Widely renowned local soprano, who went on to become an influential teacher of voice to both individuals and choirs, sadly passed away on 16 April 2014, after a long illness. She is well remembered for the musical impact she made on our local community.
Beatrice lived a life entirely dedicated to music, centred for the last 25 years of her career around the furtherance of choral music in the North West of England. Her credentials for that task lay rooted in her love of singing, and her enormous personal success as a soprano, winning over 200 first prizes in competitive festivals, along with many performances of oratorios and arias.
Her working life could not have been further from the world of music, as she was employed for the greater part of her time at Haworths accountants, in Accrington. Her attention to detail and need for correctness found a ready home there, and this was greatly valued by the partners and staff. During this period, Beatrice was also travelling all around the region, taking part in music festivals and concerts, and learning each week to perform at her very best, in order to succeed. She received the plaudits from adjudicators and audiences alike, and developed a broad understanding and deep love of singing, in all its forms. Her parents were also firmly based in Accrington, with her father serving as mayor of the borough, and spending many years as a director of Accrington Stanley football club.
After her own career as a soloist was over, Beatrice found an even greater love in the teaching of singing to others. This passion for music was to take over her life for the next 25 years, and take many forms. In addition to the teaching of individual pupils, many of whom went on to achieve great success at both regional and national levels, Beatrice will long be remembered as the founding conductor of the Rossendale Ladies’ Choir, and a long time conductor of the Rossendale Male Voice Choir. These two organisations were destined to be the true beneficiaries of her musical abilities, and both choirs received a top class singing lesson at each rehearsal.
Beatrice was the Co-Founder and Conductor of the Rossendale Ladies Choir from 1977 to 2006, leading it to many notable successes, in music festivals and competitions around the country and abroad, including the Llangollen International Eisteddfod. Her exacting standards and thorough teaching methods enabled this choir to achieve choral work of prizewinning quality and more importantly, generated a real love and understanding of harmonic singing in the members. Current Chairwoman of the Ladies choir, Mrs. Liz Tunnicliffe commented: “ It is testament to Beatrice’s memory that when she founded the choir over 37 years ago, many of the ladies who joined then are still with the choir today. The choir still strives today to remember her teachings and retain the standards she set “.
Beatrice would say to both the ladies and gentlemen; “ Music is like poetry. When you sing, you paint a picture with your voice”. Although she has not conducted the choirs since 2006, many still clearly remember her instructions, as they are embedded deeply in how they were trained to sing, so her teaching lives on through us in every performance.
Strong links were formed with MGV Sangerbund Male Voice Choir in Rossendale’s twin town of Bocholt and the Ladies Choir have enjoyed many exchanges with this choir over the last thirty years. Beatrice was very well respected by the German choral conductors. Mr. Boris Vering the secretary of MGV Sangerbund choir, and a long-time friend, said of her “Beatrice was a keen supporter of the twinning arrangement with Bocholt, and she saw this as a way to make a bridge between our two communities. After contact with Beatrice, there was no thought of different nationalities, and her music was her way of creating this connection.”
It was through music festivals that Beatrice came to know a range of people with musical talents and interests. About thirty years ago she met the then Mayor of Rossendale, Mrs. Sheila Oldham (now Sheila D. Conway OBE, JP) who said that it was her ambition to start a music festival in the valley, to commemorate her year in office. Beatrice accepted the challenge and, along with colleagues, organised the first music festival in Rossendale. This festival involved a range of people in a variety of musical activities and ran for many years. The Rossendale Male Voice and Ladies choirs were always happy to assist at the annual festival to keep music alive and thriving in the valley.
Mrs. Conway became President of the Ladies choir through the friendship which grew from the festival work, and is greatly saddened at her passing away. She said “Beatrice brought music and joy to the whole of Rossendale, and the hills really were alive with the sound of music”.
Beatrice had a number of singing pupils who went on to prestigious careers in music. Some are music teachers, and professional singers themselves now.
