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“Canned music has not killed choral tradition”

“Canned music has not killed choral tradition”

Thursday 15th October 2020

A member of the choir has recently unearthed an article about us from the July 1956 edition of the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Magazine. The article has the headline “Leamington Bach Choir proves that canned music has not killed choral tradition”.

The piece was occasioned by the departure of the choir’s second full-time conductor, Harold Dexter, to take up the post of of organist at Southwark Cathedral, and the arrival of Peter Hurford. Like his predecessors, Peter held the triple responsibilities of organist at Holy Trinity Church, conductor of the Leamington Bach Choir (as we were known then), and conductor of the Warwickshire Orchestral Society (which later became the Warwickshire Symphony Orchestra).

The author of the article reflects both on the history of the choir, in particular its wartime beginnings under the direction of Dr Stanley Vann, and on its past successes. These included a performance of Handel’s Messiah in the parish church of All Saints in 1946, which attracted an audience of a thousand, and our first performance of Bach’s B minor Mass in 1951, which filled Holy Trinity Church to capacity. The soloists in the latter included Isobel Baillie (soprano) and Anne Wood (mezzo). How we would love to be able to attract audiences of this size now!

As well as the major choral masterpieces by Bach, Handel and Mozart, the article also comments on our performances of many works by “modern composers”, including Vaughan Williams (who was still our President at the time), Arthur Bliss, Hubert Parry and John Ireland. Apparently we also gave the première of a work called Ruth by Adrian Beecham, the son of the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham.

It is interesting to learn that in the 1950s, the advent of “canned music”, and the growing popularity and availability of television, were seen as the main potential threats to the English choral tradition. We face different challenges today, particularly in the current crisis, but we shall continue to do our very best to keep the tradition of choral singing alive!

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