History: Into the 21st century 1982-2002

The Diamond Jubilee by definition marked the completion of our first three score years. This chapter summarises the ten which followed. We have every confidence that the strength of the Society will take it well beyond fourscore, but is it true that the elapsed span has been toil and trouble? In the Psalmist’s sense trouble has happily been little in evidence, but, as indicated previously, much toil has been required to attain the standard demanded by Richard. Fortunately a generous ration of mirth has been mingled with this toil, explaining perhaps why the years have apparently soon gone.

The Diamond Jubilee concert took place in Fairfield Hall on 6th October, six days after the exact anniversary. Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis is one of the most exacting works in the choral repertoire. Performance on a Wednesday necessitated an afternoon rehearsal at a later than normal hour, leaving a break of only ninety minutes before the concert which proceeded without interval. It was a test of stamina for all concerned. Richard’s other’ choir from St Albans augmented the chorus, the soloists were Jennifer Smith, Aifreda Hodgson, David Johnston and John Noble, and the English Symphony Orchestra played. The not-always-easy-to-please critic of the Croydon Advertiser afterwards wrote of 'The very finest choral singing heard at Fairfield for some time’ and What other choirs have a tenor section who can negotiate their top G’s with such apparent ease and start a chorus on top A?’ The audience looked small in the vastness of the hall, but would have more than filled any of our other venues.

The end of the last chapter may have given the impression that the celebratory dinner would follow on the same day. However, it was actually held almost a month later. A large gathering of members past and present sat down to a nourishing meal - singers usually have good appetites! - at Burford Bridge Hotel. Speeches were admirably brief and after entertainment by an accomplished local folk group, The Spinning Wheel, sufficient time remained for reminiscing over a drink.

The other two main concerts in the season, both at Christ Church, were understandably not on such a lavish scale as the Beethoven Mass. At the first the choir’s pianissimo singing in Durufle’s Requiem earned special praise. At the second the renowned Philip Jones Brass Ensemble played German Baroque and Italian Renaissance music in addition to accompanying motets by Bruckner and Vaughan Williams. The choir, with brass quintet, also gave the first performance of Cantate Domino, commissioned from Michael Burnett of Roehampton Institute, and, without brass, an unusual (albeit effective) setting of the Kyrie by Paul Patterson. This latter piece employed ‘contemporary vocal techniques such as development of rhythmic patterns on a single syllable, aleatoric writing, humming, whispering and shouting. At one point three sopranos were directed to scream into a grand piano with open lid. The composer had hoped to be present but pressure of work prevented his appearance. He afterwards wrote that Philip Jones had told him ‘Your piece was performed superbly’. A conductor’s chair, to accompany the desk of 1976, was used for the first time at the earlier of these concerts. It was the end product of a legacy from Tommy Nash, an enthusiastic member of the tenor section for twenty-five years.

Fund raising events continued apace. Foremost were the annual Tadworth Antiques and Banstead Craft Fairs and Carol Concert, about which a press critic commented ‘Christ Church was filled to the point of the audience being squashed’. Five extraordinarily talented pupils from the Yehudi Menuhin School entertained us in the Epsom College Music Room and there was even a pantomime The King of Baroque - you may be able to guess who was parodied in the title role - written by Harold Christopherson, one of the basses in the choir.

The season ended with Robert Jones, our admired accompanist, assistant chorus master, occasional alto soloist and programme notes writer, tendering his resignation on account of increasing commitments elsewhere. After ‘auditioning’ three of several applicants we appointed Ian le Grice as Robert’s successor.

The Annual General meeting decided to end the anomaly that those who joined the choir before September 1973 were not subject to the dreaded four-yearly re-audition by the conductor. In consequence many of the fifty or so who had hitherto been exempt spent the summer of 1983 in vocal exercises, often tape-recording their efforts and, in a few cases, singing in front of candles to ensure that the most feared wobble was absent!

The 1983-84 season had a strong German flavour. The first concert -Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem and Bach’s Cantata Wachet Auf - was sung entirely in that language. Perhaps the hours in front of the candle had been beneficial, for a critic wrote ‘A clear, straight soprano line, warm but wobble-free alto and an unusually robust tenor section (for an English choir) were poised over a firm, confident bass section’.

Bach’s St John Passion at the March concert might also have been in German - indeed it was four years later - but, as in two previous performances, we remained faithful to the English of the Ivor Atkins edition. Michael Goldthorpe and John Noble were Evangelist and Christus respectively and the London Bach Orchestra lived up to its high reputation. Two comments in

the local press were ‘The chorus Let us not divide was taken at an incredible rate’ and ‘The final unending praise to Thee rang in my ears for at least another hour’.

