David Williams as conductor (2)

 

This is the fourth in a series of posts about the choir’s history. Scroll down to see the earlier posts.

David Williams as conductor (2)

During the years that David Williams was in charge, the choir continued to expand its repertoire, covering music from the 17th to the 20th century that could be sung by a choir of fewer than fifty singers. However, Southport singers were given the opportunity of singing in a larger scale work in 1978, when David arranged a joint performance of Verdi’s Requiem with Altringham Choral Society and King’s Macclesfield School Choir. In fact there were two performances, one on 20 May at Wythenshaw Forum, when Neil Chaffey conducted, and one the following evening at Holy Trinity Southport, when David conducted.

In 1980, the choir (without choral reinforcements) performed the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, a major undertaking because of the forces involved. This was the first time that the choir had performed with a period orchestra (the Guildhall Waites), and the first time it had employed an international soloist: Ian Partridge. The ‘echo’ tenor, incidentally, was sung by Adrian Thompson, who went on to gain similar renown. He clearly pleased the choir, because he was invited back to give a solo recital the following year.

Furthermore Adrian Thompson was engaged to sing the Evangelist when the choir performed Bach’s St Matthew Passion in 1985. This was an even more ambitious undertaking than the Monteverdi, because of the forces involved. Stephen Varcoe sang the part of Christus, and the other soloists were Elizabeth Lane, Kevin Smith, Christopher Underwood, Barry Banks and Andrew Greenan. The orchestra was the Yorkshire Baroque Soloists. The performance was a big success, filling the church and giving audience and performers alike a moving and rewarding experience.

But there were setbacks from time to time. One of the most dramatic, and in this part of the country most unexpected, was in December 1981 when a sudden snow-storm prevented the orchestra’s leader, among others, from reaching the church, and the concert had to be cancelled.

Colonel Roger Hesketh

In its early years the choir enjoyed the support of a patron, Colonel Roger Hesketh, who also composed small pieces for the choir. During the 1975-6 season the choir sang his anthem, ‘My soul cleaveth to the dust’ and during the 1985-6 season they performed his setting of Psalm 23. Colonel Hesketh died in November 1987, and members of the choir sang Schubert’s setting of that Psalm, one of his favourite pieces, at his funeral. The Easter concert in March 1988, when works by César Franck, Gerald Finzi, Poulenc and Rutter were performed,  was dedicated to his memory. Colonel Hesketh holds an exceptional place in the choir’s history, for he has never been replaced as patron.

Carol-singing

In 1985 members of the choir sang carols in Wayfarers’ Arcade, under the direction of Margaret Cowling, and a collection was made in aid of Age Concern. Thus was started a tradition that continues to this day. The location has changed from Wayfarers’ Arcade, to the Cambridge Arcade, to more recently the Marks and Spencer on Chapel Street, and the charity supported has changed from year to year, but singing carols for Christmas shoppers in the town centre is an enjoyable part of the choir’s season. We have, over the years, also sung carols in other locations: retirement homes, Birkdale village, Speke Hall and even, in 2014, the Pontins in Ainsdale.

 

I expect my next post about the history of the choir to be my last on this subject, bringing things up to the present.

 

 

 

 

David Williams as conductor (1)

This is the third in a series of posts about the choir’s history. Scroll down to see the earlier posts.

When David Williams took over as conductor of the Southport Bach Society (now Choir) in 1970, the choir was definitely a going concern, with a nucleus of committed singers, a regular season of concerts, and the ambition of establishing itself as a fundamental part of the town’s cultural life.

Management of the choir

At this time the choir was governed by a committee of just four people: Chair, Conductor, Treasurer and Secretary. David Bowman had been greatly supported by Eddie and Joan Twigg, as Treasurer and Secretary, and when he left Joan Twigg resigned from her role. Joy Lea took over as Secretary until 1981, when Jean Sutton took on this important and onerous job. Eddie Twigg continued as Treasurer until 1974, when he and his wife left Southport. There were several changes of Treasurer before Peter Woodhead took over in 1977, to be followed by Bob Bride in 1980. Arthur Baldwin stayed as Chairman until 1972, when he was succeeded by John Watts, who held the chair for the next nine years. Valerie Pedlar was Chairman from 198-85, and Bleddyn Davies from 1985-1991.

By the time the choir reached its 10th anniversary in 1975, it was clear that the financial position was rather precarious. It was decided to increase the membership subscription, and the price of concert tickets, but it was felt that more attention should be given to fund-raising activities and to improving publicity. To this end, it was agreed to add extra committee members to cope with the all the work that needed to be done, and at the same time ensure that different voice parts were represented. Six new members joined the committee and immediately set to work.

At the AGM the following year it was reported that the choir’s finances had improved considerably, partly as a result of a grant from Merseyside Arts Association, but also because of the fund-raising and social activities that had been organized. Much of the money raised went towards the purchase of half a grand piano, the other half being purchased by Holy Trinity Church, but enough had been raised to ensure that there was money in the bank at the end of the season.

Another vital feature of the choir’s life is the rehearsal pianist. Mary Crayston was been appointed as accompanist in 1976 and was greatly appreciated. When she gave up in 1982, Keith Matthews was recruited and he remained as the choir’s much-loved accompanist until 2010. And he still occasionally helps out when necessary!

Fund-raising

Fund-raising events could also be fun and included Victorian evenings, coffee mornings and garden parties as well as more routine bring and buy or jumble sales. The secretary’s report for the 1982-3 season shows how busy the choir could be, since in addition to the normal three concerts in December, April and June, there were the following events:

October – 1) Second-hand book sale; 2) the choir sang at a Gala concert at Southport Arts Centre as part of the town’s Music Festival.

November – A Victorian evening at a member’s house.

February – 1) A concert at URC Church, Trafalgar Road in aid of the church re-building fund; 2) a 12-hour music marathon.

April – A recital by Emma Kirkby and Anthony Rooley at St Cuthbert’s Church.

June – A garden party in a member’s garden.

July – A social evening at Rufford Old Hall.

Energetic fund-raising by the choir meant that David could be more ambitious in his concert-planning, including professional soloists and orchestras from time to time, but the choir was also greatly helped by grants from the National Federation of Music Societies and Merseyside Arts Association. Less frequently the choir was able to attract commercial sponsors.

 

In my next post I’ll write about some of the more ambitious works that the choir performed during the first 20 years of David’s tenure.