|The photograph is unique in that it records the only collaboration between the universally renowned orchestra and a choir of 250 working class school children lacking conventional musical training|
The Children's choir recorded a version of Purcell’s Nymphs and Shepherds (with the Halle Orchestra conducted by Sir Hamilton Harty) at the Free Trade Hall in 1929. The 78rpm recording became a huge hit in record shops across the country. “After a year of training, they recorded Purcell’s Nymphs and Shepherds – and it started selling like hot cakes.These children were singing their hearts out and it just choked the nation."
Grammar School pupils were assumed to have no time to spare for non-academic endeavours such as this, which required two evenings a week rehersal throughout the whole academic year.
The Choir consisted of 60 boys and 190 girls, aged 9 to 14, drawn from Manchester's Elementary schools (mainly 'central' - Mum attended Armtage Street School). The choir was predominantly working-class since those children whose parents could afford musical instruments and music lessons went into the School Children's Orchestra. Estimates state that a third of the choir's parents were unemployed. The children were taught to sing phonetically to erase local dialect and Gertrude Riall did a wonderful job in eradicating the extremes of the Manchester accent. Fifty years later Gertrude Riall conducted members of the 1929 choir at a reunion in the Manchester Town Hall.
The whole endeavour encapsulates the social history of Manchester at the time. The photograph shows the old Free Trade Hall, before the interior was destroyed during the bombing of 1940-41. The orchestra consists entirely of men because of the conductor's (Hamilton Harty) insistence that, during the Depression, women were not to be employed as they might be taking a place that a man, as the dominant bread-winner of a family, could fulfil.