Pam calls it a day after 79 years with church choir

By Nicki Harper

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MUSICAL FRIENDS: Pam Hewitt, centre, with fellow St Mary's Church choir members from left Joyce Doak, Jenny Cudby and Kath Fletcher, who will miss her regular presence among them. PHOTO/PAUL TAYLOR
MUSICAL FRIENDS: Pam Hewitt, centre, with fellow St Mary's Church choir members from left Joyce Doak, Jenny Cudby and Kath Fletcher, who will miss her regular presence among them. PHOTO/PAUL TAYLOR

Music has been a constant in Waipukurau nonagenarian Pam Hewitt's life, but last month she set down her song sheet and resigned from the St Mary's Church Choir of which she had been a member for 79 years.

"I was hoping to hold out until September next year when it would have been 80 years, but I had quite a bad fall," said the 94-year-old, who now resides at Woburn Home, and whose memory is sharp as a pin when recalling her early introduction to music.

She first joined the choir in September 1937, at the invitation of Mrs Bryce, the church organist at the time.

Although Mrs Hewitt had just started boarding at Nga Tawa Diocesan School, and could only be available for weekends, that was no problem according to Mrs Bryce and so the church choir pews welcomed a new member.

The choir was thriving in those days, she said, with rows each of tenors, basses, altos and sopranos.

They would sing at an 11am service, then a 7pm service, followed by practise.

"In those days we would sing real anthems - we had a thick, anthem book and they were long and lovely with all the old words - the 'thys' and 'thous'.

Much better than today's modern hymns in her opinion, which have been adapted so the congregation can sing along.

Dressed in black skirts, with white cassocks and mortarboard hats the women were joined by a good number of men, a far cry from today with a current membership of about 14 members, and currently no men.

Singing was not her only musical forte. She also learned the violin for some time, although her father was not totally approving of her switch from the piano.

"I was learning the piano at Nga Tawa and told my music teacher I wanted to play the violin.

"She gave me some secret lessons and I asked my father if I could learn the violin and he said no, to stay with the piano.

"Then Mary Martin said okay we will surprise your father - at the end of the year at the fete you will be in the orchestra, and from then on I learned the violin."

Her passion for the instrument was such that she would cycle from Waipukurau to her weekly lessons in Havelock North with her violin on board, on roads that at that time were not completely tarsealed.

"There was no other way to get there - and after my lesson I would bike into Hastings and wait for the goods train at 5pm."

The first time she embarked on the trip it took three hours, she said, but within about 18 months she had whittled that down to about an hour and a half, before fate stepped in to relieve her of her arduous journey.

"One day it was pouring with rain and as I passed the Waipawa town clock a ute stopped and a man, Duncan Holden, asked me where I was going - he said he saw me every Wednesday.

"I told him I was going to my lesson and he said that he went to his other farm every Wednesday and offered to pick me up and that's what we did from that day on - although I still had to wait for the train to come home."

She still had two violins until she gave one to her great-granddaughter to learn on, and with her eyesight gone now, and unable to play by ear, she had not continued to play herself.

Her blindness was also a factor in resigning from the choir, she said.

'I love singing and I tried to resign from the choir a few years ago but they said no. Now that I'm blind I can't remember all the words, because they have changed them to modern words, so sometimes I just go 'ooh' and 'aah'."

Although not a regular with the choir, however, she said she was keen to offer her services on occasion.

"When I resigned I told them that although it's not likely, if any of the other choir members die before I do could I join the choir to sing at their funeral?"

Choir musical director Kath Fletcher said she had no problem with that request and noted that the St Mary's Church was one of the few churches in Hawke's Bay to still have a choir.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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