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Thursday, 26 January 2017

Singing is in My Blood - Sepia Saturday

This week's prompt photograph for Sepia Saturday  features a singer in a bar surrounded by an adoring audience.  Well, I have nothing to match that, but family research revealed that singing of a different kind must be in my blood!  
In the cast of  Gilbert & Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance"

We were not a musical family in terms of playing instruments, but choral music played an important part in our lives. Researching my family history revealed more singers among my ancestors. 

I always knew from my father that his maternal grandfather John Matthews (above)  was a prominent member of the Methodist Church in Wolverhampton,  but had not delved into research to find out more.  But last year, heard, through my blog,  from a distant family connection who wished to pass onto a direct descendant  of John Matthews some memorabiliaAmong  the collection was this  silver crested baton presented to John in recognition of his service to the church. in particular in his role as conductor of the choir. 

The tiny inscription reads:   
Presented to John Matthews

By the Choir and Congregation of Wesleyan Chapel, Ladymoor

To hold the baton used by my great grandfather was a delight to me, as the love of choral music  has continued down through the family

[As a sideline - of course when my small granddaughter saw the baton,  her first reaction was "Oh - Harry Potter's' wand"!]

My uncle Fred Weston was a choir boy  at Warwick Parish Church.  At the age of seven, my father joined the parish church choir  and continued singing until late in life, wherever he was living.  My mother joined local community choirs, and from the days of my being in a school choir, choral music has remained  one of my main interests. 

 My uncle Fred Weston, born 1905  as a choir boy 
He was the eldest child  of Albert Weston and Mary Barbara Matthews. 

Sadly there is no similar photograph for my father John Percy  Weston, who at the age of seven joined the choir at Broseley Church, near Ironbridge, Shropshire   I was very grateful to  Broseley Local History Society whose website featured transcriptions from the local newspaper at the time the Weston family lived  in the town.   The frequent reports on church activities presented a picture of what Dad could have well been involved in. 

 Broseley Church
 The inscription written in the prayer book presented to my father

I persuaded Dad (left to write down an account of his early life and later his war time experiences and was pleased to have these, as I have very few photographs prior to his meeting my mother.

He recalled in Broseley, "Our house was next door to the Wesleyan chapel, and when we were in bed, we could hear the church choir practising.  

We had a "palace" organ double keyboard.  Mum was very musical and Dad, who,  as far as i know  had never had a music lesson,  played in Coalbrookdale Brass Band and could also play the violinMum would play the organ on a Sunday night, and Dad the violin  and we would sing hymns from "Ancient & Modern" [The Church of England Hymnbook] and also Methodist hymns."  
  Dad met my mother, Kathleen Danson  in Blackpool, Lancashire.She came from nearby Poulton-le-Fylde and  her Danson family back to 1736 were baptized, married and buried at St. Chad's Church. where I also was baptized and where Dad sung in the choir.   But in the course of my family history research into the Danson family I discovered  another "singing" connection. .  

St. Chad's Church, Poulton-le-Fylde, noted for the carpet of crocuses in springtime.
My great uncle George Danson (1893-1916) was killed on the Somme.  I traced an obituary in the local press and it included the statement " He was a member of the Poulton Parish Church choir" - I never knew that but it delighted me to find this other side to his life. 

To the current generation of the family: 

One Christmas family get-together, after the meal, we children did our party pieces, with mine on the piano. My young brother (right)  decided to plough his way through all twelve verses of "The Twelve Days of Christmas". 

 He developed hiccups and his long socks kept falling down - this was the days of lads in short trousers, despite the weather.   But he was determined to finish singing the carol, kept pulling his socks up and hickcupping, and by the end, we were all falling about laughing and we never allowed him to forget this occasion!  He did sing in the junior school choir at the Blackpool Music Festivasl - but that was the end of his singing interest.  

Singing in a choir (school, church, community)  has been a key activity throughout my life from primary school days onwards, whether it was folk songs, songs from the shows,  spirituals, carols, sacred music, and Gilbert and Sullivan - musical tastes that still mean a lot to me today. I was very happy to be a chorus girl, with no pretensions to be a soloist - I knew my limitations! 

I have now decided it is time  to "retire" my voice, but music still plays an important part in my life.  Joining a choir is a marvellous form of music making, whatever your age, a great creator of the "feel good factor",  and there is nothing to beat singing with the full blooded accompaniment of an orchestra or organ.   I recommend it! 

The  musical moments and memories live on! 

In the Roxburgh Singers  - one of many singing groups in  the  Scottish  Borders

    Sepia Saturday gives an opportunity for genealogy bloggers 
       to share their family history through photographs

 Click HERE to read other bloggers' take on this week's prompt below.



  1. Fabulous post.. I enjoyed the read immensely!

  2. Choral singing is very civilizing— people working cooperatively to create something beautiful and moving. The story about your little brother is hilarious.

  3. How wonderful to get that baton! And all that singing is wonderful too.

  4. Choral singing is music for the soul - uplifting and energizing, no doubt about it! Love the part about your brother trying to get through the Twelve Days of Christmas. I directed grade school Christmas concerts & I remember one year a little boy in one of the lower grades was so nervous, he couldn't stop rolling his tie up & down and up & down the whole time he was singing with his class. In another episode, a little kindergarten girl kept pulling the skirt of her dress up over her head while she sang. The audience tried not to laugh outright, but you couldn't miss the muted titters. I, myself, sported a very tight smile and hoped I wouldn't choke trying to hold my own laughter back while directing the little darlings.

  5. I recognized "Pirates" straight off the bat! One of my favorites (I'm fond of G&S). And high church music is another -- it just ripples through my soul...

  6. He Must Have Been So Proud To Use It!
    p.s. Ive been to St Chads!

  7. Thank you, everyone, for such an enthusiastic response to my singing memories.

  8. Wonderful post on topic, and well written. Would love to see the crocus in the springtime! And to hear those choirs and choruses! I've also sung my way through many groups, and have decided in the last several years to quit. I'm "Janie one note" now, unable to sing a scale at all, so it's a good thing.

  9. A wonderful post that really connects the personal ways that music, especially singing, become part of family culture. Antique batons are not common. How long is John Matthews' baton? It looks made of rosewood so must be heavy compared to the slender sticks used by modern conductors.

    1. Thank you, Mike, for your comment and query. The baton is 20 inches long, and as you suggested, is heavy - quite a challenge if the conductor was conducting a large choir and long work with his arms held high.

  10. A real hymn of praise to your family musical connections. That baton is a treasure indeed.

  11. My two Scottish great-grandfathers who eventually immigrated to the US were also well known for their singing; as was the son of one of them. My dad can still remember in going to a furniture store to hear his uncle Andrew sing on the radio from a San Francisco station.


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