'Lasting impact' as Harrrogate choir leader bows out

Emotional moment - Chairman of Harrogate's Business Improvement District John Fox presents a certificate to Rhiannon Gayle on behalf of the Volunteering Oscars.
Emotional moment - Chairman of Harrogate's Business Improvement District John Fox presents a certificate to Rhiannon Gayle on behalf of the Volunteering Oscars.

A special award for her years of service was a fitting end to Rhiannon Gayle's tenure at the helm of Harrogate's hugely successful - and really quite large- community choir Rock Up and Sing!

The surprise presentation was made by John Fox on behalf of the district's Volunteering Oscar awards at the end of the choir's finale concert in Harrogate Convention Centre, the town's biggest venue.

End of an era - Three hundred choir members and a live band performed at Harrogate Convention Centre when Rhiannon Gayle concluded a decade in charge of Rock Up and Sing!

End of an era - Three hundred choir members and a live band performed at Harrogate Convention Centre when Rhiannon Gayle concluded a decade in charge of Rock Up and Sing!

Rhiannon was also commended by Andrew Jones, MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, who told the audience that what she had created would leave a "lasting impact on the community."

John Fox said: "We had it in mind to recognise Rhiannon this year for everything she has done over the last 10 years with Rock Up and Sing!.

"When we heard she planned to step down with a finale concert at Harrogate Convention Centre, we couldn't miss the opportunity to make a presentation in front of the choir and so many family, friends and supporters in one place.

"The Harrogate district thrives because of people like Rhiannon: dedicated, ambitious and incredibly generous with their time and talents. It was a pleasure to be able to recognise her achievements and congratulate her after another wonderful concert."

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Rock Up and Sing! was founded by professional singer Rhiannon Gayle in 2009.

Since then, it has grown to include five different ensembles offering a wide range of performances, from small charity events to huge concerts.

Through a wide range of events and performances, the choirs have raised more than £36,000 for a variety of charities and good causes.

Speaking afterwards, Rhiannon said: "I was completely surprised by the presentation – we had just performed our curtain call and I was making my way off stage when two familiar faces appeared in front of the choirs!

"It's an honour to be recognised for my work with Rock Up and Sing! over the last decade since I set it up, and especially for the money we've raised together through charity events and concerts.

"None of it would have been possible without a wonderful team in the office keeping everything running smoothly, as well as the most enthusiastic choir members you could ever wish for who turned all my mad ideas into reality."

The concert itself, performed to an enthusiastic audience at Harrogate Convention Centre, was a tour de force of the choir's biggest hits performed over the years.

From Coldplay to Meatloaf, ELO to U2, the 300 singers and live band covered numerous genres, bringing their own style to each – and with a backdrop of highlights taken from the previous decade on a huge screen behind them.

They were joined by Christian Lunn, a professional singer now performing in the West End, who returned to Harrogate for the finale concert.

Christian joined Rock Up and Sing! as a teenager, going to the first rehearsal with his mum, Berenice. Rhiannon, who was also his singing teacher, spotted his burgeoning talent and supported him to develop it.

He wowed the audience with three performances, including joining the choirs for a stunning version of Queen’s Somebody to Love.

The choir members themselves shared the limelight throughout the night, with Brian Johnson and Natalie Farrell shining for Baba Yetu which has been a favourite for the choirs over many years.

Meanwhile, Robin Ingledew's solo added a haunting note to The Sound of Silence.

As with so many Rock Up and Sing! performances, it was also used as a fundraiser for a worthy cause.

Thanks to the generosity of the audience, £1,600 was raised for Jessie's Fund, which uses music to support young people with additional needs and serious illness.

While the presentation to Rhiannon crowned the final public performances for Rock Up and Sing!, the friendships made over the years were cemented with a celebration for choir members the following week.

It was also another chance to support a charity close to their hearts, with £680 raised for the Ostrich Foundation, a Harrogate-based organisation which aims to prevent suicide in young people.

From dancing to their favourite tracks to delivering a surprise take on Abba’s Thank You For the Music dedicated to their leader, the ‘Rocksters’ proved they know how to party - and plans are already afoot to share their musical skills in new ways over the coming months.

Rhiannon said: “It was a wonderful way to conclude our decade together. I’ve been so touched by all the messages people have sent me and the things they’ve done to mark the end of this era.

“Now it’s time for a new chapter for all of us. I’ve got my own plans for using music in new ways to help other people, and I can’t wait to see what the choir members do next, too.”

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