In December 1982 Richard and the Chairman had visited Eschweiler, near Aachen, literally under cover of darkness, arriving by car after nightfall and leaving before daybreak, for a performance of Haydn’s Die Schlipfung (Creation) by the town’s choral and orchestral society. The possibility of twinning with a foreign choir had been under discussion for several months. At the same time the Borough of Reigate and Banstead was cautiously feeling its way towards a town-twinning arrangement. Press photographers contributed rather too literally to the Representation of Chaos, the opening movement of Creation, by stepping into the orchestra to take flashlight pictures. However, the two representatives from Banstead were obviously satisfied with what they heard and reported back favourably to their colleagues. The outcome was an agreement to give combined concerts at two-yearly intervals, alternately in Germany and England.

The first visit was by Banstead to Eschweiler in April 1984, Some sixty singers and a handful of supporters made the journey, mostly by coach, and stayed with members and friends of the home choir and orchestra. The weather was glorious and a hectic programme of socialising and sightseeing had been arranged. The hospitality was wonderful and friendships were formed which have deepened over succeeding years. A certain degree of stamina was required to survive the three-day stay, particularly in rehearsals and performance of Em Deutsches Requiem, at the parish church of St Peter and Paul, where no choir seating was provided. During these rehearsals Richard made periodic excursions to the back of the nave ostensibly to assess balance between choir and orchestra, although he was accused by fellow basses of really going for a short sit-down! The conductor was Wilhelm Heinrichs, whose tempi were slower than Richard’s, but the performance was both convincing and moving.

The choral language abruptly switched from German to Russian for the last concert of the season, given at St Michael’s and All Angels Church, West Croydon - a building, new to us, with a fine acoustic and a magnificent Father Willis organ. A few of the numbers of Rachmaninov’s Vespers were omitted and the rest were sung unaccompanied in phonetic Russian. The music, with its timeless quality based on the Orthodox Church’s liturgy, made a deep impression on all who performed or listened. Gillian Weir, the internationally famous organist, fully exploited the King of Instruments in Bach and Messiaen, and as the church was celebrating its centenary the concert finished with Parry’s exultant coronation anthem I was glad when they said unto me: we will go into the house of the Lord which inspired one of the most thrilling B.M.S. sounds in memory.

Much of 1984-85 seemed to be occupied with raising money for one cause or another while continuing to make music. The profit (a rare phenomenon!) from the first concert was donated to the Secombe Appeal for a Body Scanner at St Helier Hospital. Many performers gave their services free or at reduced rates. Howard Gough and his wife Celia Nicklin, the distinguished oboist, helped us organise this charity concert. They recruited what was known for the day as The Christ Church Chamber Orchestra which accompanied the choir in Purcell’s Come ye sons of art and Constant Lambert’s The Rio Grande, with Judith Burton as solo pianist. A surprise last minute addition to the proceedings came in the person of the now famous, deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie who at the time was a second year student at the Royal Academy of Music. For one of her pieces she was joined by James Blades, her Professor at the Academy. Celia bullied various local shopkeepers and companies into advertising in the programmes. The end result was a cheque for nearly £700 to the Scanner Appeal.

Shortly before the Carol Concert we purchased new concert staging for ourselves. Previous to this some singers had endured concerts, with no clear view of the conductor, perched on a motley assembly of boxes and blocks imported from various schools. Now we were proud possessors of forty flat rectangular tops, all with supports that could be folded and stored in a relatively small space in Christ Church. The choir could be arranged in four tiers above platform level. The cost was £2000 but the Treasurer had negotiated a loan of three-quarters of this sum, repayable over a five-year period. Several extra fund-raising events were undertaken to reduce our debt as quickly as possible. They included a seven-hour marathon in the Vallins Hall of Banstead Methodist Church, where much unsuspected talent was unearthed amongst over sixty members and friends, our first car-boot sale, another evening in the Epsom College Music Room when we entertained ourselves musically, and a talents scheme in which members were given £1 on the understanding that it was multiplied many times before being returned. One energetic member even did a sponsored walk of more than 200 miles from Malvern to Aldeburgh. Muriel Holyman, in addition to the Craft Fair, endeavoured to organise a second Antiques Fair during the season, following the customary earlier one in Tadworth. Unfortunately she had to abandon plans due to dwindling numbers of stall-holders willing to support one-day Fairs.

Whether or not the new staging was responsible, the Carol Concert was generally considered to be one of the best for many years.

