IT began with just a handful of keen youngsters but by 1995, said the Mail, was “one of the most respected choirs in the world”.
Among the highlights of Hartlepool Youth Choir’s first 25 years were touring North America, Russia, Holland and Denmark, performing in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and Jerusalem on Christmas Day, and entertaining the Queen and Prince Philip at the official opening of Hartlepool Civic Centre.
The choir also represented Britain in the International Youth Choirs contest, winning the top prize, appeared on That’s Life with Ester Rantzen and released successful LP records.
Their performances also raised money for causes including the NSPCC and Romanian orphans.
“When I first started the choir I had no idea it was going to be so successful,” founder Chris Simmons told the Mail in 1995.
“But as the years passed I realised that I was looking after something that was going to be much bigger than me.”
Chris, a retired teacher and currently a Hartlepool councillor, started the choir in 1970 after selling the idea to Peter Haughton and Bob Steel from the town’s education committee.
“As a singer myself I felt this was an area where the local authority should have been doing more,” said Chris, who was appointed musical director, holding the post until 2005.
The first overseas tour came after two years and by 1979 Hartlepool Youth Choir was representing Britain in the International Youth Choirs competition in Yugoslavia.
They won the bronze medal but Chris vowed to do better next time. He was as good as his word and in 1981 they shared first place with the Russian State Choir.
In 1987 they were the first British choir elected to membership of the prestigious Europa Cantat and in 1992 they were the only British choir ever invited to take part in the Zimriya World Assembly of Choirs.
“The choir is more than a singing group, it becomes part of your life,” said Pam Stevenson, who along with other former members set up XHYC to arrange get-togethers for “life after the choir”.
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