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`Woodside’, as it is generally known, started as the Bishops’ High School Old Girls’ Choir in 1952, initially to participate in the first Music Festival held in then British Guiana. The Choir was so successful, winning both their Class Trophy and the Championship Trophy in the Festival, that they continued to sing as a group, admitting men at a later date.
Their motto, `We sing for the joy of singing’ was coined by a Music Festival Adjudicator who described the choir in those terms in his glowing report on their performance.
This choir has served Guyana well over the decades at important national functions as well as overseas.
Woodside’s renditions featured regularly in the programmes organised at the National Park in observance of Guyana’s Republic Day celebrations, and older folk would remember their lively performances under the lighted tree in Company Path each Christmas, and at concerts in the Town Hall and at other venues.
Communities in rural areas have also benefited from their talent since they often appeared at concerts out of Georgetown, travelling as far as the Essequibo Coast. In recognition of this sterling service to the community the Choir was awarded a national honour, the Medal of Service, in 1992 for service to the community in the field of music.
During the seventies and eighties, Bill Pilgrim, Conductor of Woodside and Director of Music at the Department of Culture, wrote and produced several musicals highlighting aspects of Guyanese culture. The choir performed in them all, together with other notable local artistes, such as Pauline Thomas and the Guyana Police Force Band and Choir.
The Choir represented Guyana at the Grenada Expo in 1969, at the Suriname Trade Show in 1971, at the first Carifesta in Guyana in 1972 and at Carifesta in Cuba in 1979.
Woodside continued to serve the nation and observed its 40th anniversary in 1992 by organising a very successful Commemorative Music Festival, which served to expose Guyana’s youth to the tradition of the musical art forms familiar to their parents’ generation - choral singing, vocal and piano solos, duets and trios, and even steelband playing.
In observance of its 50th anniversary, the choir, among its other activities, produced its first Compact Disc, a volume of Christmas music that includes well-loved traditional favourites, and other songs that demonstrate the choir’s versatility. These include their popular `ching ching a ling’ version of Jingle Bells and the controversial `Christmas Invasion’ which always seems to raise the ire of the Guyanese back home for Christmas and at whom the song takes humorous aim!
The yearlong observance of this very significant achievement comes to an end with a special show at the National Cultural Centre on December 29, where Woodside will share the stage with the Marigolds - a children’s choir that has been associated with Woodside for several years - and Korokwa, the offshoot of Woodside, which specialises in folk music.
The nation can take pride in the sterling achievement of this committed group of Guyanese, who have demonstrated that Guyanese do have the capacity, willingness and dedication to persevere with goals in the face of adversity, emerging stronger and better for the experience.