LANGCLIFFE Singers, which this year celebrates its 40th anniversary, was founded by Valerie Baulard, a successful singer who performed in London, as well as Germany, France, the United States and Sri Lanka.

Today, the choir has more than 60 members, but it started life in 1983 as a small group of seven women and one boy treble, who rehearsed in Valerie's cottage in Langcliffe.

Valerie, who is now retired and living in Morecambe, sang at venues such as Glyndebourne, Wigmore Hall and the Purcell Rooms, and her final professional performances were at Opera North in Leeds.

Her mezzo voice, also with a good contralto range, together with her small stature meant that in opera she was too short for “trouser roles” so she usually played nurses or similar, although her first loves were - and are - oratorio and song recitals.

After working in Leeds, including as a tutor of classical and jazz voices at Leeds College of Music,Valerie and her husband, Howard, who was a clarinettist in the Opera North Orchestra, bought a cottage in Langcliffe, where she began to give singing lessons.

The first Langcliffe Singers rehearsed in Valerie's cottage and did an unaccompanied concert at Fountains Abbey.

The group gradually grew to about 20 people and the repertoire expanded to include opera and Gilbert and Sullivan as well as the usual choral repertoire. Valerie's wide knowledge meant she could choose enjoyable pieces with which the choir and local soloists could cope. At one point, Langcliffe Singers had 86 members with rehearsals taking place at Settle Middle School.

To give the choir a major connection to the world of professional singing, Valerie asked Sir Thomas Allen to be its president. She had sung with Tom in London and knew him quite well. Sir Thomas remains president of Langcliffe Singers today and has sent his good wishes on the 40th anniversary year.

Valerie's most treasured moments were the Millennium opera galas at Christ Church, Skipton with Settle Orchestra which her husband conducted at the time; a performance of Elijah at Kirkby Malham Church in 1993, and two performances of Verdi’s Requiem.

Her insistence on high standards meant she overcame any doubters who thought an amateur choir in the Dales could not make first class music.

Valerie was awarded the prestigious Sir Charles Groves Award in 2002 for her inspirational work bringing music to the community. Valerie stepped down from the choir in 2004 - having always said she would step down after 20 years if the choir was still going.

Asked what advice she would give to Langcliffe Singers for the future, she said members should keep enjoying their singing, keep the membership up and give enjoyment to the audience through good singing.

The first staged production by the singers was Trial by Jury, which was notable not only for the excellent reviews but also for the abrupt disappearance of the men on the back row in the courtroom scene when the staging collapsed.

Undeterred by such a beginning, the choir went on to stage full-scale operas under the mantle of Craven Opera Group. Several of the stars of these early operas are still singing in the choir today.

In 1989 Valerie’s husband Howard Rogerson joined Settle Orchestra as musical director, beginning a long and fruitful collaboration. Several members of the choir play in the orchestra, as do family and friends, and together have put on many joint productions over the years, including requiem masses by Verdi and Brahms.

In 1993 the accomplished piano accompanist Brain Heaton was appointed, adding an extra string to the singers' bow and dimension to both rehearsals and performances, and is still with the singers' today.

In 1995 some members travelled to Dublin to attend the Voices of the World choral spectacular, and in 1998 an intrepid contingent travelled to Banyuls Sur Mer, France, Settle’s twin town. In 2003 a group went to Benifaio, Spain, as guests of Cor Madrigal. They took part in the Easter celebrations in the local church, and in August of the same year repaid the hospitality and welcomed Cor Madrigal to Craven on a reciprocal visit.

In 2000 the choir performed the Northern premiere of Douglas Coombes’ Requiem, with the composer present at both venues. In the same year they recorded a CD: With a Voice of Singing at Christ Church in Skipton.

Tricia Rees- Jones, a member of the choir, followed Valerie in the role of music director in 2004, and two years later, the choir commissioned a work The Leaves of Life by Andrew Gant, Master of Music at the Chapel Royal.

In 2009 Tricia moved out of the area and Nigel Waugh took up the reins.

In 2012, in keeping with the tradition of celebrating important events by performing with Settle Orchestra, a joint concert marked the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation.

In 2021 Nigel retired and Darren Everhart, recently returned from Rome, took over. The choir continues to flourish.