Bach’s St Matthew Passion was sung at Christ Church on Good Friday in German. Choice of date and language were criticised by a few in the choir beforehand, but in the event both seemed to be vindicated. Indeed a press reporter put her thoughts into print: ‘It would be hard to think of a better way to have spent Good Friday’. The Passion was performed in its entirety,

necessitating a 6p.m. start and a 45 minutes interval during which refreshments were served to the audience in the Church Hall. Apart from their musical involvement, the choir (and helpers) were engaged in a major day-long catering operation, as they also served food and drink to the orchestra in the morning and to larger numbers, including hungry ripieno boys from Trinity School, Croydon, in the afternoon. The church was almost full in the evening, but much less so for the season’s final concert which consisted of Hadyn’s St Cecilia Mass and Britten’s Cantata Misericordium. Again the press was complimentary, one critic remarking ‘All the parts were proficient as always, but the soprano line sounded even fresher than usual - quite wobble-free and sweetly-tuned’.

John Hackett, Vicar of Christ Church, had great plans for converting his church into an Arts Centre and launched an appeal for £25,000. However, at the end of the season he moved to Clapham. After the last concert we presented him with a recording of the St Cecilia Mass. As Spencer Ranger noted in the previous chapter, John had been a very good friend to the Society.

There was more present-giving at the A.G.M. in recognition of Richard’s completion of 25 years as conductor. Verbal bouquets were showered on him expressing gratitude for his undiminished zest and inspiration. The gift, selected after discreetly ascertaining his preference, was an ‘idiot-proof’ camera.

Christ Church was unavailable for the first concert of 198546, so our tribute to Handel, in the tercentenary year of his birth, was paid in All Saints Church, Benhilton, on a chilly November evening. Our verdict was that All Saints was superior to Christ Church acoustically but had fewer concert-giving facilities. Except for an interesting Magnificat by Giles Swayne, making use of African rhythms and melodies, all the music was by G.F.H. and included his setting of Psalm 113, Laudate Puen, and the Plague Choruses from Israel in Egypt. The latter affected one representative of the press to the extent that The eight-part choral and orchestral depiction of an invasion of flies, lice and locusts, brilliantly performed, was enough to make one glance to the floor to make sure there was nothing actually crawling’.

The first visit by our friends from Eschweiler in April involved the Society in a monumental feat of organisation. We had advance warning that members of three choirs were coming - the one from Stadtische Musikgesellschaft Eschweiler (now conducted by Horst Berretz) with whom we had sung two years before, and two from neighbouring Duren, both conducted by Wilhelm Heinrichs. The first list of visitors had 132 names on it, all to be found accommodation, but by the time of arrival numbers had shrunk to just over 100. We also invited Reigate & Redhill Choral Society, conducted by Jonathan Butcher whom we knew as a former conductor or Sutton Schools Orchestra, to join us in Verdi’s Requiem at Fairfield Hall. The chorus totalled 300 in all.

A problem arose just before the afternoon rehearsal when it was discovered that violin parts posted by Richard to the leader of the English Symphony Orchestra had not arrived. The fiddlers volunteered to play by heart if necessary, the B.M.S. treasurer was despatched into Croydon to do some hasty photo-copying of the one first violin part available, but the day was saved by the quick thinking of Louise Honeyman, the orchestra’s manager. She at once telephoned a music library in London, spoke to the only person present on a Saturday afternoon - he was on the point of leaving for a Swiss holiday! - and arranged immediate delivery of the parts by motorcycle despatch rider. The concert itself thrilled audience and singers alike. An enthusiastic press critic called it ‘a performance of joy and perfection’.

The social programme for our visitors included a day-trip to Windsor, an afternoon drive in three coaches through London, when more photographs were taken of Winston Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square than any of the other famous sights, and a farewell dinner in the Banstead Community Hall, superbly organised by a team of ladies headed by Joan Shipley. The Germans left on Monday morning in a sudden snowstorm. We heard afterwards that en route to Dover they stopped to admire Canterbury. One of them, overcome by the hectic weekend, fell asleep in the Cathedral crypt and could not be found. He was left behind as his companions had to take reserved places on the cross-Channel ferry. When he eventually awoke he resourcefully hitch-hiked to Dover, caught the next ferry and hitch-hiked again from Calais to Eschweiler, reaching home at 6 a.m., only five hours later than the rest of the party.

We were back in Fairfield Hall twelve days after the Verdi, this time as part of a Massed Bands in Concert evening. We performed some of our ‘party pieces’, such as Linden Lea, Little David, The Mermaid and Polly Wolly Doodle - the press said we ‘almost stole the show’ - and endeavoured to compete with the bands in Cranberty Corners, the Slaves Chorus from Nabucco and Finlandia.

