75th Anniversary Meal
Choir members and guests gathered to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of St Albans Choral Society at a Dinner on 17 December 2019 – 75 years to the day since the Choir’s first performance in 1944.
Diners enjoyed a splendid three-course meal in the festively attired Ardmore House Hotel and puzzled together over a Table Quiz devised by Peter Aubusson.
After Dinner, Chair Colin Dunkerley looked back at the choir’s formation, its early days and development. Different challenges faced the Choir then to now but stability and commitment had always been the Choir’s great qualities, for instance in having onlyight conductors in 75 years. He thanked all the people who had worked so hard to make the Choir so strong today and finished with a toast to the Society.
It was a night to mark the long service to the Choir of several people.
Alison Maitland paid tribute to Richard Harvey on completion of 20 years as the Society’s accompanist. She spoke about Richard’s great talents as a pianist, organist and composer. Reading comments from Choir members, she praised his consummate skill, innate sensitivity to the choir’s musical needs, good humour and dedication to the Society.
Phil Waller paid tribute to George Vass on completion of 25 years as Music Director. He said he was an outstanding musician and conductor and had made an immense contribution to the development and success of the Society. He said George was the heart and soul of the Choir and was a true inspiration to us all.
Both George and Richard were presented with engraved awards plus albums containing photographs of the choir in concert, rehearsing and at leisure, interspersed with comments from Choir members. Both spoke to express their thanks.
There are also many longstanding members – nine of whom have been with the Choir more than 25 years – and the opportunity was taken to thank them. Diners applauded Phil Waller (26 years), Sue Smyth (32), Sheila Parkes (35), Marion Allan (39), Sheila Naisbitt (44) and also retired member, Mary Kenward (34).
The longest serving members, namely Mike Plant (55 years), Jane Kerr (58), Ros French (61) and Alan French (62), were all presented by Colin Dunkerley with commemorative choir photos amid warm applause.
The evening finished with seasonal singing led by Frank Guest including White Christmas and Jingle Bells. About 140 choir members and partners attended plus special guest, Cecilia McDowall, the Choir’s composer-in-association. Thanks go to Sally Ripley for logistical organisation of the Dinner.
75th Anniversary Factoids
1. SACS was formed in Autumn 1944. Choirs and orchestras had been shut down in the War but the organist of St Peter’s Church wanted to put on a Christmas concert. He asked Kenneth Faulkner to form a choir to take it on. He found it full of “middle aged ladies – no men!” Other church choirs provided some men and the “Augmented Choir” gave its first performance on 17 December 1944.
2. The Choir’s first performance was in Spicer Street Church on 17 December 1944 as the “Augmented Choir”. The Story of Bethlehem by John E West was conducted by Kenneth Faulkner. In 1945, the name was changed briefly to the “New Choir” which gave way in 1946 to “St Albans United Choir”. This name lasted until late 1950 when the title St Albans Choral Society was adopted.
3. Since its first concert in 1944, St Albans Choral Society (under its various names) has staged a total of 278 performances. The 75th Anniversary Concert in November 2019 will be no. 279.
4. Since its inception, SACS has had only eight conductors. Indeed, there have been only two conductors in the last 45 years. Peter Clulow conducted 62 concerts over 20 years from 1974. George Vass took over as Music Director in 1974 and has conducted 105 concerts to date.
5. The Choir’s first concert in a Civic venue was in June 1946 at the Town Hall, performing The Song of Hiawatha by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. The total cost of staging the concert was £32.2.11d. Receipts amounted to £43.17.6d – a profit of 36%!
6. In 1947, the Choir used to rehearse in a room at Spicer Street Church. Members complained about the cold during the winter. Post war restrictions meant that coke was only available under licence. An application had to be made to the Ministry of Fuel for a special allocation. Three tons of coke were approved and purchased. The caretaker agreed to light the boiler early on rehearsal nights to ensure the room was warm.
7. Following healthy growth in membership to about 80 in the 1950s, Choir numbers declined to 40 in 1961. A concert was cancelled and it was suggested that the Choir should disband. This was rejected in favour of a recruitment drive. By 1980, the Choir had 140 paid up members. Today’s membership is over 100.
8. Occasional calamities have affected the Choir. During the 1960s, members moving a piano in St Saviour’s Church dropped and damaged it. Society funds were significantly depleted to pay for repairs.
9. In 1979, St Albans Choral Society commissioned the engraving of a pane of glass in the clerestory of St Albans Abbey as part of a restoration appeal. The pane is located in the Clerestory very high up on the South side of the nave. The Society’s logo, name and the first bar of the Hallelujah chorus from The Messiah is engraved on it. See attached pictures.
10. The Mayor of St Albans has been President (later Patron) of the Choral Society since Alderman Bird first accepted the position in 1946.
11. For many years, the Choir’s Christmas concerts in City Hall (later Alban Arena) included readings by famous personalities including Richard Baker, David Kossof, Alan Titchmarsh, Gavin Campbell and Richard Whitmore. Readings still feature in our Christmas concerts – but by Choir members.
12. The piece sung most by the Choir is Handel’s Messiah – performed 15 times since 1944 and most recently at Easter 2018.
13. The composer whose works have been most performed by the Choir over the last 75 years are:
· Handel 50 pieces
· Mozart 35 pieces
· Haydn 30 pieces
· Vaughan Williams 30 pieces
Since 1994 when George Vass took over, the most performed composer is Cecilia McDowall with 25 pieces
14. When St Albans Abbey Organ was refurbished in 2009, the Choir sponsored an organ pipe. Sadly, our pipe isn’t accessible or visible – there are thousands of pipes hidden internally inside the organ case
15. The Choir’s longest standing members are Alan and Ros French. Alan joined in 1955 and his first concert was the Messiah as part of the St Cecilia Festival. Ros joined in 1957 and her first concert was A Cotswold Romance by Vaughan Williams. The couple have been members for over 60 years and have hardly missed a performance.
16. The Choir’s most used performance venue since 1944 is the Alban Arena (formerly known as City Hall) where the Choir has given 77 concerts. The last concert there was in 2005. The top five venues are:
Alban Arena (was City Hall) 77 concerts
Marlborough Road Methodist Church 48
St Albans Abbey 43
St Saviour’s Church 35
St Peter’s Church 23
17. The Choir’s longest serving accompanist by far is Richard Harvey who started in 1999. In 20 years, he has helped the Choir to rehearse for 86 concerts and been a principal perform