helen’s role is multifaceted. Dennis and Helen are very much a team and they have worked together to bring about changes that have resulted in the choir becoming less traditional and more adventurous than many other similar groups. Together they are able to make things happen – Dennis by painting in broad brush strokes and Helen filling in the detail. Helen plays a key role in ensuring the smooth operation of many aspects of the choir’s larger events. Her attention to detail spans programming, sound, lighting, costume, dressing room arrangements etc. etc. and Dennis would be lost without her! (and her spreadsheets!!)
1. I know that you both met through Music, would you share how you met with my blog friends?
Well, actually it came about as a result of Helen chatting to her daughter’s music teacher at primary school. Helen’s mum was a singer and Helen enjoyed singing in the school choir when at senior school. Her daughter’s music teacher was, at that time, a member of Dennis’s choir in Rochdale and suggested that Helen went along. The rest, as they say, is history!
2. Do either of you play any instruments, if not which instrument would you choose to learn from scratch?
Yes, we both do. Dennis can play most brass instruments with the exception of the trombone. However, he would have loved to play the piano, and play it well. Helen had piano lessons from the age of six until she was sixteen but was ecstatic to be able to abandon them when studying for ‘O’ levels! She does, reluctantly, bash out a few notes at choir rehearsals if Chris gets held up in traffic and she also played for the singing lessons which Dennis used to offer.
3. Dennis, how did you get involved as the Musical Director of the Tideswell Male Voice Choir?
Eight years ago Dennis decided, after almost thirty years of directing choirs, to retire. Within a matter of weeks he received a ‘phone call asking if he could help out at Tideswell. The choir had just parted company with its M.D. and needed someone to see it through the following two or three months until a replacement could be found. Dennis does say that he wondered what he had taken on, but was impressed and encouraged by the enthusiasm and commitment of the thirty or so members. After three months the choir asked him whether or not he would consider accepting the position on a permanent basis. Eight years on still wondering “why?” but still enjoying the job.
Catherine Riddiough, Christopher Ellis, myself, Dennis Kay and Helen Kay.
4. Choosing repertoire is very difficult, how do you decide what to do each year? Do you plan monthly or annually?
This is indeed a very difficult area, but generally Dennis attempts to plan repertoire at least two years in advance. He firmly believes that, being in the business of entertainment, it is important to keep abreast of the times and have a deep awareness of what brings people out of their homes to see and hear live music.
5. How long does it take to perfect each song?
Actually Dennis does not believe that perfection is ever reached because each time a piece of music is performed, different emotions come to the fore. For Dennis it’s all about the moment.
6. What is the most enjoyable thing about running a choir?
The challenge of directing a group of singers and relaying your inner emotions to them that ultimately brings to life words and music that at the outset are merely dots a piece of paper.
The Tideswell male voice choir at St John’s Church, Tideswell.
7. How did you meet Christopher Ellis, the accompanist for the choir, your right hand man?
It was a happy coincidence that, some years ago, Dennis heard Christopher at a music festival in Hazel Grove and was immediately struck by the inspired and sensitive accompaniment which he provided for several of the classes. In due course, when seeking a Principal Accompanist, Dennis contacted Chris in the hope that he could persuade him to fill that role and was delighted by Chris’s acceptance.
8. How do you recruit more members for your choir, it has grown into a large group of men now?
In 2010 Dennis decided to run a twenty six week project entitled ‘Come and Sing’. This resulted in thirty new members joining the choir. More recently he did a similar project but this time for just six weeks. As a result of the choir’s success new members are attracted on a regular basis. The turnover in membership is very small but we do lose people for varying reasons from time to time and so it is important to continually welcome new recruits to the team.
9. How much of your week does the choir planning, preparation, concert booking, arranging, and rehearsing etc. take up?
To do this job properly requires total commitment and a clear vision for the future. The choir rehearse twice weekly and perform around twenty events annually. All of this takes up a huge amount of time, requires great effort and planning and many, many, telephone calls. Helen and I work late into the night putting together programmes, writing editorials etc. etc. so we endure many sleepless nights. From putting out the chairs, to stepping on to the concert platform and, everything in between, takes up most days of the week from dawn to dusk and beyond, without Helen’s love and support, I simply couldn’t achieve what I do.
Dennis Kay and the Tideswell male voice choir at Gawsworth Hall.
10. Helen, do you wish it was a mixed choir? Or do you think that male only choirs are easier to manage ?
That’s a really good question. Having been part of an all female choir myself I wondered what it would be like working with an all male chorus. The fact is that there’s not much to choose between them. LOL ! Do women gossip more than men? No! In fact I have found that an all male group exhibits most of the same characteristics as an all female group! I don’t have any experience of being part of, or managing, a mixed voice group so I can only guess what the dynamics of such a group might be. I do miss being able sing myself so I suppose a mixed choir would give me the opportunity to perform, however, I would probably get into trouble for being naughty!
11. How many events have TMVC got booked for next year? And am I included ? LOL
The calendar next year is taking shape. January to April is reserved for working on the choir’s programme for the forthcoming concert season and hopefully recording a CD. However, in late March 2014 the choir will be visiting St. David’s in Pembrokeshire. The concert season proper will commence in April and we already have a number of events confirmed. Of course you will be involved Charlotte
I hope Buxton, 9th November, is already in your diary and as soon as we get the date for Gawsworth we’ll let you know, and that’s just for starters!! Don’t worry there will be plenty more