In September 1972 BBC Radio Sheffield approached James Kirkwood, Head of Music at Thornbridge School, and asked him to form and conduct a three hundred strong choir. The idea was for the choir to join with three brass bands at Christmas in the City Hall, to present a concert for recording and future broadcasting, an event which was called A Feast of Brass and Voices. This was such a success that it became an annual event.
After the second of these successful jamborees the radio station asked him to form a resident BBC choir to record and broadcast throughout the year, which he did, bringing together about thirty of his musical friends and colleagues who had sung in the large Feast choir. And so in January 1974 this group met for the first time in Studio 3 at Radio Sheffield. The growing choir stayed in this studio for six months, and then moved to an educational establishment, Melbourne House, for some time, eventually settling in Langsett Music Centre, where James was based.
From the outset James decided that the choir would sing all kinds of music, from early Renaissance to twentieth century – sacred, secular, part songs, ‘pop’ songs, Songs from the Shows and major choral works.
The Radio Sheffield Choir quickly gained a reputation for singing music that the man and woman in the street enjoyed. The choir was featured on Radios 2, 3 and 4, including two very successful performances on the programme, ‘Glamorous Nights’ on Radio 2.
In 1984, after ten years of working with Radio Sheffield, the choir changed its name to The Sheffield Chorale, increased its membership through audition, and took on board large choral works with orchestra.
During all this time the choir raised many thousands of pounds for local and national charities through many of its performances, of which its main one, the annual Festival of Lessons and Carols at St. John’s Church, Ranmoor, has always remained a popular and well-attended event.
During the next twenty years, TSC gained many followers and supporters, making a number of European concert tours and funding its own recordings.
In 2005 James retired from the Chorale as conductor and Craig Edwards was appointed to take up the baton. He was a professional orchestral conductor, busy working with Northern Ballet Company, and with musical shows in London, but after two years, his London commitments having increased, he reluctantly resigned from the choir. Thomas Leech was appointed conductor in January 2009, and the choir continued to develop its repertoire. TSC organised a vocal workshop and performance which was generously supported by BBC Choral Ambition. Tom has now moved on to further extend his musical career. Neil Taylor was appointed Musical Director in April 2011.