Music at Hillside

There has only been 5 organists at Hillside since the chapel was built in 1899.Raymond Smith took up the position in October 1969 when he was 21, Raymond was then a fifth generation dairy farmer in the hamlet of White Coppice. When he arrived there was a small choir singing the occasional traditional church anthem.

The choir disbanded in the late 70’s until Raymond went to see ‘Joseph’ in 1985 and was inspired to put on a performance at Hillside. He went round to see all the men to form the brothers chorus most said they couldn’t sing but he ended up with 18 of them, a children’s choir, and a semi-chorus of ladies. The performance was sold out and 2 more had to be scheduled, both a sell out. That Christmas Raymond asked for people to make up a choir for the carol service and 45 people turned up. So began the Hillside Singers. The newly formed choir began to sing Raymond’s arrangements of worship songs during worship.

After Joseph, Raymond was inspired to write a musical based on the Old Testament story of ‘Samuel’. After a long search for a lyricist he teemed up with Jan Krampf from Manchester. Samuel was performed 4 days after his 40th birthday in March 1988 and was a big hit. Over the next 12mths it was performed 15 times, all sold out. The choir started to give concerts and sing during worship all round the northwest and had now reached 55 in number with a waiting list. Raymond has since written 3 more musicals, ‘Francis’ (of Assisi) ‘The Small Woman’ the story of Gladys Aylward and ‘Anno Domini’, a concert work written for the millennium. Much of this music is suitable for worship and some of it was used in a covenant service broadcast on Radio 4.

The choir have raised many thousands for church and charity and have sung at Christmas concerts in Blackburn, Manchester and Liverpool cathedrals for NCH. The same charity benefited from 3 of Raymond’s musicals being performed with large choirs in concert halls such as the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and raised £45,000.
In 2000, Raymond gave up farming and went to college to study garden design and has set up his company, Stones and Roses Garden Design. His health has not been as good over the past 5 years so no new musicals, but the choir still numbers 40 of all ages and sing most weeks during worship. Hillside, which has a fast growing congregation, has now a worship band of 12 who play during the first part of the service.