Our story

Grateful thanks are due to Zena Swordy, Joan Reid and Claire Coxhead for their work in compiling much of this brief history of Basildon Choral Society from the society’s archives.

Basildon Choral Society

The Beginning

The real beginning was in the front room at the house of Margaret Roper, a local violinist. She invited a few singers to the very first informal meeting and ten people turned up, so it was decided to form a choral group. The first official meeting was held at St Mary’s Church, Langdon Hills, on 24th November 1958 when some part songs were sung. Mr Cross was elected Chairman, the Chorus Master was John Simpson, Head of Music at Fryerns School, and the accompanist was Charles Carter. The contributory fee was five shillings, plus sixpence per weekly rehearsal. At the second meeting it was agreed to rehearse Haydn’s Creation. In December membership was 5 men and 11 ladies. The Local Education Authority charged £3.13.2 for 13 weeks for the hire of a classroom at Langdon Hills Primary School.

John Simpson was able to recruit some choir and solo voices from amongst the older pupils of Fryerns. His contribution to the early musical life of the New Town is immeasurable and the love of music that he helped inspire in many young people is reflected in the numbers of ex-Fryerns pupils still in the ranks of BCS. In addition to his musical activities John Simpson also led groups of youngsters on wide-ranging YHA trips…a tradition mirrored at least in spirit by BCS’s newly found interest in hikes around the district.

In 1959 The Creation was duly performed at the Methodist Church, Langdon Hills, and after its first concert, the Society’s bank balance was 10 guineas. The legend of a power failure ending when the choir sang “Let there be light” is not confirmed by diligent searching of the archives.

1960s

In the following season the Society was joined by two other choirs for Handel’s Messiah, which was a financial success, increasing the bank balance to £11.3.0. The audience was asked not to stand in the traditional manner for the Hallelujah Chorus; the press thought this a pity. In spring 1961 Mendelssohn’s Elijah was rehearsed and performed, with a small choral group from Fryerns School singing the angels’ choruses. In the next term, rehearsals began for an October concert to include Song of Thanksgiving by Vaughan Williams, Ode to St Cecilia by Purcell and Zadok the Priest by Handel. The original Minute Book records many stormy committee meetings and in September the Secretary resigned, complaining that business was not being carried out in a proper and orderly manner. Fred Clark was elected Chairman in November 1961. There was discussion about recruiting membership from the New Town at Basildon, and about seeking affiliation to Basildon Civic Arts Society, a newly set-up body dedicated to developing and supporting the Arts in the town and surrounding area. (Today it is known as Basildon & District Arts Association.)

The Musical Director proposed Bach’s St John Passion for the March 1962 concert in the Methodist Church, Langdon Hills. He also considered that the Society should appoint a president and proposed Dr Swinburne, who duly accepted the position. In October 1962 the Society sang Come Ye Sons of Art by Purcell, in Timberlog School, as part of a Basildon Music Club programme supported by Basildon Civic Arts Society. Musical directors always have a nack of killing several birds with at least one stone; thus it was that Fryerns pupils, in the same year, under the same baton, also found themselves singing Come Ye Sons of Art. Dr Swinburne, for many years, was the guest director of the South Essex secondary school choirs’ festival, someting which has long since ceased to be. To 16 year olds 36 years ago he seemed ancient; whether he actually was ancient is a matter for conjecture, but he certainly conjoured from his massed ranks of Essex schoolboys and schoolgirls loftier sounds than tend to grace the public soundwaves at present.

In 1963 John Simpson stressed the need to increase membership by basing rehearsals in the New Town of Basildon, where the population was expanding rapidly. A small number of members doubted if they would be able to continue if this happened as in those days fewer people owned cars and public transport was virtually non-existent in the evening. The latter problem still exists, due to under-use. The Rector of St Martin’s Church in Basildon Town Centre offered the use of the church hall for rehearsals at fifteen shillings per night, commencing on 2nd May. Meantime, rehearsals at Langdon Hills prepared Stainer’s The Crucifixion to be performed at St Martin’s on Maundy Thursday, by combined church choirs and Basildon Choral Society. . Haydn’s Creation was sung in spring 1963 and The Messiah was sung in Langdon Hills Methodist Church in November, following a performance in St Martin’s Church, attended by over 200 people.

In April 1964 Elijah (part 1) and Hymn of Praise by Mendelssohn were sung in St Martin’s and this was Charles Carter’s last appearance as organist to the Society. The committee meeting minutes for this year are missing, so little can be recorded.

At the committee meeting in February 1965 final arrangements were made for the performance in March of Handel’s Judas Maccabeus at St Gabriel’s Church, Pitsea. The soloists and organist would be paid £2.2.0 each, with a donation to the church of £5.5.0. Only two extra tenors and two sopranos would be needed to strengthen the choir. Unfortunately, in the event, the size of the audience matched that of the choir. The treasurer reported to the AGM that finances were at a low ebb, but the year had been successful musically. Future planning included a performance of Mozart’s Requiem and part 1 of The Creation in November, after which rehearsals would start on St John Passion for next year’s concert at Easter.

At the November 1965 AGM finances were declared to be at a low ebb, but the year had been successful musically. Only two extra tenors and two sopranos had been needed for Judas Maccabeus. The new Rector approved the use of St Martin’s Hall for rehearsals. Membership was now 26, and subscriptions were to be raised to 30 shillings per year. In May 1966 John Roper was proposed as successor to John Simpson, when the latter was to leave, with Philip Sawyer as organist at the performance of Brahms’ Requiem in November. In July the bank balance was £19.2.7, and it was suggested that the Society might become an External Adult Class for which a block fee of £18.14.6 would be payable. The Local Education Authority would pay the MD £2.8.6 for a two-hour session, the accompanist to receive £1.0.0 per evening.

