Special church service for King’s Lynn chorister still too shy to sing solo after 70 years
- Credit: Olwyn Barber
Choir-singing is quickly becoming a lost tradition, much like attending church save for a christening, wedding or a funeral. But one woman has spent almost her entire life keeping that tradition alive.
Olywn Barber has been singing for the St Faith's Church choir in Gaywood, King's Lynn, for 70 years, and is believed to be one of the longest-serving choir girls in the country.
Her interest in singing began at a young age when she attended Gaywood Park Girls School. She decided to join the choir in 1947 when she was just 12 years old, at a time when the choir was reserved for boys and men.
'I just felt I had a reasonably good voice,' Mrs Barber said. 'And what better place to sing than in the church choir?
'It was very much lads in the choir, it was unusual for girls and ladies to join. When I joined there were only three ladies in the choir, we weren't accepted very fairly.'
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At the turn of her 13th birthday, Mrs Barber finally received her choir gown, marking the acceptance of women becoming choristers.
'I was excited to be allowed to join, I just enjoy singing so much.' Mrs Barber added.
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Such is her devotion to singing that she went on to sing two sessions almost every Sunday since first joining, totalling over 7,000 services. But even with vast experience, Mrs Barber still shys away from singing on her own.
'As you get older, you have to be a bit careful with high notes,' she explained. 'My voice has developed from a young girl's to a more mature voice.
'I wouldn't dare do solos. It's quite an ordeal singing on your own, I haven't gotten past getting nervous.'
Being divorced with no children, Mrs Barber said the church is her family. She has shared some of her treasured memories with her late friend Pearl Grummett, adding: 'Pearl joined the choir with me and I remember all the happy times I had with her. I have always lived near and been to my local church, it just feels comfortable. I have my friends there and I meet different people too.'
Now aged 82, Mrs Barber has seen King's Lynn transform from her earlier days working at Jermyns - now Debenhams - where she watched Queen Mary do her shopping, to working at Jaeger on Hardwick estate. She also worked for Birlingham jewellers before it shut down and entertained locals with her time at the King's Lynn Operatic and Dramatic Society.
St Faith's Church is holding a special service on April 30 to commemorate the 70 years Mrs Barber has stayed faithful to the church.
Mrs Barber said: 'It is a great honour. I suppose 70 years is a long time, it is nice people are recognising it.'