History of Stafford Choral Society 1946-2018
Current President: Michael Poulter MBE
2014-2018 – David Young
From September 2018 – Ellie Slorach
Stafford Choral Society celebrated its 70th year in 2017 and what an amazing journey it has been!
The 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. She also made it her policy to engage soloists of national and international repute, a policy we were proud to continue with internationally acclaimed soloists for our 2017 performance of Gerontius.
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.
However, in addition to epic performances the Society has enjoyed some lighter moments! In December 2001 the Society performed Last night of the Proms in the prestigious Birmingham Symphony Hall with the British Police Symphony Orchestra. Since 2002 the Society has participated in the Stafford Music Festival often opening the Festival’s musical events and on occasion performing alongside local Primary School children and young instrumentalists from Stafford schools. In 2014 Leslie Smith retired after 29 illustrious years as the choir’s Musical Director.
The success of Stafford Choral Society continued under the musical direction of David Young, appointed as Leslie’s successor. Memorable concerts have included traditional choral works such as Mendelssohn’s Elijah (2015) but the Society has also committed itself to a repertoire that includes modern compositions. Durufle’s Requiem, performed in 2016, is a well-loved twentieth-century choral piece. However, the Society has also embraced the twenty-first century with performances of John Rutter’s Feel the Spirit (2014) and The Manchester Carols (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 us to sing the solo part and join 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 (November 2016). The contrast between our first and last anniversary concert – from Will Todd to Elgar – gives an indication of Stafford Choral Society’s commitment to explore and enjoy choral music both traditional and contemporary.
In July 2018 we added a more informal summer concert to our annual programme, singing numbers from George Shearing’s Songs & Sonnets; Rutter’s Sprig of Thyme; and Copland’s American Songs. Sadly this was also David Young’s farewell concert with Stafford Choral Society but he has left us in the capable hands of Ellie Slorach. Our November concert has a Remembrance theme, featuring Haydn’s Mass in Time of War and songs by Parry, Elgar and Ireland. However, iwhile remembering the past, we look forward to new musical explorations and celebrations as the Society embarks on another exciting year.