In a frantic finale to the season the Society organised Five Centuries of Music in 500 Minutes, involving a wide variety of local musicians, not least groups from Nonsuch and Wallington High School for Girls, Epsom College and Sutton Schools Orchestra. Four weeks later, on a perfect summer evening we sang Rachmaninov’s Vespers, this time without omissions, in St Albans Abbey with the local Chamber Choir.

Three major figures in the history of the Society, all octogenarians, died in 1985-86. They were Frank Cook, deputy conductor and accompanist for 35 years, and Spencer Ranger and Jim Shivas, both Chairmen in their time, who between them had a combined record of 100 years in the tenor ranks. All three were great, truly humble men.

The choir, in whole or part, was involved in eight separate performances during 1986-87. The first was a return fixture of the Verdi Requiem with the Reigate & Redhill choir in the somewhat unlikely surroundings of Donyngs Recreation Centre, Redhill. It had originally been hoped that the two choirs might present the inaugural concert at the new Harlequin theatre, but delays in completion of the building ruled this out. At Donyngs we sang in a resonant, sparsely furnished hall. On a hot day a smell of chlorine percolated in from the adjoining swimming pool, but there was no time for a quick dip! Jonathan Butcher inspired another exciting performance.

St Cecilia’s Day 1986 fell on a Saturday and we celebrated in appropriate style at Christ Church with a concert that included Britten’s Hymn to Cecilia, Handel’s Ode on St Cecilia’s Day and Hymn to the Holy Innocents by the contemporary composer Christopher Brown. Thursday evening rehearsals at Banstead Middle School were under the aegis of the Reigate & Banstead Adult Education Institute. The new Principal heard us for the first time at this concert and in a subsequent letter of appreciation wrote ‘I was most impressed by the sensitivity and technical mastery of the choir. The Handel was beautifully familiar, the Christopher Brown was very interesting, but the Britten was magical. What a revelation!’

After the Carol Concert on 20th December, apart from weekly rehearsals, there was a long gap until the next concert at the end of March. Not even a jumble sale or a social evening! Those who planned the season must have known something because in the intervening period we suffered the heaviest snowfall for some years. Appropriately our next public appearance went under the title Spring Serenade. Handbills advertising the event, in aid of the Princess Alice Hospice at Esher, promised ‘a light-hearted evening of music ranging from Brahms to Gershwin, featuring the distinguished piano team of Harvey Dagul and Isobel Beyer’. The Brahms in question was his Liebeslieder-Walzer and the Gershwin I got plenty o’ nuttin’. In between came The succession of four sweet months and Ballad of green broom by Britten, Andrew Carter’s Two for the price of one, the inevitable Little David play on yo’ harp and many others. It took place in the Epsom Playhouse, another concert hall new to us.

Handel’s Messiah attracted a near capacity audience to Christ Church on Good Friday. Richard had reminded us in the preceding weeks that we were still not note perfect in a few parts of this familiar work. However, his meticulous preparation produced one of our finest performances. The visiting Surrey Region representative of the National Federation of Music Societies afterwards echoed the feelings of many when she wrote ‘It really was a most memorable occasion’.

On 25th April twenty-six B.M.S. members answered an appeal by Richard to augment his St Albans Chamber Choir and their German twin Wormser Kantorei in Brahms’s Em Deutsches Requiem at the Abbey. The whole performance was intensely moving and in the final movement, Selig sind die Toten (Blessed are the dead), several of those present had the extraordinary feeling that what can only be inadequately described as some sort of supernatural force had taken charge of the proceedings. Many in the huge audience were overcome by tears. For at least one performer it was the musical experience of a lifetime.

In May a rather greater proportion of the choir helped Great Tattenham’s Methodist Church celebrate their 21st anniversary by repeating some of the Epsom Playhouse items, directed by Ian in Richard’s absence. Monteverdi’s superb 1610 Vespers brought the season to a triumphant close at St Michael & All Angels. We were blessed with an exceptionally fine line-up of soloists - Deborah Roberts, Evelyn Tubb, Robert Harre-Jones (alias Robert Jones), Andrew Murgatroyd, Neil Mackenzie, Jeremy White and Simon Deller -supported by His Majesty’s Sackbuts and Cornetts and a chamber orchestra.

The Secretary in her report at the A.G.M. noted that during the year the choir had had twenty new members, one marriage and four births!

