Choir History

Here’s to the next 65 years!

A rehearsal in the early years of the choir
The Warwick & Kenilworth Choral Society was founded in May 1953, when the then separate Warwick and Kenilworth choral societies merged, following a joint performance of Handel’s Messiah at the first Warwick Festival. The Festival founder, Tim (Thomas) Tunnard, accepted the invitation to become conductor of the new Society, and its first concert, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio , was given on New Year’s Day 1954 at St Mary’s Church, Warwick, where Tim Tunnard was organist and choirmaster. Since then the Society has given three further performances of the Christmas Oratorio . Other performances of works by Bach include three of the St Matthew Passion and five each of the B minor Mass and the St John Passion , together with numerous secular and religious cantatas.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Handel is the composer to have been performed most frequently over the last fifty years. The records show there have been at least 27 performances of Messiah in Warwick or Kenilworth, with excerpts of that work featuring in several other concerts. Judas Maccabeus has been performed three times; at the second performance in 1980, the soprano soloist was a certain Lesley Garrett, who had also sung on several earlier occasions with the Society. After Messiah , the most popular works performed have been Fauré’s Requiem and Brahms’s German Requiem (seven performances each), Haydn’s The Creation and Mozart’s Requiem (six each), with perhaps surprisingly, Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle scoring four performances, ahead of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius , Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Haydn’s The Seasons with three each.

There have been numerous other works performed in a total of 171 concerts recorded in the archives to December 2006, spanning composers from Arne to Zoltan Kodaly and the years from the twelfth to the twentieth century. The tradition of annual Messiah performances at St Nicholas’ Church in Kenilworth began in 1984.

About to rehearse at All Saints Church
The 50th Anniversary Concert performance of Verdi’s Requiem in November 2003 was Ronald Binnie‘s thirty-third concert with the Society. Having been rehearsal accompanist from 1993 and conducting a concert in 1994, he succeeded Jeremy Dibb in March 1996.

Ron Binnie continued with the choir until December 2008 when Andrew Jones took over the baton in January 2009.  During the three year period of time with us, Andrew conducted a total of twelve concerts and quickly established a strong rapport with the choir. At rehearsals, he demonstrated his excellent musicality together with good humoured patience and expertise. Andrew was able to respond in a positive way and this was much appreciated by the choir. It was with sincere regret that due to Andrew having to move through a change in employment necessitating a move to London, his stay with us was cut short. We are sincerely grateful to Andrew for his leadership over the time with the society and we wish him all the very best for his success in the future.

Colin Druce, our present rehearsal accompanist and répétiteur, joined us on a regular basis in September 1999; he also takes sectional rehearsals, and occasionally deputises for the conductor. Colin has also performed piano concertos by Grieg and Mozart at our concerts, as well as organ music by Widor and Liszt.

Tim Tunnard gave his last concert with the Society in 1958, and the longest serving conductor to date has been Russell Lovick, who conducted his first concert in May 1960, continuing until May 1974, although he remained a singing member for many years after that. The baton passed to Anthony Metcalfe in 1974, and he was followed by Andrew Fletcher in September 1977, Kipps Horn in January 1981, and Timothy Hone in 1982. Stephen Perrins took over from September 1987 until 1989, and after a short interim Jeremy Dibb took charge in September 1990.

In addition to Lesley Garrett, the Society has worked with many musicians who have achieved national and international acclaim. A brief list would include Reginald Jacques, Jennifer Vyvyan, Norma Proctor, Heather Harper, Stephen Varcoe, Christopher Keyte and John Noble.

Having started off with 95 paying members, the Society’s membership ranged from about 40 to 60 through the Fifties until the early Eighties. From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s it grew to some eighty or so, and in the last few years the Society has continued to prosper, its membership increasing steadily to its present strength of a chorus of well over a hundred in most concerts, of which there are four each year. It is a pleasure to record that one soprano, Margaret Battersea, joined the Society fifty years ago and still sings with the choir today. The male singer whose membership goes back the furthest appears to be bass Barry Young, who joined a year or two after the Society was formed. They both appear in the old photo at the top of the page.

Agenda and accounts for 1954
This picture shows the agenda and accounts for the first AGM of the Society, held on 2 June 1954. The opening balance for the newly formed Warwick & Kenilworth Choral Society was £11.2.6d (£3.8.1d from the Kenilworth Society and £7.14.5d from the Warwick Society). Subscriptions were 7/6d and 5/-, total annual receipts being £34 from 95 paying members.