Alwyn Mellor, acclaimed Lancashire soprano was part of the ladies choir in the 1980s, and has recently become its patron. Alwyn went on to train at the Royal Northern College of Music and to a career including singing with the Welsh National Opera and the Paris and Seattle Operas.
Alwyn remembers Beatrice’s commitment and dedication to her work in conducting the choir. The concerts and festival work were wonderful because of her high standards. Alwyn describes what fun it was to see Beatrice beaming at the ladies as she conducted, silently singing along, and using her arms to demonstrate getting louder and softer. “She had a wonderful presence as a conductor and inspired us all to give of our best”.
One of Beatrice’s pupils, local Rossendale soprano and respected singing teacher Janet Lancaster, comments on the immense kindness and support given to her when starting out as a singer: “ Beatrice was a superb teacher of voice whose dedication and insight proved invaluable in helping me to pursue my own career in singing. If it had not been for Beatrice, I would probably never have studied at the Royal Northern College of Music – she offered tremendous help and support with my application. In addition to being a warm and wonderful human being, she also had impeccably high standards and communicated these with passion and commitment. She was a very talented teacher and a person of principle and common sense, not to mention a very generous and caring person.”
Beatrice conducted the Rossendale Male Voice Choir from 1981 until 2005. The members of the Male Voice Choir were always referred to as “my gentlemen”, and they soon understood that they could learn a lot from their first lady conductor. All singing teachers can hear when something is not quite right with a piece, but Beatrice had the skill of knowing how to put it right. It was this absolute attention to detail which had brought her success as a soloist, and which she then directed towards the Rossendale Male Voice Choir.
Ernest Schofield, the current chairman of the choir, and himself a member for 67 years, recalls; “Friday evening practices with Beatrice were much more than just rehearsals. She imparted to us all her vast knowledge of the technique of vocal production, and I for one, am extremely grateful for that gift, so readily and freely given”.
No musical director can achieve the best results without first class accompanists, and Beatrice was fortunate in having Renee Halstead for the ladies, and Michael Farnworth for the men, at her side. Michael still remains as the Male Voice Choir accompanist. Renee remained as the ladies Choir accompanist until her death in May 2014. She died the day after playing the piano for the choir at the Beatrice Wade Memorial Concert.
Michael comments “Beatrice was an inspiration to the choirs, and all her pupils. The vocal knowledge and interpretation of songs that she gave to the singers, will be remembered by all who knew her”
Under Beatrice, the male voice choir achieved outstanding successes, and maintained a strong presence on competitive stages across the region, winning many prestigious festivals during the 24 year relationship.
In addition to conducting the Rossendale Male Voice Choir and Ladies Choir for many years, the two choirs would often join together as the Rossendale Festival Choir, to sing mixed voice repertoire. This very large joint choir was a force to be reckoned with, and under her leadership won 25 first prizes at festivals. Southport Music Festival in 1985 was the first of a number of occasions when the three choirs swept the board, winning all prizes. At Blackpool Music Festival in 1995 the choirs won every choral trophy, and if that is a record never to be bettered, Beatrice also won the hundred pounds first prize in the raffle – which she later shared between the Ladies and Male Voice choirs.
Morecambe music festival provides the most outstanding and unique example of continued excellence. Beatrice, before conducting the choirs, competed as a soloist and she had her name inscribed on every trophy in the Ladies’ classes. The choirs in their turn have, over the years, won every choral class.
Former Ladies Choir Chairwoman Janice Crowley says, “ Beatrice was a legend to us. We are all better informed and more sensitive singers because of her tutelage. Her contribution to the pursuit of musical excellence is outstanding. She will be sadly missed by both of the choirs she trained and nurtured for many years, as well as the vast range of pupils and colleagues she has encouraged and inspired.”
In Beatrice’s own words
“the choirs will never end – music, voices and harmony will always sound throughout the valley. Now let’s get on, we have work to do”.
Janice and Charles Crowley