Those who braved the elements last Friday evening to take themselves along to the town hall were richly rewarded when the members, past and present, of Hawick Amateur Operatic Society opened their centenary celebration concert – On With The Show – a kaleidoscopic presentation of musical highlights drawn from 1,000 years’ experience. The whole gamut of the repertoire was represented. From the first 20 years we had Gilbert and Sullivan favourites from HMS Pinafore, The Gondoliers and The Pirates Of Penzance and if some believed Gilbert and Sullivan to be old hat, they got a scintillating, powerful awakening with When The Foeman Bares His Steel from The Pirates. The society showed us that Sullivan is still up there with the best of them and this is Sullivan at his best – powerful melody and countermelody interspersed with tuneful solos.
Next came the quarter-century from 1929-1954 and the rise in popularity of the musical play proper – stimulated, of course, by the massive popularity of the cinema, the ‘talkies’ coming to Hawick the very same week as the society’s first real launch of a musical in March, 1930. The Friday and Saturday night selection was taken from The Arcadians, The Desert Song, The Student Prince and The New Moon. In the section which followed, entitled Broadway Comes To Hawick, we were reminded of just what a breath of fresh air Oklahoma was during the years of austerity which followed the Second World War. The Society presented no less than five Rogers and Hammerstein classics (some of them more than once) between 1955 and 1985 but there was still a place for the very British show – Ivor Novello’s The Dancing Years, Vivian Ellis’s Bless The Bride and Noel Coward’s Bitter Sweet, for example, and for forays into ‘real’ opera such as Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow, all of which were represented in these concerts.
Well chosen, brief narrations introduced each section. These were useful interludes which gave the audiences not only a potted history of the society, but the reasons behind some of the developments. They were also honest diversions because they told the story of the society as it was, and the real difficulties of its survival. The biggest difficulty since the War has been a shortage of men, much of it owing to a misguided belief that there is something unmanly in stage work. Well, those who think this way should have been present to hear George Storie and Elliot Goldie give performances that would be the envy of any community. And, at the end of the day, this is what ‘the opera’ is about – community – the thing Hawick does best. To sit in that hall on Friday and Saturday was to feel privileged that we live in such a community; here were all the ingredients – vibrancy, vitality, older people working with youth, dedication and a plethora of just sheer ability. Everyone was capable. All gave their all. The movement routines by Anne Anderson and the zippy pace set by Derek Calder and a highly-competent band just carried the evening along.
The years 1985-2008 were variously named after the producers Bill Harvey and Jean Wintrope. There can be little doubt that they changed the Society and made it what it is today, a sample of which was on show in these performances. This period was characterised by some of the most demanding shows – West Side Story, for example – pointers to the way the society was going – upwards.
What then of the performers? Well, anyone present would relate an evening of unalloyed pleasure. Every soloist and ensemble member acquitted him/herself with a zest that bespoke the reason for their membership of HAOS and a number of former members from the audience accepted the president’s invitation to come up on stage to partake in the penultimate chorus, Oklahoma; a fitting and inclusive gesture. This is not to be politically correct, because there were four performers who shone with an extra glow in this glittering galaxy, namely George Storie, Elliot Goldie, Lyndsey Motley (nee McCredie) and the centenary president, Deborah Lyons.
George’s stage presence and vocal technique revealed a formal vocal training from early days, while Lyndsey had been invited to perform with the Society with which she had made such an impact as Calamity Jane. What can one say of Elliot Goldie – he’s the professional who hasn’t forgotten his roots – and he demonstrated the full range of vocal technique and expression in his renditions of the Drinking Song from The Student Prince and Maria from West Side Story. And finally, Madam president – Deborah demonstrating exactly why she is a worthy centenary president of this remarkable society. Her presentation of Come To The Cabaret from the musical Cabaret could challenge the best of West End artistes.
The society, with three highly-successful shows under its belt with new producer, Brian McGlasson, has had a remarkable year.
These concerts were the penultimate event in a year of celebration for HAOS. The centenary celebrations will end with an exhibition at the museum, commencing in October and running almost until Christmas.