Our brilliant star will always shine

THE family of a former St Aidan's girl who died suddenly this week, aged just 20, have spoken of their "brilliant and beautiful star" who will "always shine in our hearts and lives".

Gifted young musician Joanne Almack – who belonged to many musical groups, including the Tewit Youth Band – died in hospital at Manchester early on Sunday morning after suddenly being taken ill last Friday.

This week, as they awaited the results of a post mortem examination, her family paid tribute to Joanne, a former member of the National Children's Orchestra and St Aidan's own concert band and orchestra.

"Music was her life. . .she wanted everybody else to enjoy her music as much as she did," said her mother, Jeannine, an IT teacher at Ripon Cathedral Choir School.

The family, who live at North Stainley, have received hundreds of letters and cards of sympathy and support this week and are now planning a memorial service in Harrogate.

"We would like to thank all her friends and everybody who has supported us and for sharing their memories of Joanne with us," said her parents.

"She has been described as so many things. . .a bright shiny star and a light and the girl with the infectious smile.

"We are very proud to have been her parents – we are very sad but we are very grateful that we have had 20 years with her."

Her father Derek, a well-known farmer, said his daughter was a very determined young lady.

"Whatever she did, she would go about it with great enthusiasm and determination," he said.

Jo had wished to become an army musician after playing with the Normandy Queen's Band at Catterick Garrison during her work experience from St Aidan's School, and also performing with the Royal Engineers Military Band, based in Chatham.

"She wanted to be an army musician simply for the reason that if she joined an orchestra or a band she would have had to choose (an instrument) but if she joined the army she could carry on playing everything," said Mrs Almack.

Jo was a former pupil at Ripon Cathedral Choir School, where she was one of the first girl choristers to sing at Ripon Cathedral. Along with her brother Mark, the pair were also the first brother and sister choristers ever at the Cathedral.

She went onto study at St Aidan's School, in Harrogate, were she was a gifted student and gained three A grade A levels, in music, health and social care.

Headteacher, Mr Dennis Richards said: "This is a grievous loss for Joanne's family, her friends and the whole St Aidan's community.

"Joanne made a remarkable impact on the school during her seven years at St Aidan's, wonderfully gifted in all kinds of music, with an impish, bubbly personality.

"She was much loved and immensely popular with all who knew her. We are all in shock."

Jo was an extremely talented musician, both as a singer and also playing the violin, viola, euphonium, piano and cello. She played with a number of bands in the area, including Bedale Brass Band, Wetherby Silver Band, Tewit Youth Band, Ripon Youth Strings and St Aidan's concert band and orchestra, where she also sang with the chamber choir.

She had also played viola with the National Children's Orchestra and, along with three other musicians from the area, formed the string quartet Synthesis.

At the time of her death, she was a valued member of the Yorkshire Co-operative Band, which had recently won championship status.

Her musical career had seen her sing at the Millennium Dome and play in the Royal Albert Hall, Royal Festival Hall and St Paul's Cathedral, as well as perform around the globe.

As well as her music, Joanne was a bubbly personality who enjoyed being with her friends and had a love of animals and the Dales.

She was very close to her brother, Mark, 19, an engineering student at Durham University, and like a mother to her younger sister, Claire, aged 12, a pupil at St Aidan's.

A part of the church family at West Tanfield Methodist Chapel, she had a deep faith and would help anybody - she was even planning a trip to Romania this summer with a local church group to help orphans.

Mr Colin Gibbs, president of the Harrogate-based Tewit Youth Band, said she was a lovely young girl who was a credit to both herself and the band.

"She was always enthusiastic about being part of the band and applied her personality and wit in everything she did."

A private family funeral will be held for Joanne on Tuesday. Her family invite all her friends to celebrate her life at Constance Green Hall at St Aidan's School, Harrogate, on Saturday, May 8, at 3.30pm, when musical colleagues will be performing in her memory.