Hi, I’m Ian Ball and I’m playing the role of Elias Hall the choirmaster at St. Mary’s parish church in Oldham. Set in 1701 ‘Singers not Sinners’ tells the true story of how Elias Hall convinces the vicar and the Bishop of Chester to allow women to sing in church, something that had been forbidden since the birth of Christianity.
It was a dangerous task and he could have been severely punished for his actions. Speaking out and going against the wishes of the parish elders could lead to a time in the stocks, prison or even worse. All it would take would be an accusation from someone else, even a false one, and the constable would be knocking on your door.
We do know a little about Elias Hall. He was born within ‘bowshot’ of St Mary’s Parish Church and took on the role of choirmaster in 1696, on the death of his predecessor Abraham Hurst. In 1708 Hall compiled and published one of the earliest collections of provincial parish music: ‘The Psalm-Singers Compleat Companion’. Thankfully he wrote down his predecessors teaching methods in a memorandum book dated 1701 and kept a detailed record of his experiences as choirmaster in Oldham, without which it is unlikely that his story and those of the women who sang in church for the very first time, could be told today.
This is my first time performing with Saddleworth players but have played with other local societies over the last 12 years or so, having come late to the boards. Earlier this year I was presented with the NODA Northwest region award for ‘Best Male Lead in a Musical’ for my role as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof with Saddleworth Musical Society way back in 2019 (Yes Covid 19 slowed things down a little).
I play guitar, button accordeon and blues harmonica, none of which existed three centuries ago and being ‘cantankerous’, ‘curmudgeonly’, and ‘bloody minded’ means that I am well qualified to take on this role.
I’m looking forward to bringing Elias Hall back to life 321 years after he put his neck on the line for church music and for which, thankfully, he didn’t lose it.
‘Singers not Sinners’ will be performed by Saddleworth Players at Millgate Arts Centre from the 4th to the 9th of June and then the 11th, there is no performance on Whit Friday the 10th.