A first-rate amateur choral conductor with an unfailing sensitivity to music and words, and the high artistic standards of a professional: such was Charles Scarratt, a man of humble origins with such a passionate love of music that it became a major part of his waking life and, probably, his dreams as well.
It was while working at Cammell Lairds Shipyard during the second World War that he formed a male voice choir there from tradesmen of all descriptions, giving them a life-enhancing experience which they would almost certainly never have had but for Charles.
Eventually, women’s voices were added to the choir which then became known, and is still known today, as the Birkenhead Choral Society. Under Charles’s expert guidance it developed a distinctive style of singing – beautiful tone, diction and musical phrasing, all of which contributed to a true and individual interpretation of music and words, giving enormous pleasure to audiences and earning the highest praise from adjudicators at many competitions.
The repertoire was extensive, including religious and secular music by a vast array of composers of many nationalities and from different periods of music, but whether oratorio or part-song, every work received the same artistic treatment. Stanford’s ‘Bluebird’ could not have been given a more beautiful and haunting performance by any professional choir under a professional conductor.
In order to capture the flavour of Charles’s personality, it is important to say that much of his success as a choral conductor derived from the ease with which he communicated with people, not only through intelligence and human sympathy, but also through a deliciously keen sense of humour. Once, in rehearsal, after a rather ineffective rendering of the triumphant fanfare which concludes Vaughan Williams’ ‘Valiant For Truth’, he quipped, “Trumpets, did you say? They sounded more like the bawlie’s bugle!” which raised loud spontaneous laughter from the choir and encouraged a marked improvement in the singing. I think the choir enjoyed the jokes as much as the music (and sometimes couldn’t sing for laughing!).
Charles at Llangollen
A person of this calibre who through his talent and dedication to music contributed so much pleasure and enjoyment to thousands of people, deserves to be honoured and commemorated in some material way, so that the people of Birkenhead know what a treasure they had in their fellow-townsman – Charles Scarratt.
We should all be hugely proud of such a man.
(Pictured in the conductors' tent, Llangollen, 1978)
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