A THEATRE fanatic is taking a much-needed break after leading the council’s Civic Choir for 38 years.
John Higgins, 76, of Gawber, took over the choirmaster role in 1986 when the abolishment of the old county council left the then-staff-run choir without direction.
“Back then it was all staff,” he said.
“We’d have rehearsals with police officers showing up in uniform, anyone who’d been a part of the county council or the new borough council could get involved.
“Everyone was excellent – eventually numbers started to dwindle though. I think it was the introduction of ‘flexitime’ that affected us – we’d rehearse on Tuesday lunchtime and then go straight back to work after.
“As people’s schedules changed that wasn’t as easy, so I recommended it become open so anyone could join.”
The change in 2010 proved successful and choir membership rose once more, reaching a high of 50 members, almost double of that in 1986 when John took over.
While the Civic Choir proved a huge success, it wasn’t John’s only musical work, as he also served as musical director for Sheffield’s Croft House Theatre Company.
“It was based at the Lyceum until that closed and then moved to the City Hall,” John added. “We led a production of The King and I in the 1988 and sold out the City Hall.
“It was a big thing to do that back then, so I went outside and just stood looking at the full house sign.
“It grew to a big company – when the Lyceum reopened we moved back there which was great, it’s one of the best theatres in the world.”
Eventually the regular trips to Sheffield city centre grew tiresome and in 2001 he stepped back from the theatre company to focus on his work at the choir and playing the organ at Emmanuel Church, which he still does to this day.
His love of theatre became in his words an ‘obsession’, and John eventually decided to focus his passion on creating a book, West End in Watercolour.
“I always knew I could draw, but never really had a reason to. When I knew I wanted to do the book it gave me a reason to go back to it – I’d never done much painting before so gave it a go.
“Last year my friend worked on a book called Barnsley in 50 Buildings and asked if I could do any paintings. I’ve got about a dozen in there – I really focused on the Civic since there’s not a lot of space to get a full photo of it.
“I took about half a dozen pictures and then merged them together in the painting.”
With all this work dedicated to the theatre, it’s no wonder John is ready to leave the stage.
Last Monday, Mayor of Barnsley Mick Stowe hosted a presentation for John, thanking him for his many years’ service that he’s finally ready to leave behind.
“It just feels right,” John said, “I think you know when it’s time, there’s nothing wrong, I’ve just had enough now. I’ll continue playing the organ for Emmanuel Church but that’s it for music, really. We go on lots of holidays, so I’ll be doing more of that now.”