In April 1967 at Timberlog School, John Roper, with Michael Davis as accompanist, conducted the Polovtsian Dances and choruses from Carmen, with Owen Brannigan as bass soloist. Owen Brannigan also sang a programme of solo items. In November, Mozart’s Requiem was sung. The following April, Michael Davis conducted Carmina Burana at Timberlog School, with Alice Barrie (Mrs Davis) accompanying, John Roper singing tenor and with a percussion group. John had returned from touring with Glyndebourne Opera. In September, the Society was invited to sing in a concert to open the new Arts Centre in Basildon Town Centre. In November 1968, John Roper conducted Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor at the Arts Centre, accompanied by Basildon Sinfonia. Michael Davis then became permanent musical director, and conducted Beethoven’s Peace Cantata “The Glorious Moment” in March 1969, followed by Brahms’ Gypsy Songs and Rio Grande by Constant Lambert. In June a summer concert was sung in St Nicholas’ Church, Laindon as part of the church festival. The tenor soloist was David Fieldsend.

1970s

In March 1971 Michael Davis conducted the Magnificat by Pergolesi, Gloria by Vivaldi and Handel’s Chandos Anthem VI. Woodlands School Choir and a Chamber Orchestra accompanied with Philip Sawyer who joined the Society as keyboard continuo. At the AGM in May, held at Ghyllgrove School (now the rehearsal venue), Mike Abrams was elected Chairman and Daphne Beard secretary. Alice Davis organised a trip to the ballet in London and a social evening was held at The Bull’s Eye pub in the town centre! Britten’s Ceremony of Carols was sung at the Civic Carol Service.

In February 1972 concert dress was specified as dark suits for men, with black skirts and white blouses for the ladies, replacing the black dresses. The main concert was in March, when the programme included Haydn’s Te Deum, followed by Mozart’s Missa Brevis, with Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms concluding the concert. Mrs Swordy would organise tea for 19 members of the orchestra! The concert at the Arts Centre was attended by an audience of 300. Alice Barrie, soprano and John Roper, tenor, were two of the soloists, with Philip Sawyer, organ. Richard Ford was the boy soloist and instrumentalists were from the Essex Youth Orchestra. At the AGM the MD proposed Schutz Christmas Story to be performed at St Martin’s with Carmina Burana in March 1973, at the Arts Centre. The subscription was raised to £3.0.0 per year. Rev Peter Grimwood invited the Society to sing at the Civic Carol Service and in December the Basildon Symphony Orchestra was approached about co-operation in the performance of large scale works. In December Schutz Christmas Story was sung in St Martin’s Church.

In the social events calendar for 1973 Alice Davis continued to organise opera and ballet visits to the Coliseum The Christmas Story was repeated at Woodlands School. Carmina Burana and Brahms’ Gypsy Songs were performed as part of the Basildon Arts Festival, tickets costing the equivalent of 40p-50p. Some members of the audience, allegedly mainly male, were more than somewhat distracted by the very attractive and well-endowed lady timpanist. The overheard remark that “her drumsticks were hardly necessary” remains unattributable. In November the membership had increased to over 60. Stewart Machin, a music teacher at Woodlands School, was elected Chairman.

In 1974 a concert version of Tales of Hoffman was performed at the Arts Centre. In May the annual subscription was increased to £4. In June the Society sang the chorus for Massanet’s Eve by the Pisa Opera, and in December there was a concert in St Martin’s of Early Venetian Music with the Ars Nova Ensemble (which included a bass shawm.)

Mozart’s Requiem was sung at the Arts Centre in April 1975; in May John Colyer became Chairman.. For economic reasons. the Society was now no longer an External Adult Class and hall hire at £13.50 per night, plus fees for conductor and accompanist necessitated a subscription increase to £4 per term. The price of tea was increased from 5p to 10p per cup!

The spring concert of 1976 featured a performance of Merrie England at the Towngate Theatre (previously known as the Arts Centre). In November the Society joined Thurrock Choral Society in their performance of the Verdi Requiem at Thurrock Civic Hall, conducted by Peter Ford.

In spring 1977 the main concert was a performance of Elijah at the Towngate Theatre, and in July the choir was invited to take part in the Centenary Celebration of St Mary’s Church, Langdon Hills when our programme included the Peasant Cantata by J S Bach. This concert was attended by David Briggs who wanted to hear us as he was to become MD of the Society in September 1977. The Society’s first concert with David included the Faure Requiem, when an acquaintance of his, Anthony Moore (now known as Anthony Michaels-Moore, international opera singer) was soloist.

In June 1978 members of Thurrock Choral Society joined us in our performance of Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle at the Towngate Theatre. In spring 1979 Bach’s Easter Cantata No 4 was performed, together with Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. At the October AGM Zena Swordy was elected to succeed John Colyer as chairman. The November concert programme was Five Mystical Songs by Vaughan Williams and the Brahms Requiem. Stephen Cave became the accompanist in this year. At the suggestion of David Briggs, Geoffrey Mitchell had become President of the Society.

While David was a lay-clerk at Ely Cathedral he had met Geoffrey, a former lay clerk, when the latter was on a visit to the cathedral. Geoffrey brought to BCS years of experience as singer, musical director and concert manager. As manager of the BBC Singers and Symphony Chorus for some 15 years, as singer with numerous ensembles including the Purcell Singers, The Schütz Choir and the John Alldis Choir over many years, and as director of the internationally reputed Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, as well as principal guest conductor with the St Albans based chamber choir Carillon and director of the London Festival Chorus, Geoffrey’s experience and advice has been invaluable to both choir members and successive musical directors.

Geoffrey’s academic achievements have included the Professorship of Counter-Tenor at the Royal Acamdemy of Music and an honorary Diploma from the Academy as well as the Licentiate of Trinity College of Music for his choral work.

