Bedford Choral Society -  150th Anniversary

Celebrating 150 Years of Singing for the Joy of It

One of the oldest choral societies in the United Kingdom

At the end of 2016 I decided to do a little research into the relative ages of the major choral societies across the UK. I found that Bedford Choral Society is one of the oldest - coming equal seventh with Edinburgh University Music Society (both founded in 1867). The following table shows the founding dates for the ten oldest societies.
  • Name of choral society -- Year in which the society was founded
    1 Halifax (1817)
    2 Ipswich (1824)
    3 Huddersfield (1836)
    4 Windsor and Eton (1837)
    5 Guildford (1839
    6 Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (1840)
    7= Bedford Musical (Choral) Society (1867)
    7= Edinburgh University Music Society (1867)
    9 Royal Choral Society (1871 - for the opening of the Royal Albert Hall)
I have been privileged to conduct this choir for 31 years in September 2016. As my ‘Afterword’ in Mike Benson’s excellent book says ‘One of the features of the Choral Society has been the willingness to present new and unusual repertoire as part of a balanced programme over the course of a season’.

Our most-performed work in the choir’s 150-year history was Handel's 'Messiah' (20 times). However, the following lists show the breadth of our repertoire:

Bach (10 times), Elgar (9), Brahms, Handel, Haydn (all 8 times), Mozart (6).

In addition, the choral society has also commissioned five new works (inlcuding one for our special anniversary concert).

Since 1991 we have also performed:
Bach (3 times), Bruckner (3 times), Beethoven ‘Choral Fantasia’, Beethoven ‘Missa Solemnis’, Britten ‘Spring Symphony’, Debussy ‘Nocturnes’, Delius ‘Sea Drift’, Dvorak ‘Requiem’, Dyson ‘Canterbury Pilgrims’, Paul Edwards ‘Te Deum’, Fanshawe ‘African Sanctus’, Fauré ‘Cantique de Jean Racine’, Finzi ‘Intimations of Immortality’, Gershwin ‘Songs from Porgy and Bess’, Grant-Jones ‘The Human Race’, Grant-Jones Psalm 150, Howells ‘Hymnus Paradisi’, Jenkins ‘The Armed Man’, L’Estrange ‘Zimbe’, Mozart ‘Ave verum corpus’, Patterson ‘Millennium Mass’, Prokofiev ‘Alexander Nevsky’, Rachmaninov ‘The Bells’, Rheinberger ‘Requiem in D minor’, Rose ‘Sounds and Sweet Airs’ , Rose ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’, Rutter ‘Magnificat’, Schubert ‘Magnificat’, Sullivan ‘HMS Pinafore’, Sullivan ‘Trial by Jury’, Todd ‘Mass in Blue’, Verdi ‘Sicilian Vespers’, Walton ‘Gloria’.

Ian Smith (September 2016)

Our 150th Anniversary

At the end of April 2017, Bedford Choral Society celebrated 150 years of the joy of singing for the people of Bedford and its surroundings. The choir gave its performance on April 30th 1867 and, on that anniversary, 150 years later, we again sang Mendelssohn’s Lauda Sion, performed at that very first concert.

Also in the programme was Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music, written to celebrate Sir Henry Wood’s Golden Jubilee in 1938, together with two works commissioned by the Society from local composers Paul Edwards and Tim Grant-Jones . Both works continued the theme of celebration, with the latter a setting of the 150th Psalm.

At the moment the choir has a membership of nearly 150 singers. We come from all walks of life and meet for rehearsals in Biddenham every Monday. Ian Smith is our Musical Director and conducted us, accompanied by Bedford Sinfonia, for the 150th Anniversary Concert in Bedford Corn Exchange.

In our special anniversary year, we are proud to be sponsored by, among others, the Harpur Trust, itself celebrating 450 years, and by Goldings of Bedford, ironmongers, like us celebrating 150 years of trading in Bedford. We are indeed very grateful for the support these organisations have given us. Thank you all.

We continued celebrating or 150th anniversary with a lovely ‘pastoral’ concert in the Corn Exchange on Saturday, June 17th 2017 that included Michael Hurd’s Shepherds Calendar . I sang that work at its premiere in 1975, with Southampton Choral Society - it was wonderful to sing the piece again.

Early in August, we’re on stage with a concert orchestra, in Proms in the Park, a good outing for singers and audience alike on an evening in high summer. Then, on Saturday, November 25th, we're back in the Corn Exchange, we sing Elgar’s The Kingdom. Finally, in December, it’s our ever-popular Carol Concert!

So do come and listen to us - we hope you will enjoy it!

Roger Barnard

Page date: July 2017

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© 2017