The Christ Church Choir pre-dated the orchestra by more than a decade and a cohort of about a dozen voices transferred to Barts in 1973. They were joined by an similar number drawn from the G&S Society and elsewhere in the Hospital and Medical School. The size of the group has remained twenty to thirty, being supplemented for larger ventures. Although a few choristers melted away after one or two attendances, the average stay has been about five years and a few have picked up their forty-year attendance allowance. A number of members have come, gone and returned, this usually being linked to clinical commitments. Friday night rehearsals are uncommon – they suit a clinical timetable but interfere with long weekends – mandatory attendance would quickly decimate the ranks. For some it is a time to relax, for others time to re-focus. Group concentration is usually maintained for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time, which might explain the conductor’s rather negative attitude towards preliminary vocal exercises.
The criteria for admission to the choir are an ability to sing in tune and a prodigious amount of enthusiasm – the rest is up to the conductor. The lack of auditions does result in a group with a wide range of abilities, but it is gratifying to see the patience of the highly skilled, and the steady improvement (albeit sometimes at a painfully slow rate) of the less so – very few have been expelled! In spite of this diversity, the quality of performance has been remarkably good with few disappointments and the occasional sublime moment.
Choristers join choirs for very personal reasons, but the rewards of a successful performance are memorable, inspiring and communal. The choir chemistry reflects that of any family group of twenty to thirty individuals, encompassing support, friendliness, some interesting relationships, the odd squabble, a few weddings and funerals, not too many divorces, and even some clandestine communication with the orchestra.
The choir has welcomed support from outside when larger forces were required. A contingent from the St Angela’s Singers – a choir of more than six hundred and eighty girls, conducted by Peter Broadbent, joined us in the Albert Hall in 1983, and Oxford Singers contributed in the performance of the Dream of Gerontius in that city. It was a pleasure having the Esterhazy Choir join us to sing Ann Hunter’s libretto of The Creation at the Festival Hall, and at various times we have been delighted to have members from John Upperton and Ben Field’s choirs.
To mention individuals choir members of BAFCO or supporting groups – amounting to over three hundred and fifty members over the forty years – would be inappropriate, but my sincere thanks to all of them.
CHOIRMASTER AND ACCOMPANISTS
JSPL enjoys taking choir rehearsals (he has got to learn the music somehow), and it is helpful to know the capability of the choir and who (if anyone) occasionally looks at the conductor. Back-up has been essential for holidays and clinical commitments, and we were fortunate initially in having Cynthia Mason as Choirmistress. Later these great skills were provided by Reit Carmichael. Thanks also for occasional help to Margaret Banwell, Rachelle Goldberg, Jill Anderson, Alan Reddish, Ben Field and Bernard Hatswell.
JSPL usually accompanies rehearsals himself, this being an effective method for note-bashing. There is also the assumption that if the choir can combat his playing, they will have no problem teaming up with the orchestra. Choir accompanists in the early days were John Gibson and Cynthia Mason, more recently Rachelle Goldberg. Organ accompaniment at Barts-the-Great, Barts-the-Less and many other churches in England and abroad has regularly been given by John Dickinson, and we were also fortunate in having David Bell as organist on our two visits to the Albert Hall.
Regrettably JSPL has not recorded the names of all the vocal soloists who have joined us over the last forty years. They have included many marvellous and distinguished voices and it is sad not to recognise all their contributions. Nevertheless, it would be wrong not to mention some great friends of the group who have worked with us to great effect at home and abroad. Pride of place must go to a number of sopranos who have not only given us great pleasure, but have also done much of the fixing of soloists over the years. They include, Glenys Groves, Nicola Morgan, Carole Kewley and Beverley Luyt; and our greatest thanks go to Elaine Padmore who, through her extensive contacts, brought both individuals and whole casts for our instant operas over many years. Elaine’s memorable performances included, Berlioz’ Nuit d’Ete and Strauss’s last four songs. Her subsequent renowned career reflects her great knowledge, organisational skills and enthusiasm across the whole operatic spectrum.
For many years we were fortunate in having Sue MacKenzie-Park as our mezzo soloist, at home and on tour, and, more recently, Judith Harris. As well as Colin Tamblyn, thanks to tenors David Skewes for his performances that included the Festival Hall Creation, and to Donald Pilley, Arthur Davies and John Upperton. John Gamble was our bass soloist in many early perforrnances, followed by Peter Sidhom, who provided splendid oratorio and operatic performances, both at home and on tour. We are delighted to see the progression of his professional career, and it was a pleasure to have him return for a performance of the Verdi Requiem at the Barbican Hall. Currently, our thanks to Gerard Delrez for a great bass sound.