For nearly 20 years Geoffrey, as president, has faithfully attended concerts and other BCS functions, held workshops, and offered constructive and frank criticism when necessary. Long may his association with BCS remain!

1980s

In early 1980 stage discipline was discussed – some members had been waving to friends! The attitude of some non-technical staff at the Towngate Theatre at the last concert had been difficult. In March there was a visit from a ladies’ choir – Musica 76 – from Basildon’s twin town in West Germany, Heiligenhaus, which culminated in a joint concert at the Towngate. At the summer concert the President, Geoffrey Mitchell, conducted the Chichester Psalms, and David Briggs conducted Carmina Burana. In July subscriptions were increased to £6 per term and an autumn concert was proposed, in addition to Christmas. To celebrate the 21st anniversary season of the Society, in October there was a dinner held at Kingswood Junior School. Three founder members were tracked down and joined in the celebration. St Martin’s Church would no longer be available for concerts, so in November the concert was given in the Society’s new concert venue, St Basil’s Church in Luncies Road. The programme included Bach’s Magnificat in D and Messe de Minuit, by Charpentier. In July 1981 David Briggs conducted his last concert with the Society and Stephen Rumsey took over the baton from September.

Stephen’s first concert with BCS was to be performed in Basildon’s twin town of Heiligenhaus, W.Germany in the October. Leaving on a Friday, the society’s coach was to rendezvous with Stephen Cave, resident accompanist, at a motorway service station just east of Liège in Belgium. Stephen had been playing cello with an orchestral group from Thurrock in their twin town; timing was not crucial but it was expected that Stephen would be picked up about 1 p.m. GG Coaches duly collected its precious load of choristers and set forth through the Dartford Tunnel (no QEII bridge in those days) en route for Dover. Just outside Farthing Corner on the M2 GG coach no.1 broke down.

Coach and contents limped into the service area and the driver phoned through to his HQ and asked for a relief coach. The relief duly arrived and the society set off again, by now a couple of hours behind schedule, with the result that the original ferry booking was missed. But it was a holiday weekend and no-one was unduly worried by the delay. On board ship choir and coachman tucked into lunch.

Unfortunately the coach driver (in these pre-tachometer days there was only one driver) overindulged in beefsteak à la Belge and, once again en route across Belgium, had to stop the coach every half hour or so in order to be sick. The coach was by now more than somewhat delayed and it was nearer 5 p.m. rather than the agreed 1 p.m. before the rendezvous point for Stephen the accompanist was reached; there was no sign of him….various members of the society with a smattering of French searched high and low “..Est-ce que vous avezs vu un anglais avec un grand instrument…?” It was clear that Stephen had either not reached the rendezvous, or, more likely, having made it, had either been abducted by aliens or thought better of his plight and returned to Liege and the safety of the Thurrock group. We were not to know his fate for many hours…..

Having crossed the border into Germany it became at once clear that nobody actually knew where Heiligenhaus was. With remarkable lack of forethought the coach company had not provided its driver with any sort of continental map; he, to be fair to GG Coaches, had not deemed it necessary to ask for one. There was some suggestion that it was near Düsseldorf, whither the coach directed itself, and having reached there dispatched odd choristers with some knowledge of the lingo into occasional road-side hostelries to enquire the way.

Thanks to this combination of factors it was almost midnight before GG Coach and BCS arrived at the town hall in Heiligenhaus where our hosts and the civic dignitaries had been waiting for us for four or five hours together with a splendid and typically German repast.

Once the domestic arrangements had been completed and choir members allocated to their various hosts, Stephen had the task of finding an accompanist to replace the irreplaceable Stephen Cave. Quite how he was lit upon is no longer very clear, but one Gary Gromis, a transatlantic working in Essen, made his services available. In the event the weekend passed extraordinarily well and many bonds of friendship between individuals were sealed. But the catastrophic flavour of the outward journey was recaptured briefly on the day of departure; after much hugging and waving the re-assembled BCS finally moved off from its departure point, outside the town hall; the coach spent some ten minutes or so attempting to find its way out of Heiligenhaus only to arrive once more outside the town hall where our German hosts, still red-eyed from the leave-taking were amazed to see the GG coach float by yet again.

In March 1982 the Society again joined with Thurrock Choral Society to sing Verdi’s Requiem in the Civic Hall, with Richard Wade conducting. Included in the summer concert at the Towngate was Charms and Ceremonies by Michael Hurd which had been sung by ladies of the choir during the visit to Heiligenhaus. On this occasion the composer was present in the audience and joined in the after-concert party. In the autumn the programme was of French music and the Christmas concert included items by boys of Brentwood Preparatory School (where Stephen Rumsey taught) and Anthony Moore, bass baritone, accompanied by Stephen Cave at the piano and Basildon Concert Band.

In March 1983 Haydn’s Creation was sung and the summer concert included Weill’s Berliner Requiem – with solo banjo (!) – part songs written by choir member Elizabeth Imms and a concert version of Trial by Jury. Doreen Webb was Chairman at this time. Stephen Rumsey approached Philip Wilby (a composer who lectured at his university) to commission a new work, with funds supplied by the Eastern Arts Association. In November the confident performance of The Temptations of Christ gripped the audience with its imaginative use of musical effects (the percussion instruments included saucepan lids) to portray this difficult theme. The second half of the programme consisted of Mozart’s Solemn Vespers and three Bruckner motets. Accompaniment was provided by the Syrinx Ensemble and members of St Mary’s Chamber Orchestra. On the business front, an effort to improve finances was made by seeking local patrons who would pay a yearly amount of £5 per head. It was agreed to move rehearsals to the United Reformed Church in Honeypot Lane. Basildon Symphony Orchestra pulled out of the spring concert as they were unsure of the Council grant to them.