1987-88 proved to be a most difficult season for the management of the Society. For some time distant rumblings had been heard of new safety regulations for churches where public concerts were held. In the summer of 1987 the authorities in the London Borough of Sutton began rigorously to apply these regulations. Christ Church, our ‘home’ for many years, after inspection was required to spend many thousands of pounds to achieve full conformity. Sutton Baptist Church, an obvious alternative for us, could be brought up to the mark for a somewhat lesser, although still daunting, expenditure. Even if the church authorities decided to go ahead, time would be needed to raise the money and to carry out the improvements. We could not wait. Our entire programme had to be rethought at short notice. Eventually two of our four major concerts were moved to St Martin’s Church in Epsom, one to St Michael & All Angels, and the last, which became a charity concert in aid of Banstead Place Mobility Centre, to The Harlequin, Redhill. The season’s concert brochure never saw the light of day and even our internal Diary of Events did not appear until the New Year.

Strangely enough, our first engagement did take place in Christ Church, but only after a special ‘one-oft’ temporary licence had been granted for the day. We contributed twenty minutes to the Church’s Centenary Gala Concert, mostly with what had come to be known as our Epsom Playhouse shortpiece repertoire. The occasion rekindled(!) memories for some of Richard’s spell as choirmaster and organist of the church several years earlier. He used to invite a few B.M.S. members to assist the church choir on Sunday mornings. One remarkable service had stayed in the mind. The organ caught fire and, with smoke swirling into the church, the fire brigade in the choir vestry and the Vicar assuring the congregation they were in no danger, choral matins pursued its serene, perforce unaccompanied way, complete with anthem.

The annual carols survived in Christ Church as well, but only after it had been renamed A Musical Celebration of Christmas and the Safety Officer assured that it would begin with a prayer and so qualify as an act of worship.

In November we sang Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb from an unsatisfactory position behind the reredos at St Martin’s. After the interval we transferred to a better site (and sight) in front of the offending screen for Haydn’s Paukenmesse, with the Purcell Orchestra who also accompanied the beautiful clear voice of soprano soloist Ruth Holton in Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate.

Faure’s Requiem was scheduled to be one half of the January concert, with pieces played by the Yehudi Menuhin School Orchestra providing the other. Much to their own embarrassment the school authorities had to tell us less than three months beforehand that (non-musical) exam results were not up to scratch - too many outside engagements were thought to be the cause -and they were compelled to withdraw from the concert. Thereupon we moved the date to February, added three motets by Stanford and an organ piece by C4sar Franck (played by Ian) to the programme, and, to maintain the youth element, invited five Sixth Formers from Epsom College to contribute vocal and instrumental items.

Father Noel Goldwin and the churchwardens of St Michael & All Angels came to our rescue most wonderfully on Good Friday. They allowed us to move into the church immediately after their three-hour service was over, for the afternoon rehearsal of Bach’s St John Passion which we sang in German for the first time. The choir, six soloists and orchestra all miraculously squeezed into the chancel - there is no choir screen at St Michael’s! - and Richard directed from the chamber organ. The church’s heating system had failed a day or two earlier and, although portable hot-air blowers were imported, choir members were asked to supply hot water bottles to keep orchestral fingers warm and supple.

Adversity brought the best out of everyone and the evening performance, judging from subsequent audience comment, was a deeply moving experience.

Strike action was being threatened on the cross-Channel ferries and no sooner had the sustained applause died away than Richard and Nanette were Dover-bound in their ‘dormobile’ on their way to Tuscany for a short Easter holiday. The strike had become a reality by the time we were due to agreed to play organ solos as part of the final concert, but now he had thrust upon him conductorship of the other part. The June evening at St Michael & All Angels, when we sang Finzi, Vaughan Williams, Parry, Brahms, Bach, Poulenc and Durufl4, was a tour de force by and triumph for Ian. How many choirs can boast of having a deputy conductor of such quality?

Fund-raising earlier in the season included A Musical Journey Through Europe, another day-long event at All Saints Church, Banstead, involving many performers. The journey terminated in Germany with a former member of the choir’s soprano ranks, Rowena Cox, singing Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben and a former alto, Joan New, conducting a contingent from B.M.S. in Bach’s Lobet den Herrn, as Richard and Ian were unavailable. Joan had become Chairman of the Banstead Arts Festival in 1987 and both before and since then had organised a Young Celebrities recital each year, given by musically talented children from local schools, with proceeds donated to the Society.

The annual Banstead Craft Fair realised a profit of £900. Muriel Holyman persuaded choir members to push 10,000 handbills through local letterboxes in the preceding fortnight, and on the day of the Fair she and her sister Barbara rose at 5 a.m. to erect signs all round the district, leaving no-one in any doubt that all roads led to the Community Hall.

