Whitstable Choral Society
We aim to promote, improve and develop public education and appreciation of the art and science of choral music through public concerts and recitals.
It all started in 1932 when Alfred James Harrison, conductor, organist and choirmaster at St Alphege Church, founded what was to become the Whitstable Choral Society. He would be proud and delighted that the Society has continued its association with St Alphege.
Harold Wright, who joined the bass section in 1934, had a major influence on the fortunes of the Society. During fifty years as an active member, chairman and president he presided over many prestigious concerts and events, which included the Society’s Jubilee and Diamond anniversaries. Today’s flourishing society owes much to the loyalty and dedication of Harold Wright; he became life president, until his death in 1996, aged 93 years. Our current esteemed president is Ron Sivyer, who has been awarded life membership for his many years of service and encouragement to all.
Whitstable Choral Society has continued to progress, and under the influence of many conductors, to develop into the successful organisation we know today. The Society performs in a variety of venues in Whitstable, Herne Bay and Canterbury, the area from which the majority of its 120 membership is drawn. Our key aim is to make the joy of choral music accessible to the population of East Kent. The awe-inspiring surroundings of Canterbury Cathedral often form the backdrop to large-scale performances, usually in the summer. As new venues have opened in the area the Society has taken the opportunity to sample their facilities and acoustic qualities and the Colyer-Fergusson Hall at the University of Kent has also become a firm favourite.
Dr David Flood, the internationally renowned Organist and Master of Choristers of Canterbury Cathedral, was appointed Musical Director of the Society in April 1995.
The choir has gone from strength to strength under his directorship, with the range of music performed encompassing well-loved favourites by Handel, Bach and Mozart, as well as many lesser-known choral works. Composers span the centuries from Monteverdi in the 16th to Bob Chilcott in the 21st.
There is a regular date every December at St Alphege, Whitstable, where it all began, for the popular concert of carols and Christmas music. This has always involved audience participation, as well as the revelation of the ever-more outrageous festive hats! In March 2002, soon after his installation as Dean of Canterbury, the Society was delighted to welcome the Very Reverend Robert Willis as its Honorary Patron and he has delivered many a supportive introduction to concerts at the Cathedral since then. The 70th anniversary concert in July 2002 was a joyful occasion on an appropriate ‘sea’ theme, with Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony and Elgar’s Sea Pictures.
The services of many expert musicians, including organists and orchestral players, have been called upon over the years. The Society actively seeks to employ local soloists and musicians whenever possible. The Jubilate Brass memorably accompanied Chilcott’s Jubilate and Rutter’s Gloria in 2005, whilst the contribution of The Percussion Ensemble of London to Carmina Burana in 2017 was outstanding. In recent years a successful collaboration has grown up between the Society and the Festival Chamber Orchestra. Mention must also be made of our indispensable rehearsal pianists, whose amazing skills the choir especially appreciates. To date, only one recording has been made of a Society performance – a double CD of Messiah from St Paul’s, Canterbury.
A new departure for the 75th anniversary concert in July 2007 was the inclusion of children’s choirs from local schools in Rutter’s Mass of the Children, which was pronounced a great success. Boy choristers from the Cathedral also featured some years later in Carmina Burana.
In May 2016 a joint concert with Ashford Choral Society doubled the voice power for a truly monumental performance of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast and Elgar’s Spirit of England. This was an inspiring partnership, which included combined rehearsals, and Ashford’s Mark Deller sharing conducting duties with David Flood. There have of course been new developments over the years, among the more notable being the introduction of our Society website, and the addition of flexible, lightweight concert staging.
Celebrations for the Society’s 80th birthday in 2012 were suitably lively, with a barn dance in June and a performance of Elijah later in the summer.
The Society has enjoyed participating in various community events, including a community concert to commemorate the centenary of the Armistice in 2018 at St Alphege and regular annual appearances singing Christmas carols in Fenwicks in aid of Pilgrims Hospices. For many years the Society has offered the services of a Wedding Choir to enhance the music in churches with no regular choir.
Now we are entering a new era, as our longstanding musical director, to whom we are much attached, retires and we welcome Spencer Payne to lead us into future performances.