In 1984 the Society gave what was claimed to be the first British performance of Kytice by Martinu, sung in Czechoslovakian, for which the choir had some coaching in pronunciation. The programme also included Dvorak’s Mass in D. In June the Society took part in a Basildon Symphony Orchestra concert in which they backed a story told by Johnny Morris of TV fame.

Basildon Symphony Orchestra was always a treat to work with. In effect it was a “scratch” orchestra, made up of professional musicians largely imported from top London orchestras. On occasion the score demanded virtuoso performances from individual artistes. One such performance was expected from a leading percussionist who will remain anonymous….Warning bells were first sounded when he was spied buying a bottle of gin in Marks and Spencers after the dress rehearsal. The warning bell became a persistent alarm during the concert itself when it became clear that most of the said bottle of gin must have been consumed in the time-gap leading to the start of the concert. Finally at some no doubt particularly energetic passage of percussive activity our virtuoso performer keeled over and was discreetly removed from the stage.

In the autumn of 1984 began the 25th anniversary season of the Society, with a performance of The Messiah with Basildon Symphony Orchestra. Gillian Fisher, Susan Flannery, Charles Corp and Patrick Donnelly were the soloists.

The spring 1985 concert consisted of Verdi’s Four sacred Pieces and Elgar’s Songs from the Bavarian Highlands and Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music in which the Society was joined by members of Thurrock Choral Society. In the summer the Society joined Peter Skellern and the Kibworth band at the Towngate Theatre for an enjoyable evening of light music. The new chairman at this time was Elizabeth Imms, whose compositions for the Society were greatly appreciated by all. In October there was another Czech evening – a performance of The Spectre’s Bride, by Dvorak, again accompanied by St Mary’s Chamber Orchestra.

At the March 1986 concert in St Basil’s the Society was accompanied by St Mary’s Chamber Orchestra, beginning with the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, followed by Handel’s Zadok the Priest, the cantata Lucrezia and Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine. The second half was devoted to Vivaldi’s Gloria, which was highly praised. The summer programme consisted of Brahms’ Gypsy Songs, A Song for St Cecilia, by Michael Hurd and The Cries of London by Orlando Gibbons. The highlight of the Christmas concert was Saint-Saens’ Oratorio de Noel, with four soloists.

The spring 1987 concert included a Magnificat by Zelenka and the Maria Theresa Mass by Haydn with instrumental items played by the orchestra. The summer concert at the Towngate was on Independence Day, so the choir sang music with an American theme, including Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast by Coleridge-Taylor. The Christmas concert was held in the old Towngate Theatre for the last time as it was to be demolished quite soon. Excerpts from Schutz The Christmas Story were sung.

Elijah was performed in St Basil’s Church in March 1988, but, due to low attendance, a loss of £1,000 was incurred. The summer concert was held in the Mirren Studio in the new Towngate Theatre. The programme offered a blend of traditional songs, negro spirituals by Michael Tippett, operatic solos from Keith Jones, tenor, and piano duets played by Stephen Cave and Elizabeth Imms. The final item in which the audience joined whole-heartedly, Down by the Riverside, was a huge success. The new Treasurer was Mark Stubberfield and the Chairman Joan Reid. A few weeks later a section of the choir sang at the Foundation Stone-laying ceremony at St Luke’s Hospice. At Christmas, the Society gave its first concert in the main house of the new theatre, “A Fanfare for Christmas” with the Salvation Army Band and Timbrellists and Kingswood Junior School choir. The main work was Fantasia on Christmas Carols by Vaughan Williams. The Society was sad to lose the services of Stephen Cave as accompanist after this concert. Guy Noble was appointed in his place.

In March 1989 the choir sang Stainer’s Crucifixion at Laindon Community Centre to raise funds for St Nicholas’ Church Restoration Fund but the size of the audience was such that little money could have been raised. In April, Mozart’s Requiem Mass was sung at St Basil’s. A Song for all Seasons was the title of the July concert, held in Laindon Community Centre, which contained songs specially composed by Elizabeth Imms and other songs and readings. The audience was seated café style, with food provided by members and the bar was open in the hall. At the AGM, Ingrid Marsh was elected Chairman. The Christmas concert at the Towngate was again supported by a junior school choir, Fairhouse, and the Salvation Army Band. The choir programme ranged from Poulenc to Ray Charles.

1990s

The Messiah was performed at the Towngate on Good Friday in 1990, with soloists chosen by audition, to a large and appreciative audience. The venue for the summer concert was again Laindon Community Centre. A Light Musical Evening contained songs by Finzi, Three Hungarian Folk Songs by Seiber, spirituals and Summer Sunday by Horovitz. The July concert was the last to be conducted by Stephen Rumsey, who had achieved much during his ten years as Director.

Stephen Hope was selected as the new MD from sixteen applicants. His first duty with the Society was to conduct a section of the choir at the official opening of St Lukes Hospice in September, when Stanford’s Beati quorum via was sung. The choir has since sung carols in aid of the hospice every Christmas, in the Eastgate Centre, with generous support from shoppers. The Advent concert at St Basil’s consisted of Dvorak’s Mass in D, Bruckner Motets, Beatus vir by Monteverdi and Beati quorum via by Stanford.

In 1991 Christine Carpenter was appointed accompanist to replace Guy Noble. In March, Handel’s Zadok the Priest, Vivaldi’s Gloria and Haydn’s Nelson Mass were sung in the main house of the Towngate Theatre. In the summer concert the programme included Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes and a selection of part songs, including There is Nothing Like a Dame sung with gusto by the men. Stephen Cave was due to join Christine in the duet accompaniment to the Brahms, but due to injury, he had to cancel his appearance. This led to a near county-wide last minute search for a replacement. David Austin saved the day with great merit. Stephen Hope also included his “Face the Music with Hope” feature during the evening. Christmas Fantasia was performed at the Towngate in December and repeated the following week in St Basil’s, on both occasions joined by Basildon Concert Band and secondary school choirs. The programme included Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols and Britten’s Ceremony of Carols.

