At 90 years old, Olive Sutton is showing no signs of slowing down.
For the past 75 years, the Handsworth pensioner has devoted her life to the promotion of opera and singing, and it’s a passion that still burns brightly.
As producer, director, musical arranger and conductor of The Sheaf Singers, the choir she formed in 1985, she works tirelessly - at regular rehearsals, in one-to-one singing lessons and organising numerous charitable concerts each year.
“When people get older, the general feeling seems to be ‘ooh isn’t it time they stopped?’ but whilst ever I have my faculties, I don’t understand why should I sit alone at home moping,” says Olive.
“It would be different if my health was failing, but I feel great, and I believe I still have a lot to give.”
Olive has been involved in singing at Victoria Hall Methodist Church, in Norfolk Street - where the choir rehearses - for the past 60 years.
From 1945 to 1970, she sang as solo soprano with numerous operatic societies, performing in hundreds of productions. In 1969 she founded The New Opera Group in Sheffield, designed to give regular people the opportunity to take part in opera. Between 1969 and 1984 she was music director and solo soprano for more than 50 productions.
With The Sheaf Singers, she has been able to dedicate herself to passing on her musical knowledge, as well as her love of opera, with hundreds of productions that have raised thousands of pounds for charities such as St Luke’s Hospice, Lupus UK, Help the Heroes and and Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind.
“I just like getting things out of people,” smiles Olive.
“It’s satisfying to have a rehearsal with the choir and see them get to the stage where I want them to be. It’s rewarding when you have a concert and people appreciate what you do, and the charities appreciate it.”
And it was this very dedication that saw Olive, at the age of 86, awarded the Queen’s British Empire Medal, for services to music and charitable fundraising.
“It was a real shock, I had no idea it was coming and I was very humbled by that,” says Olive.
“I honestly thought it was a hoax at first, it left me dazed, but people were so lovely and I received so many phone calls and cards.”
Born and raised in Hillsborough, Olive began singing aged 15, studying first in Sheffield, and then in London under the tutilage of famed singer Constance Shacklock.
Olive explains: “I’ve loved music my whole life. The New Group came about because there were certain roles in opera I knew I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do professionally, so I set the group up so I could perform some of them, and people really embraced what it was all about. I only ever intended to do a one-off show, but I suddenly found myself with quite a big chorus of people who all loved performing as I did. This went on for about 15 years.”
Olive retired from singing when she was 75, though admits she still sometimes sings in the privacy of her own home.
“Sometimes, I’ll have a little warble around the house,” she laughs.
“Or sing in lessons and rehearsals to make sure people are singing the right notes, but that’s it now.”
Olive and her husband Arthur, who died 30 years ago, never had children, and so it was with her Sheaf Singers family that Olive rang in her 90th birthday last October.
“I arrived for rehearsal and all the lights were out, so I thought the caretaker had forgotten us,” she recalls.
“It was only as my eyes adjusted I saw all the people in the darkness and then the lights came on and everybody was there.”
And Olive is quick to confirm she will be working with The Sheaf Singers for a long time to come.
“I won’t give up teaching any time soon, it keeps me out of mischief,” she says.
“I have always joked that when my time comes, I want to be sitting at the piano stool at the Victoria Hall.”