(prepared by Margaret Hennessey-Brown, our Honorary Patron)
What makes a small village choral society survive for nearly 120 years?
There must be so many factors: leadership membership spirit common purpose as well as a fair amount of luck! One characteristic seems to shine through all Shalford Choral’s records – that is love of music.
Details of the very early years, sadly have become lost in the mists of time. Some sources record that the society was formed out of the “church choir” (presumably St. Mary’s Church, Shalford) however the Leith Hill Musical Festival’s publication “Music Won The Cause” suggests that the choir was formed “ in order to participate in the first Leith Hill Music Festival” Whatever the initial impetus was, we should be grateful to Miss F.B. Clarke, Shalford’s first conductor in 1905 and Rev. G. Harding and H. Clements who continued the good work until 1914 when The First World War interrupted proceedings. 1921 saw the resurgence of the choir under the baton of Mary Keene who held the post for at least 13 years. (There are one or two gaps in the records at this point)
How sad it is that so little is known of these early pioneers.
The same cannot be said of Claude Powell who reformed the choir in 1947. An interesting Minute from 1946 records a meeting of “former members and friends of the choir to consider reforming the society”. Claude Powell is described in a newspaper article of 1920 as “conductor of Guildford Symphony Orchestra, Guildford Choral, Shalford Choral and Merrow Choral plus Guildford military bands. (The astute amongst readers of this article will have noticed some discrepancy with dates but the fact remains that Shalford was lucky to have him) to my mind the most important thing is that the choir was reformed by “former members and friends”
Since 1947 the choir has continued without a break. Leith Hill Music festival has undoubtedly been part of the glue that has held the choir together. Choir members have reacted to the competition in various ways in my experience. Some are excited and determined to score higher marks that the “other choirs” and are subsequently indignant if they don’t . Others are terrified and can’t really enjoy the day until the competitive element is done and the singing for pleasure begins.
Shalford’s results over the time that I have been involved (well over 40 years one way and another) have been mixed. We seem to have been haunted by the “Widenham Fosbery Silver Hen” This was first presented in 1925 to the division 2 choir with the second highest aggregate mark. It became known as “the Chicken” in my day! However we did manage to win almost every class in 2002 ---the hen must have flown off.
There have been 19 conductors since the days of Claude Powell, each bringing some special skill and helping the choir to continue developing …… but how many singers have there been? How many hard-working committee members, tea-makers and jumble sale organisers …….?
The choir has been and still is renowned for its charitable giving. Each Christmas there is a carol concert. We shall miss John Cruise, the vicar who has recently left Shalford. He could be relied upon to declaim in his sonorous voice “Christmas really begins with Shalford Choral Society’s Carol Concert” In recent years ,the concert has featured a local school who join with the choir.
There have been other “Guest Artistes” including a brass quintet from The Royal College of Music who occasioned one dear member of the altos to exclaim ”I can’t hear myself think, leave alone sing”!
We are now in the digital age, the era of social media, instagram, tweets ... some of us more successfully than others. There are wonderful technical advances all around us but to my mind it takes a lot to beat a delicious cream tea such as Shalford Choral produced last season ,followed by a lovely concert performed by musicians of all ages. This brings the village together and enhances our community spirit.
Under the direction of Gareth Giles the choir seems set to break new ground without abandoning the valuable features of the past 115 years.
GOOD LUCK SHALFORD!