In April 1992 Stainer’s Crucifixion, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Parry’s I Was Glad were performed in St Basil’s Church. Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was the main item in the summer concert, again presented in café style at Laindon Community Centre, but ticket sales were disappointing. In December the “Christmas Stocking Full of Music” included items by Gable Hall School choir at St Basil’s. The new Chairman was now Bryan Coxhead. In May the Towngate Theatre closed indefinitely, depriving the town of its main performance venue.

In 1993 the Easter concert was given in the Laindon Community Centre, the programme including Gloria by Poulenc,Requiem by Durufle. The Towngate Theatre opened as a commercial enterprise. Agreement was reached with the Vicar at St Gabriel’s to use the church for weekly rehearsals and for concert performances, also to use the hall for social events. The summer concert at Laindon consisted of songs by Vaughan Williams, Brahms’ Gypsy Songs, Elgar’s From the Bavarian Highlands and songs from the shows. Geoff Williams was elected as the new Chairman. The Messiah was sung in St Gabriel’s, Pitsea, in December, the first time the choir had sung there since 1964.

In March 1994 the Faure Requiem and Solemn Vespers by Mozart were accompanied by organist Richard Jenkinson, with great success. The summer concert, which was part of the Basildon District Arts Festival, was music by Elgar, The Banner of St George and songs from the shows. It was agreed to present four concerts each year in future, with a formal concert in November, followed by a carol concert in December. In 1994 the Christmas concert included a Bach cantata, Jesu Priceless Treasure.

In April 1995 a selection of Bruckner Motets and Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle were performed. Songs For a Summer Saturday in July included Pilgrim’s Journey by Vaughan Williams and The Daniel Jazz. A Celebration of Purcell and Friends was the title of the November concert, which included some Purcell verse anthems, Credo by Vivaldi and the Magnificat by Pergolesi. The carol concert provided seasonal readings, carols for choir and for audience, with Northlands Junior School choir.

In March 1996 the main work was Gounod’s St Cecilia Mass, Funeral Music by Purcell and solo items. For the summer concert choir and audience sweltered in St Gabriel’s Church hall for a programme of Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel selections, and Fancies by John Rutter. Haydn’s Theresienmesse and Bruckner’s Te Deum were sung in November, again accompanied by Richard Jenkinson. A group of members sang carols at Pontlands Hotel, Chelmsford as part of the choir’s fundraising activities; other events being Quiz Nights, barbecues and speciality dinners. A dinner was held in St Gabriel’s hall, (with catering done by volunteer members on this occasion), which was greatly enjoyed and now an annual event.

On Good Friday 1997 Haydn’s Te Deum and Rossini’s Stabat Mater were performed to a capacity audience. Songs for a Summer Saturday in the Mirren Studio, Towngate Theatre, included Negro Spirituals, Sacred Songs by Alan Ridout, Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs and solo items. The event was an endurance test for all, due to the high temperature and ventilation problems in the theatre, but was successful. In October a joint venture with Sweyne Choral Society (Stephen Hope is also their conductor) staged Schubert’s Mass in G and the Mozart Requiem in the Towngate Theatre main house. The concert opened with Chaconne by Purcell and Albinoni’s Adagio for Strings, to a large audience. The Christmas carol concert included items by Swan Mead Junior School and readings by choir members.

On Good Friday 1998 Dvorak’s Stabat Mater, at St Gabriel’s was preceded by Mozart’s Ave Verum and items by each soloist. The organ playing of Richard Jenkinson combined with the vocal lines to bring out the beauty of Dvorak’s setting of the medieval sacred poem. In May, thirty members travelled to Meaux, Basildon’s twin town in France. The trip was organised by Basildon Council as part of the Europe Day celebration and the varied programme included negro spirituals, Bruckner motets and Ridout’s Sacred Songs. The journey was made in two shifts of council mini-bus and private car, with a time gap of several hours to allow for those who had to work on the Friday of the outward journey. Both outward and return journeys were uneventful and the only thing to mar the weekend for some BCS members was their enforced participation in a noisome if jolly baptism celebration at the hostel where most were accommodated. But again, the generous hospitality of our hosts was overwhelming and BCS was treated to what amounted to an almost-all-expenses(apart from travel costs)- paid trip A great time was enjoyed by all on an unexpectedly hot weekend. For many, it was their first trip through the Channel Tunnel on Le Shuttle. With Delius’ Sea Drift and Songs of the Sea by Stanford and other sea songs in July, the Society closed another successful year and will prepare for the forthcoming 40th Anniversary Season.

From our Ruby to our Diamond Anniversary

Our current Musical Director, Stephen Hope, succeeded Stephen Rumsey who had led the choir for 9 years. Stephen was appointed in 1990, eight years before the period covered in this part of our history. There were sixteen applicants for the post and the four who made it onto the shortlist were asked to attend a rehearsal and take a turn at conducting the choir. Stephen was chosen by the committee after a most interesting rehearsal, assisted by the good advice of our then president Geoffrey Mitchell,. We made a good choice. Under Stephen’s leadership, the choir has expanded its repertoire, and achieved an excellent standard in choral singing. We are fortunate in having such an outstanding musician at the helm, and one who has widened our experience in many ways, as we will see later.

