The Sounds of Music

Frank Smith – A Year of Celebration!

When writing about someone knowing where to begin is usually the most difficult bit.  In Frank Smith's case it is more difficult to know when to stop.  His life is an extraordinary mix of talent and achievements but his overriding passion is music.

Frank was born into a musical family.  In 1957 his father, the late Jack Smith, became conductor of the Nelson Arion Male Voice Choir; a choir established in 1887.  He also became conductor of a mixed voice choir, Keighley Vocal Union in 1937.  This was a relatively 'young' choir having been established in 1906.  Frank and his brothers, David and John were, at various times, singing members of one or other of the choirs.

When Jack retired, Frank became conductor of both choirs and under his leadership these two already excellent and successful choirs went on to even greater achievements.

This is a special year for Frank.  He will have been conductor of the male voice choir for 50 years and the conductor of Keighley Vocal Union (now renamed KVU Singers) for 35 years.  Under his leadership the Arion dominated the Llangollen International Eisteddfod for many years winning the male voice class on numerous occasions.  Arion were also crowned Radio Wales Choir of the Year on two occasions, an honour they still hold because the competition no longer takes place.

Frank has also had notable success with KVU Singers at various festivals including Worcester, Llangollen and most recently winning the Isle of Man 'Festival of Choirs' competition.

As if two choirs were not enough Frank also conducted the Colne Linden Singers, a small mixed voice choir who also had a busy festival and concert programme, joining forces with his other choirs for the performance of major works and making an impressive team.

This year of celebration is tinged with a touch of sadness because Frank has decided to 'hang up his Arion hat' taking the stage with them for their final concert at Barrowford on 24th June.  Their guests on this occasion will be KVU Singers.

Frank spares no energy, working himself and his singers hard, producing magnificent results, his musicianship is undoubted and has earned him the respect of all his choir members.  His repertoire is wide, spanning all genres available to choral singing and includes sacred, ancient and modern music and some that is just for fun!

When the Tour de France had its Grand depart in Yorkshire, KVU Singers was privileged to be one of the small number of Yorkshire choirs chosen to perform a specially commissioned work by Alexander L'Estrange called 'Vive la Vélorution' which was presented in the magnificent setting of York Minster.

You might be forgiven for assuming the Frank had no time for anything but his music, but at the same time he pursued a career in law, working for many years from Colne.  He enjoys being in his garden and particularly loves to indulge in another of his passions, walking  Not for him though, a leisurely stroll in the countryside! In this, as in all things, he loves a challenge.  He has successfully completed many difficult 'endurance' walks, and, for charitable causes (but probably as much for fun), has trekked in the Himalayas, climbed Kilimanjaro and followed the Inca trail. The choirs have a few holiday weeks and Frank's usual choice of holiday adventure is to pack a few necessities into his camper van and tick off a few more places on his ever-shortening bucket list.

For all his achievements Frank is a modest man, proud of his choirs when they have given the best they can, humbled when praise is heaped upon him.

Caught for a few moments when he didn't have something more pressing to do he gave a few personal insights into his life:

His earliest musical memories:  “I attended the primary department of Steeton Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School, where Marjorie Gathercole was in charge of the chapel choir”

The start of conducting:  “I was still at the chapel singing in the choir pre-university.  I came back and they had no choirmaster so I stepped in, meeting every Sunday, going to special events and competing at festivals.”

How come a Yorkshireman was conducting a choir in Nelson, Lancashire?

“Their former distinguished conductor, Lawson Berry, came from Cowling so no conflict! I followed my father in 1967, having sung with him since 1957.”

What do you enjoy doing that is not music?

“I am happy in my garden and enjoy the veg. plot.  I love being in the UK's hill country where I find the peace of the landscape spiritually uplifting, I also love to travel overseas and find adventure getting off the beaten track”

And the future?

"I want to continue as conductor of KVU for as long as senses permit, looking always for something to provide fresh stimulus”

Frank is a man of many parts.  Training and practising as a lawyer is all about forensic attention to detail, meticulously ensuring that everything is accurate, precise and ordered. This sounds to be an unlikely environment where creativity can grow, but perhaps that is the secret of his success.  He is supremely creative but pays scrupulous attention to detail.

Giving up one of his remaining two choirs will not leave Frank scratching his head wondering what to do next.  Music will probably continue to be the dominant motivation in his life and long may it continue.

As part of Frank's special year and to celebrate his lifetime's dedication to music, KVU Singers are promoting a celebrations concert in King's Hall, Ilkley where their guests will be the world renowned King's Singers.  All details can be found here.