Barbara retired as Secretary at Christmas 1988 after nearly twenty years of wonderfully devoted service. At the by now traditional Apres Carols party in Christ Church Hall, where Richard dispensed his hot punch to lubricate tired vocal chords, Barbara was presented with a pendant necklace. The Chairman retired at the A.G.M. of 1989 and was given an original drawing of Benjamin Britten with which he was clearly well pleased. The places of these two officers were taken respectively by Diana Stern and Michael Payne. It was the second successive time that the Treasurer had been elected Chairman.

Richard was restored to health before the opening concert of 1989-90 which combined the second half of the eighteenth century with the second half of the twentieth. Hadyn’s joyful Nelson Mass and Mozart’s Piano Concerto K459 (played by the ever willing Ian) represented the former, and Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Walton’s The Twelve (a work new to the choir, with words by W. H. Auden) the latter. By an odd quirk two of the soloist had very similar names - Ruth Holton, soprano, and Ruth Holden, harp. Another brilliant young harpist, Lucy Wakeford, enchanted the audience at the Musical Celebration of Christmas in Christ Church. At the age of sixteen, having come second in the recent BBC Young Musician of the Year competition, she was obviously ‘going places’.

We were now used to meeting our friends from Eschweiler every other year. In 1990 they arrived late due to a customs’ delay and were precipitated into the middle of our Thursday evening practice. In Fairfield Hall we again sang Brahms’s Em Deutsches Requiem with them and gave the second performance of a Missa Brevis composed by Ian for the Chandos Choir of which he was also conductor. The Germans admitted that they had found its unfamiliar idiom difficult in rehearsal, but on the day everything came together well and the piece earned high praise all the way round. Much of the social programme of the visit was associated with the River Thames. There were trips, some of them on the water, to the Thames Barrier at Woolwich, the Houses of Parliament and Hampton Court Palace. The finale was a dinner at Epsom College towards the end of which the visitors momentarily left, only to reappear in single file bearing 96 bottles of white wine which they presented to us. We learnt that Dover’s Customs had searched their hand luggage as they entered the country, but had failed to notice the wine!

Ian’s Missa is not particularly brevis, but then Rossini’s Messe is neither petite nor solenelle, despite its name. The Rossini work comprised the whole of the season’s last concert at St Martin’s. There was no limit to Ian’s versatility and this time he played the harmonium. In the afternoon the choir was anything but solemn when Ian’s stool insisted on sliding away from his instrument as soon as he began to pedal. Geoff Barham, the ever resourceful stage manager, found a length of rope and tied harmonium and stool together, but then the combination, with Ian aboard, began to migrate across the smooth floor. Eventually it all had to be wedged into place to prevent damage to property or persons.

The instrumental forces required for the Rossini were slender, but this was far from the case at the earlier Fairfield concert, where we engaged the London Mozart Players. Again the John Lewis Partnership made a handsome grant, but we also needed record proceeds from the Craft Fair and from an even more profitable venture, an Auction of Promises. Seventy-six offers, ranging from lets of holiday cottages to chauffeuring passengers to and from Heathrow or Gatwick, were sold by auction during a hugely entertaining evening which yielded over £2,200 for funds.

At the A.G.M. Richard was presented with some of the Eschweiler wine, in recognition of his thirty years as conductor, and with an inflated balloon on which had been penned ‘Here’s to the next 30 (Hackney Wick)’. This was a reminder of his encyclopaedic knowledge of London bus routes. Frequently on Thursday evenings rehearsal numbers in the vocal score would immediately be followed by the appropriate route’s destination. Another balloon and another ‘in’ joke accompanied the gift of a compact disc to Harald Christopherson as he retired after many years in the bass line. The message on this balloon was ‘With love from the gerbils’. Richard’s standard instruction to the sopranos, when he wanted a small, thin, even sound from them, was ‘Sing like gerbils!’.

Harald had been the interviewer of several of the Society’s leading lights in a series of Desert Island Discs evenings over a period stretching back to 1981. Castaways had included the conductor, two accompanists and two chairmen, but early in the 1990-91 season the tables were turned and he was interview by Ian - in yet another new role for the latter.

Due to our ‘homeless’ state the season’s four concerts were given at four different venues. The first, at St Martin’s, brought together Haydn’s St Nicholas Mass, Handel’s Dixit Dominus, Lennox Berkeley’s Missa Brevis and Bach’s solo Cantata no. 54. We were accompanied by the Degani Players, a group of twelve instrumentalists who were reduced to ten between rehearsal and performance by reason of illness. The audience seemed well pleased with the concert, although some of the choir felt they were not fully on top of the Berkeley piece, in spite of Richard’s impassioned pleas in the preceding weeks for more homework’.

