Making musical history: Harpenden Light Operatic Society

PUBLISHED: 17:14 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:29 20 February 2013

My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady

Kate Everett talks to Tom Quinn, the newly appointed Chairman of Harpenden Light Operatic Society about more than half a century of making musical history

In 1949, church organist, pianist, composer and new resident in Harpenden, Mowbray Maw decided the village was lacking one very important thing. Determined to bring musical theatre to Harpenden, he enlisted the help of his brother-in-law Brian Chidell, then the Headmaster of Aldwickbury School, and local businessman Percy Claridge.
On June 24, 1950 the Harpenden Free Press carried an announcement of an open meeting in Harpenden's Public Hall to start the ball rolling. Given Harpenden's small population in 1950, the trio were pleasantly surprised when a packed hall of enthusiasts boosted membership from three to 132 and the Harpenden Light Operatic Society was born.
For this year's new chairman, Tom Quinn, the nostalgia associated with the society is as alluring as its promising future. As he explains, 'Our first production was The Pirates of Penzance, in April 1951 - the year I was born. So one of the things I share with HLOS is that we are exactly the same age. That first HLOS production was a great success, and almost without exception since then we have mounted two shows every year. If you include this autumn's production of Chess we will have presented 110 shows in total.'
The society's success has much to do with the support of the Harpenden community, local businesses and the dedicated team of volunteers who pull together to put in the immense amount of work involved in producing each high-quality show. 'We have members who can boast three generations of commitment, and an audience that has supported us through six decades,' Tom says. 'As a voluntary organisation, it really is a labour of love for the membership. We live in a commuter-belt, so we have in our midst people who have high profile City jobs during the day, but are happy to come along to sing and act or make the tea or paint scenery in their spare time.
'What we are essentially doing is carrying on a truly British tradition,' Tom continues. 'From the time Richard D'Oyly Carte licensed Gilbert and Sullivan operas in the late 1800s, amateur societies across the UK have thrived on making live theatre accessible to the general public. People love to come along and experience a top-quality show, with a live orchestra and really feel a part of the production.'
Since its inception, Harpenden Light Operatic Society has indeed gone from strength to strength. Highlights throughout the decades have included its chorus performing at the Royal Albert Hall, young members going on to professional careers in the theatre, film and media, and a recent National Operatic and Dramatic Association award for 'Best Show' (The King and I). Not forgetting those famous Harpies; the society's own version of the Oscar awards ceremony.
Harpies they may win, but however talented cast members may be, egos don't figure in the cast. 'It's a friendly family atmosphere,' says Tom. 'The stars of previous shows can often be found working behind the scenes at subsequent productions or even ushering ticket holders to their seats as front of house staff during show week'.
The society is gearing up for this month's production, while looking forward to the future, as Tom explains, 'Our current show is Chess and we have assembled an excellent cast of highly talented principals from across Hertfordshire, along with our amazing chorus and two very talented directors, John Hebden and Graham Thomson. Looking even further to the future, in October 2010 we will celebrate our Diamond Jubilee with a production of one of Gilbert and Sullivan's greatest successes, The Gondoliers.
'Our members are our greatest strength, and the support we have from the Harpenden community is incredible - we look forward to entertaining them for many more years.'

Chess runs from October 6 to 11, 2008 at Harpenden Public Halls. Contact the Harpenden Light Operatic Society box office on 01582 624147

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