History of SCS

Stafford Choral Society 1946-2023

President: Councillor Ralph Cooke

Musical Director: Charlie Perry

 Stafford Choral Society was formed in 1946 and gave its first concert in December of that year performing Messiah under the direction of Dr Coleman. There have been quite a few performances of Messiah since then and many of our audience members join us year after year as part of a Christmas tradition, enjoying Handel’s wonderful oratorio.

Originally the aim of the Society was to perform oratorios once or twice a year and over the following few years it continued under the leadership of Gerald E Todd (1947) and Dr W L Smoldon (1947-1948)

In 1949 Mary Higgs began a twenty-five year association with the Society as its conductor. During this time she broadened the choir’s repertoire, performing works by Britten, Smetana, Elgar, Dvorak, Holst, Honegger, Stravinsky, Walton, Orff and Borodin – to mention just a few.

Following Miss Higgs’ untimely death in 1974, the Director of Music for Staffordshire, John W R Taylor, took over the reins. He continued to rehearse and perform a wide repertoire of large scale choral works including works by Rossini, Kodaly, Elgar, Verdi and Ralph Vaughan-Williams. Sadly John Taylor died suddenly in 1981 a few days after conducting one of the Society’s most ambitious undertakings – a performance of Malcolm Williamson’s Mass of Christ the King in Stychfields Hall in Stafford.

From 1981 to 1985 John C. P. Taylor succeeded his father, conducting notable performances of Vaughan -Williams A Sea Symphony and The Kingdom by Elgar.

Leslie Smith took over as Musical Director in 1986, leading the Society for twenty-nine years. As Stafford Choral Society approached its Golden Jubilee it was decided to mark the occasion by performing Verdi’s Requiem in Lichfield Cathedral.  As the cathedral provides such a wonderful venue we celebrated the millennium there with a performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah. In 2007 the Society returned once more to Lichfield for its Diamond Jubilee performances of Elgar’s The Music Makers and Ralph Vaughan-Williams A Sea Symphony. On this occasion the Society was joined by other Staffordshire singers: Burntwood Singers, Stone Choral Society and Stafford’s Cantemus Chamber Choir.

A decade later, we went back to this beautiful setting – joined by Cardiff Polyphonic Choir – to enjoy Elgar’s most challenging choral composition, The Dream of Gerontius as the culmination of our 70th anniversary year.

The success of Stafford Choral Society continued under the musical direction of David Young, appointed in 2014 when Leslie Smith retired. Memorable concerts included traditional choral works such as Mendelssohn’s Elijah in 2015 but the Society’s repertoire has also featured compositions from the twentieth-century, such as Durufle’s Requiem, and has also embraced the twenty-first century with performances of John Rutter’s Feel the Spirit in 2014 and The Manchester Carols in 2015 composed by Sasha Johnson Manning to a libretto by Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. This performance was particularly special as Sasha Johnson Manning joined the choir to sing the solo part and also sang with soprano section for the choral numbers.

Will Todd’s Mass in Blue had its first public performance in 2003 and with its jazzy overtones provided an exciting, rhythmic concert to open the Society’s 70th year in November 2016. The choir has continued to explore and enjoy choral music both traditional and contemporary under its current Musical Director.

Ellie Slorach took over from David Young in September 2018 with Pete Durrant continuing as Accompanist and Assistant Musical Director. Ellie’s skill as a conductor coupled with Pete’s outstanding ability as a pianist has enabled the Society to build on its previous successes. The choir now has a membership of nearly one hundred and continues to grow in experience and musicality as well as in numbers. Concerts under Ellie’s leadership have included Haydn’s Mass in Time of War, Dvorak’s Stabat Mater and a concert of Elgar’s music: From the Bavarian Highlands and The Music Makers.

Sadly, the pandemic of 2020/21 led to a suspension of live rehearsals but we continued to meet as a Society using the video platform Zoom and singing under the direction of Ellie and Pete, even managing some online ‘concerts’ through recording and singing along! But how wonderful to meet again in person in September 2021 and perform Vivaldi’s Gloria and Ola Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass in November of that year to start our 75th anniversary season. The culmination of this anniversary, in June 2022, was once again Verdi’s magnificent Requiem in Lichfield cathedral, where we were joined by a number of Chester Festival Singers and the Brayside Orchestra. Sadly this was our last concert under the wonderful leadership of Ellie Slorach. Our amazing pianist, Pete Durrant, also left us at the end of  2022 after eight years playing for our rehearsals and concerts.

However, we are delighted to have Charlie Perry as our MD and Sam Hayes as our accompanist and so our journey as a choir continues. Our concert in November 2022 focused on French composers including Fauré, and his wonderful Requiem, Lili Boulanger and César Franck.  In May 2023 we sang Haydn’s uplifting Creation accompanied by the British Sinfonietta and in November we had great fun singing Will Todd’s Mass in Blue once again.  At Christmas, our annual performance of Messiah took place for the first time in St Mary’s Church in Stafford.

We are members of Stafford Choral Society because we love choral music and love singing together in a choir that we regard as our family. We are always happy to welcome new members and hope that you will share in future concerts either as singers or members of the audience.