The Musical Celebration of Christmas continued in Christ Church, but with possibly ominous signs that the size of audience was diminishing. We asked ourselves whether this might be due to the economic recession which was beginning to grip the hitherto ‘prosperous’ south-east of England or to the relatively unchanging format of the evening.

The ‘big’ concert of the season, in every sense of the word, was Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius at Fairfield Hall in March 1991. For the first time the chorus was made up of Richard’s three choirs - B.M.S., St Albans Chamber Choir and the Roehampton Institute Chorus. The day nearly turned into a disaster. The all-important tenor soloist had to retire in the course of the afternoon rehearsal. Amazingly, a replacement, Adrian de Peyer, was found in time for him to have a few minutes’ run-through with Richard and Ian at 6.15 p.m. He had not sung the part for 25 years but he rose magnificently to the occasion in the evening. The drama and tension of events, both in and out of the score, put the choir on its mettle, but, above all, Richard’s truly great conducting inspired everyone, including the soloists - Catherine Wyn-Rogers and John Noble were the other two - and the London Mozart Players, to give one of the most memorable performances in the Society’s history. An ecstatic press review appeared under the headline This Dream will last a lifetime’.

In June we were back in Croydon, at St Michael & All Angels, singing Bach’s motet Jesu, Meine Freude, Kodaly’s Missa Brevis and Missa Tilburtina by Giles Swayne. The latter, in the composer’s words’ . . dedicated to the people of the Third World . . emphatically not a Christian piece’, required intensive rehearsal, but in the end it was favourably received by choir and audience. Ian played solos by Bach and Ropek on the Father Willis.

The financial position at the end of the season was worrying. Net current assets were revealed to be £4 and a plunge into the red at the bank was only averted by an unnamed choir member who loaned the Society £1000, repayable within twelve months. The Gerontius concert had overtaken the War Requiem of 1988 as the most expensive ever. Costs were £16,310. Kevin Shears, the Treasurer, assured the A.G. M. that there was no connection between the parlous situation and the fact that he was presenting accounts, now known as the Annual Financial Statement, on eight A4-sized pages instead of one as in the past. The new format was a requirement of the Charity Commissioners.

Usual fund-raising activities were supplemented by distribution of tubes of Smarties at the final rehearsal, not principally to sweeten the bitter economic tidings, but so that they could be emptied and then filled with up to seventy 20p pieces during the summer recess. This imaginative idea ultimately benefited the Society by £675, which turned out to be more than the net profit of the 1991 Musical Celebration of Christmas (where there was an even smaller audience than the previous year) before 40% was allocated to the co-promoting Sutton Schools Orchestra. This division of the spoils had been negotiated by a former treasurer and had remained fixed over the years.

1991 saw the bicentenary of Mozart’s death and the country was inundated with concerts of his music from January 1st onwards. We contributed to the flood in the first concert of the 1991-92 season, on 23rd November at St Michael & All Angels, with the Requiem and Piano Concerto K466, most beautifully performed by Ian as soloist, accompanied by the Degani Players. This time the size of the audience considerably exceeded expectations and, at the last minute, every available chair had to be rushed over from the church hail. Everyone was very happy by the end of the evening, not least our Treasurer.

The festive mood of Christmas extended into January when an enjoyable Barn Dance in the Nork Community Hall engendered unsuspected feats of athleticism by members who in rehearsal or concert were prone to grumble if asked to stand for more than quarter of an hour at a stretch. A second Auction of Promises, which (like the first) owed its success to the unstinting efforts of Simon Holding, one of a record number of tenors currently on the books, again added well over £2000 to our bank balance. Popular offers were two dozen bags of well-rotted horse manure and, with another Eschweiler trip imminent, German lessons.

It has to be admitted that the average age of the choir was lowered when we combined with the Surrey University Choir (and Orchestra) and Roehampton Institute Chorus to give two performances of the Verdi Requiem within a month, early in 1992. The first was in Guildford Cathedral, with its notoriously difficult acoustic, conducted by Nicholas Conran of the University, and the second in Fairfield Hall with Richard on the rostrum.