Our current accompanist is Christine Salter. Christine began her career with the choir shortly after Stephen. She has provided exactly the support which Stephen and the singers need. She spends much time practising and is therefore well prepared for rehearsals, and she is always alert to Stephen’s demands, readily adapting her accompaniment to the requirements of each stage of the rehearsal. Furthermore, Christine has on many occasions stepped in to take rehearsals in Stephen’s absence, or when traffic jams on the M25 cause him to be late. She also accompanies the choir when we sing at community events. In short, Christine is a great asset to Stephen and BCS.
Our 40th anniversary concert took place in St. Gabriel’s Church in November 1998. It was an ambitious programme – Bach’s Magnificat, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Handel’s Zadok the Priest – and we were treated to a fine performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto for two trumpets. Bach’s great masterpiece proved particularly challenging and sectional rehearsals were held to help members learn the work. It was a concert which fully met the chief aims of the society and members felt both a sense of occasion and a sense of achievement when the last notes were sang and the audience’s applause ended.
In 2008 our fiftieth anniversary was marked by a performance of Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle and Gounod’s Stabat Mater, an ambitious programme which we performed well. The piece by Gounod holds a special place in our repertoire as the score was discovered at the British Library by Ben Williams, one of our members, following which we were allowed to make copies. The choir gave an inaugural performance in 2000, introduced it to a German audience a month later and sang it again at our 50th anniversary concert. Almost as important a part of our celebrations as the concert was the meal, with a most impressive menu, served at Pitsea Mount Community Hall on 18th October that year. It was a truly memorable evening enjoyed by many members and their guests.
Now we are celebrating our 60th anniversary. Plans are in place to celebrate in various ways, by producing this history and a CD of recordings of favourite works from our concerts, and by arranging a formal dinner to be held on 7th November, but of course the core events are our concerts at St. Martin’s . The spring concert was a “Come and Sing” event when were joined by choristers from other choirs and members of Southend Boys’ and Girls’ Choirs to perform Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The programme for the November concert is similar to the one performed on the occasion of our golden anniversary. Our proud record of singing for our own pleasure and of inviting our audience to join in that experience, continues and will continue into the future.

Concerts – 1998-2018

A trawl through the pages of “Works Performed by BCS” shows that we have tackled a wide variety of music over the years. A note here about the problems connected with programming is worthwhile. Programmes and venue must be decided well in advance, venues booked, and when appropriate, soloists and orchestral players engaged. Under Stephen Hope we always employ professional musicians to perform with us, and this incurs considerable cost. Our excellent long-time treasurer, Mark Stubberfield, who has executed this most demanding job on our committee for many years, must be consulted as to the state of our finances before programmes are decided. All the planning is worthwhile when the concert is successful, and all members recognise it is a privilege to perform with the high calibre musicians who know Stephen, and who often agree to perform for a lower fee than they usually command. Their participation is another of Stephen’s initiatives which contributes to the high standard of our concerts.

The following is an attempt at providing an overview of our repertoire and concerts up to the present. Generally, we perform classical music in our spring and autumn concerts. The introduction in 1998 of the November concert has been a welcome addition to our annual schedule providing another event and year when we can sing the classical works that form the core of our repertoire. Sometimes just one major work is performed, such as Handel’s Messiah, Dvorak’s Stabat Mater or Haydn’s Creation. Other programmes are made up of shorter works: Bruckner Motets, Vivaldi’s Gloria, anthems by Purcell, or a Requiem by John Rutter, Faure, Mozart, Duruflé, a mass by Schubert, Haydn or Mozart, are just a few examples of works we have sung. “From Monteverdi to Leonard Bernstein” could be a sub-title attached to this booklet’s title as a way of expressing the enormous range of music we have performed.

Until 2001, both rehearsals and concerts took place at St. Gabriel’s Church in Pitsea. In many ways it was a good venue for us but there is no doubt that we rejoiced when we were at last able to perform again in concerts at St. Martin’s in Basildon. This centrally located church, with its good acoustic, space for an audience of 200 and plenty of parking space nearby, is ideal for us. It so happens that the rector in charge until November 2018, Esther McCafferty, is a member of the choir, and we are enormously grateful to her and her team for their hospitality and help towards making our concerts a success.

Christmas Carol Concerts

Our Christmas carol concert is a permanent and popular fixture on our calendar, presented on the Friday or Saturday just before 25th December. The format of a candle lit procession while singing “Once in Royal David’s City”, seasonal readings by expert speakers from the choir, (often very amusing), audience participation in old favourites and fine settings of traditional and modern carols, has been followed for many years. This event is the annual concert that attracts our largest audiences. In 2017, the demand for tickets out-stripped supply and so two carol concerts are planned for 2018, one on a Saturday afternoon and the second in the evening.

It is important to stress that, though classical music forms our core repertoire, we pride ourselves on our ability to reach beyond Haydn and Bach to lighter music. Until 2003, when the Arundel concerts were inaugurated, we presented a summer concert of light music, sometimes at a venue such as St. Gabriel’s Church Hall, where the audience could enjoy food and drink as well as our singing. Settings of Negro Spirituals, folk songs such as those found in John Rutter’s “Sprig of Thyme” and medleys of songs from popular musical shows are examples from programmes from past years. Another collection which has provided us with suitable material is a book called simply “Encores for Choirs” with its varied selection of settings of both traditional and modern pieces, and we have even become expert at renderings of Lennon and McCartney and Paul Simon numbers.

For some years our summer concert fell by the wayside as we rehearsed for the Arundel concert, but in 2016 we decided to put on a “café style” event, and found the church hall by Holy Trinity Church in Basildon to be an ideal location. Our trial run was very successful, though we agreed that our provision of a splendid cold supper was a little ambitious. However, the important fact that audience numbers were so great that we decided to perform the concert twice in 2017 and 2018 shows that we have come up with a great idea. A simpler scheme of tea and cakes in the afternoon, and wine and cheese in the evening, plus the added frisson of a raffle is working very well, and our audience enjoy the sociable atmosphere generated by this style of concert. The advantages of these events, as with our carol concerts, are two-fold: we attract audience members who may not come to our classical concerts, and most importantly, we make money through (healthy) ticket sales which helps towards financing those concerts with soloists and orchestra which are extremely expensive to mount.

