MANSFIELD Park in Hawick has rarely seen or heard the like since the halycon days when the town’s rugby team carried all before them.
On Sunday, an estimated crowd of 2,000 took to the hallowed turf to witness an extraordinary happening as 1,200 schoolchildren, packed into the stand, illuminated a unique event, dubbed the Big Sing.
“It was the mucklest choir in the history of muckle choirs,” observed master of ceremonies Ian Landles.
The retired teacher with a penchant for hyperbole is a member of the organising committee of Vision 2014, a four-year initiative born and bred in the town and set up to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the post-Flodden skirmish at Hornshole in 1514: a date woven into Hawick’s fabric and recalled, with much pride, at the Common Riding.
The programme of events celebrates arts and culture this year and will focus on sports (2012), industry (2013) and heritage (2014).
“Vision 2014 is about inspiring, motivating and involving young people to think about and be proud of their community, and develop interests and skills in an enjoyable way,” explained Mr Landles.
“Music is such a common language and local talent abounds, so we decided on the Big Sing and it turned out to be a real humdinger.”
Drawn from all 10 schools in Hawick and Liddesdale, the pupils in the stand had been rehearsing their songs for several weeks. They had also been drilled by local designer Lesley Turnbull in the synchronised art of displaying the blue and gold cards they had each been allocated to create a range of evocative images, including the town’s banner and the Vision 2014 message.
“The singing was so joyful and enthusiastic and the colours so vibrant, it is something I’ll never forget,” said Mr Landles.
The biggest cheer of the day was reserved for the grand entrance, after landing in a helicopter on a nearby pitch, of 2011 Cornet Michael Davidson and his beaming Lass Kirsteen Hill.
Michael was later to join his Right- and Left-Hand Men Greg Easton and Jamie Richardson and Acting Father Grahame Nichol – Hawick’s Big Four – to lead the muckle choir, bolstered now by the vocal chords of everyone in the ground, in Teribus.
Earlier, the young voices had added a flourish to an eclectic mix of music, starting with Scocha’s version of The Anvil Crew and continuing with Alan Brydon’s The Bonnie Banner Blue and Lois Niblo’s full-on take on M People’s Proud, which has emerged as an anthem for Vision 2014.
The Hawick PSA Choir performed Any Dream Will Do and Hawick Amateur Operatic Society sang Beauty and the Beast from the eponymous show it had staged in March.
Then the Hawick High School choir led the singing with The Best of A’. Written as a poem by Kerr Hartop, it had won first prize in the school’s S1 Common Riding poetry competition and had since been set to music by the school’s music teacher Jim Letham. Its debut performance on Sunday was as moving as any on a day which also featured a swirling, swaying Up Wi’ Auld Hawick, led by Hawick’s official song singer Michael Aitken.
VIP guests included MSPs John Lamont and Paul Wheelhouse, education director Glenn Rodger and current and past provosts Ron Smith and Zandra Elliot respectively.
Mr Landles singled out High School rector Alan Williamson for special praise.
“Just getting so many children to the one place was a huge logistical exercise and Alan had a key role to play in making this happen,” he said.
“The reaction in the town since Monday has been so very positive, with some folk hoping we can do it every year. That could never happen, but I’m sure we can try something similar in 2014.”