Our third visit to Eschweiler at the end of May coincided with a heat-wave. Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana was not the coolest work to perform under such conditions, especially when the choir had to remain on its feet throughout the piece. However, after problems in rehearsal, the concert went with much zest and rewarded the hard work of conductor Horst Berretz. The drinks waiters at the ensuing supper did a roaring trade. The meal ended with customary speeches, periodically engulfed by gales of laughter. Fiona Eadie, one of our choir’s altos, acted as interpreter, as she had done on the previous two trips. At this supper she blamed fatigue, rather than anything imbibed, for her attempt to translate Horst’s German back into the original language! The social programme was less onerous than it had been in 1988 and old friendships were renewed and fresh ones made during four happy days.

The weather was equally hot a fortnight later when, augmented by boys from John Fisher School, Purley, we sang Carmina Burana at The Harlequin. Alan Brown and Ian on two pianos and the London Percussion Ensemble assisted in a high voltage performance which did nothing to lower the temperature. Before this the two pianists partnered us in Brahms’s Liebeslieder-Waizer in which, at least, there was reference to the cooling waters of the Danube and a gentle brook in Daumer’s poems.

At the end of our seventieth season we were told that the precarious balance of twelve months ago had been converted into something approaching affluence in B.M.S. terms, although still probably uncomfortably low when compared to annual average expenditure in recent times. The improvement was due not only to a cheaper concert season, the most lucrative Craft Fair so far (despite both Muriel and Barbara’s struggling against gastric ‘flu on the day), the Auction of Promises and the Smarties project, but also to the continuing efforts of such wonderful people as alto Janet White, known affectionately in some circles as the Marmalady on account of the vast quantity of eponymous preserve she had made and sold to members over the years for the Society’s funds.

We end this account, proud of our achievements, but certainly not content to rest on our laurels, even after 32 years with one of the best conductors in the business. It is encouraging that the Secretary’s letter before the start of the seventy-first season mentions a five-year plan and asks for comments and ideas on ‘all issues relevant to the choir’s future success’.

Complacency is absent. The officers and committee are forward looking. In recent years there has been a steady influx of young members. Thus we enter our eighth decade with every reason for optimism.

1992 to 2001

Performance standards have been maintained throughout the last nine years and, on occasions, improved. Despite this, audience numbers have slowly diminished, in line with national trends. Richard has remained our mentor and inspiration on the rostrum, although he announced in January 2001, to a somewhat shocked membership, that the 20001-2001 season would be his last at the helm. Ian has been ever present on piano, organ, chamber organ or (for one concert when Richard was abroad) podium.

The music of Bach, Handel and Haydn has featured more than any other. The 25th anniversary of JS Bach's death (2000) was commemorated with the Mass in B minor, Cantata BWV 11 and (sharing a programme with son CPE Bach's Magnificat}, Cantata BWV 21 (1999) and Christmas Oratorio (1994) ensured that our own celebrations were spread over almost a decade rather than a single year. Britten (St Nicolas, A Boy was Born, A Ceremony of Carols, Rejoice in the Lamb, Festival Te Deum} was the next most-performed composer in this period. The choir commissioned works from multi-talented Ian le Grice ( Song for St Cecilia's Day, 1992), James Patten (Stabat Mater, 1995) and Humphrey Clucas (Miserere, 2000) . Other compositions from the latter part of the 20th century sung by the choir have been Elis Pehkonen's Russian Requiem (1993), Humphrey Clucas's Songs of Farewell {(1998) , Kenneth Leighton's The Birds (2001) and Michael Hurd's A Song for St Cecilia (2001). Concert venues have included Guildford Cathedral, St Alban's Abbey, Croydon's Fairfield Halls and St Michael & All Angels' Church, and Epsom's Playhouse, College Chapel, St Martin's Church and Chichester Cathedral (2001 and 2002).

The Musical Celebration of Christmas at Christchurch, Sutton, with the Sutton Schools (later Youth) Symphony Orchestra, came to an end in 1996. It was succeeded by carol concerts at St Martin's (1997) and St Michael's & All Angels (1998) but dwindling audiences eventually brought about the demise of this once popular event.. Subsequently, enjoyable Christmas Musical Soirées for members and friends have been held in Banstead.. The Eschweiler twinning arrangement has continued, alternately in this country (Haydn's Creation 1994, Mozart's Mass in C minor 1998) and in Germany (Mendelssohn's Elijah 1996 and a Bach/Radermacher concert 2000).

In 1999, the Society, changed its performing name to St Cecilia Chorus. The choir felt that Banstead gave too parochial an image and that Musical Society was not informative.

The concert programme continued culminating in an evening of works by Bach, Haydn and Brahms at Chichester Cathedral in June 2002. This was the final concert under the leadership of Richard Stangroom, who retired after 42 years of conducting the choir.

The new Musical Director is Susan Farrow Topolovac who, in June 2002, took over from Richard Stangroom.

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