“Small Choir”

In 2003, a “choir within a choir” was formed. Singers who had the time, and the inclination to extend their repertoire, joined forces under the guidance of Seth Williams and rehearsed at Dry Street Memorial Church. They performed at occasions as diverse as Horndon-on-the-Hill’s Feast & Fayre and the induction of a new curate at St. Martin’s. From 2005 until 2013, rehearsed and led by Christine Salter who also chose the appropriate music, the small choir participated in the splendid Remembrance Day service held in November each year at St. Martin’s Church. Their contribution was much appreciated by Esther and her colleagues.

“Come and Sing”

Our spring concert in 2016 took the form of a “Come and Sing” event. The work chosen for this new venture was that most often performed choral masterpiece, Handel’s Messiah. Planning entailed a great deal of work but our efforts were well rewarded. Numerous local choirs and educational establishments were contacted and asked to alert members to their chance of joining us for a day of singing. The morning was taken up by a workshop at our present rehearsal venue, Langdon Hills Methodist Church, and in the afternoon all choristers met again at St. Martin’s for a full rehearsal with soloists and orchestra.

The day culminated in a fine performance, the most important outcome of course, but a further benefit to the society became apparent later – we acquired some new members. The success of this event led to a similarly organised concert in the following two years when we sang Mozart’s Requiem in 2017 and this year, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Praise and thanks are due to many members for their careful planning and help on the day, from providing refreshments to supplying the staging required for 100 singers. Three splendid days of music making have been enjoyed by all who participated and by our audiences, and it is very likely that we will organise more “Come and Sing” days in the future.

BCS in the Community

We are the only choral society in Basildon and we believe that we are an important cog in the large wheel of our town. We are pleased to support the work of our hospice, St. Luke’s. For many years we have gone to St Luke’s Day Centre several times in December to sing carols to patients and staff. We raise funds for the hospice by singing (loudly) in the Eastgate Shopping Centre on one or two of the busy shopping days before Christmas. In addition, buckets placed by the door of St. Martin’s after our carol concert have become receptacles for a considerable amount of money from our audience; (a little discreet encouragement from Stephen helps to increase the number of notes dropped therein). Staff at St. Luke’s have invited us to sing at a number of events such as their re-dedication service and summer fete.

The list of other community events we have attended is quite impressive: Basildon Festival, Gt. Burstead Festival, an ordination service at St. Martin’s, a Rotary Club dinner, two charity concerts at St. Martin’s, to name but a few. St. Luke’s is not the only hospice to benefit from our efforts. On five separate occasions, concerts at Chelmsford Cathedral and Brentwood Cathedral have raised funds for other hospices in Essex.

And then there is the carol singing! Christmas is a very busy time for us. We have sung at W.I. meetings, a “Health in the Community” event in Vange, the Ikea store in Thurrock, Gifford House Care Home, Hadleigh Cricket Club – the list goes on. By the time our own concert is over, we feel we never want to sing Good King Wenceslas again, but our enthusiasm soon returns when the next festive season begins.

In 2008 we benefited from a grant courtesy of the Basildon Council Chairman’s Charity Fund. We received £2043.08 and used the money to buy an electric piano. This portable instrument is a great asset and is used in weekly rehearsals and also taken to any venue which has no piano. It was even taken by air when we travelled to Germany on our last visit to Bavaria.

Arundel Cathedral and the Sussex Festival Choir

On the last Sunday of every July since 2003, we have been given the opportunity to sing with Stephen’s Sussex Festival Choir in Arundel Cathedral. Participants come from several choirs and are accompanied by an orchestra of professional players and soloists, brought together by Stephen through his numerous contacts in the classical music world. Soloists engaged for these concerts have always been excellent, and some of them are very famous. It is a great privilege to perform with such great singers as Dame Felicity Lott, Sir Willard White, Emma Kirby, Sarah Connelly, James Bowman and Roderick Williams!

A glance at the names of works performed in these concerts will indicate the range covered and the enormity of each year’s task. We rehearse throughout the summer term with Stephen and are also asked to attend two Saturday combined rehearsals prior to the concert. Many of the orchestral players are known to one another, but the whole ensemble of singers, players and soloists can only rehearse together once on the afternoon of the concert. The resulting standard of musical accomplishment is staggeringly good and all those who take part have found these concerts to be thrilling occasions.

We have been familiar with some of the pieces performed at Arundel, for example, Mozart’s Requiem and Mendelssohn’s Elijah; others have been new to us. Some works have been particularly challenging – we could mention Bach’s B Minor Mass and Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast – and would not have been possible items for a BCS concert, so our musical horizons have expanded as a result. And how many amateur choristers have sung in performances not only of Elgar’s “Dream of Gerontius”, but also in the lesser known but equally splendid “The Kingdom” and “The Apostles” ?

These concerts are a magnificent achievement both musically and as fund raisers. Stephen Hope is passionate about raising funds for the hospice movement and the Arundel concerts alone have resulted in excess of £135,000 for St. Wilfrid’s and St Catherine’s Hospices in Sussex. This enormous sum is made possible by none of the professional singers and players taking payments and choristers are asked to pay a concert fee which goes direct to the hospices.
The only year between 2003 and 2018 when we have not sung at Arundel was 2015. In that year Stephen’s most ambitious charity concert yet resulted in our performing Mahler’s 8th Symphony. This is an extremely demanding work with some fiendishly difficult sections which almost brought us to despair as we tried to master them during rehearsals. But all ended well; this time it was the rafters of the Fairfield Halls in Croydon that were raised and a memorable experience was enjoyed by all who took part. More information, including short videos of our performances can be found on the Sussex Festival Choir website.

Opportunities

Join a choir and you will enjoy the singing, increase your knowledge about music ………… but if you’re lucky, plenty of extended opportunities will come your way too.

Foreign Trips

Members of BCS have enjoyed many trips abroad during the last twenty years. In May 1998, a number of us took advantage of an offer from Basildon Council to visit our twin town of Meaux, near Paris, where we took part in a Concert for Europe Day. We were well looked after by our hosts who provided basic but comfortable accommodation and good food, and we had time for sightseeing between singing engagements. Beautiful weather too made it a memorably enjoyable weekend.

In May 1999 we toured again, this time to Belgium giving a concert in Ghent and enjoying excursions to Bruges, Amsterdam and Antwerp. Three years later, we were invited to Lille by the choir called Variations. Another excellent and varied weekend was enjoyed by all who went. Our two choirs joined forces for a concert and there was plenty of time for sightseeing in this most interesting French city.

Geoff Williams, long term member and chairman for many years, has organised three trips to the small town of GÖssweinstein in Bavaria. Each visit of several days provided us with a combination of presenting concerts, usually in churches or in the magnificent basilica in the town, and coach trips to various places of interest. A fascinating tour of the Nazi Rally Grounds in Nuremberg and the court house where the post war trials were held, provided us with sombre reminders of Germany’s past. Another highlight was a visit to Bayreuth where we were given privileged access to Wagner’s Opera House. Visits to a wildlife park, a castle, spectacular caves, the fine cities of Wurzburg and Bamberg, walks in the beautiful countryside filled our days, and of course there was much enjoyment to be had in eating and drinking together in the evenings.

Further trips to European cities approximately every two years have been organised by Stephen Hope. He engages an orchestra and soloist and invites members from his choral societies to make up a choir. Over the years the cities enjoying concerts have included Barcelona, Florence, Rome, Venice, Salzburg, Krakow, Vienna and Prague. A most memorable concert was in Rome when Stephen Hope was asked by the papal representative if we would perform for the Pope. Unfortunately nothing came of it!

Singing with other choirs

Further opportunities for singing have been supplied by our busy Musical Director who undertakes to provide the choral music for cathedrals when choir schools are on vacation. Thus a small number of choristers have sung in several of our great cathedrals including, York Minster, Norwich, Canterbury (three times), Bath, Hereford, Gloucester and Wells. Stephen also invites members to join his other choirs, such as West Sussex Philharmonic Choir, in their concerts, some of which are fundraisers for the hospice movement.
Singing with other choirs is always an interesting experience. We performed twice with Rayleigh Sweyne Choral society in 1999, presenting a programme made up of the great Brahms German Requiem, Five Mystical songs by Vaughan Williams and Cantique de Jean Racine by Faure. We have even sung with a choir from Japan who visited Basildon in 2001. We were treated to some of their national music and we reciprocated with renderings of some of our favourite pieces, so we have done our bit to improve international relations. No doubt some members still have the Japanese gifts bestowed on us by our guests.

Fundraising and Social Events

The Royal Opera House in London can only continue its work as a leading music venue by receiving subsidies from the Arts Council. Basildon Choral Society can only continue to bring concerts of a high standard to Basildon if we subsidise our income from members’ subscriptions and ticket sales by fundraising.

Fortunately fundraising can be fun. Activities which add much needed contributions to our finances are enormously varied. Cake sales, sharing meals at members’ homes, selling CDs of recordings of our concerts made by our vice-chairman, Mongolian craft sales, holding a barbecue each summer, quiz nights, restaurant meals, raffles, table sales of garden produce, and unwanted gifts, books and CDs are just some of the ways in which funds are boosted. And just as importantly, a good time is had by all who take part. The socialising brings people together and helps to engender the friendly spirit of the choir which can be felt at all our rehearsals and concerts.

We have also generated income when singing at some community events where a fee has been paid.

In Conclusion

Ours is a friendly and inclusive society. All are welcome to join. We do not ask newcomers to audition and we strive to make them feel at home from the outset.

We have a hard working committee, “a good team” as Stephen Hope remarked recently. Jen Frizzell has been our chairman since 2012 and her drive and efficiency is appreciated by all, as well as her cooking skills which are very useful when food is needed for a fundraiser! On concert days very many members join the committee to ensure that all runs smoothly, from setting out chairs to clearing up at the end of the evening.

There has been a tremendous drive over the last few years to improve publicity, and this has helped to attract larger audiences and new members. We cannot claim to have full houses, or churches, for all performances yet, but audience numbers are growing. New members have brought our membership to a very respectable figure of around 70. A “Friends of BCS” scheme has recently been launched; participants can be added to our mailing list and receive advance information about concerts and take advantage of reduced price tickets.

It is always sad to have to say farewell to members, especially when they have been with us for a long time. There have been several occasions when we have been asked to sing at the funeral of a member who has died and we feel privileged to carry out this task.

Here we want to make special mention of Joan Reid, who died in 2017. Joan was a stalwart of BCS for around 40 years. She carried out the difficult task of librarian with great efficiency for many of those years, and was also curator of our archive. The committee was amazed to find the wealth of material stored at her home: sheet music, minutes of meetings, information from music organisations, photographs and so on. We owe her a great deal and we miss her.

Geoff and Linda Williams left us for pastures new in 2016 when they moved to Cornwall: two more choir stalwarts whose contribution to BCS over very many years cannot be over-estimated. They were closely involved in every aspect of the life of the choir and Geoff was our able chairman for many years. We miss them and are always pleased to see them when they turn up at our concerts and barbecues.

Basildon Choral Society has reached the fine age of 60. It has a fascinating and eclectic history and is in rude health. Members are eager to learn new works as well as sing old favourites so it is to be hoped that we can go on enjoying making good music in Basildon for another 60 years!

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Ross Kelly
    Dec 20, 2012 @ 11:54:11

    Hello, Ross Kelly speaking.. Please could you let me know if the Gillian Fisher mentioned as a soloist here is Alan Fisher’s sister. They lived in Beaufort Rd Billericay when I was a boy in the early sixties and I am trying to locate them.

    Reply

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