EAST RIDING COUNTY CHOIR
The East Riding County Choir was formed in 1957, originally under the auspices of the East Riding County Education Committee. It has been an independent self-funding body since 1978. It meets in Beverley for rehearsals on Monday nights during school term time under its Musical Director, Colin Wright.
The East Riding County Choir had its inaugural meeting during the Summer 1957, and the first rehearsal took place in October of that year conducted by Walter Hart, the County Music Adviser. The choir at that time consisted of 35 members drawn from across the County at the personal invitation of Mr Hart. Rehearsals were held fortnightly on Saturday afternoons at St Mary’s Boys’ School (now Beverley College), starting at 2 p.m. and finishing at 7 p.m. with a break during which a cooked meal was provided by the school meals staff. Some members travelled considerable distances to attend rehearsals in the days when few people owned cars.
The choir placed emphasis on unaccompanied part singing, and covered an ambitious repertoire from a variety of composers. They gave two or three performances a year in halls and churches in different parts of the East Riding. They also supported the annual performance of Messiah in Beverley Minster, when local Evening Institute choirs joined together. A founder member remembers the choir entertaining at the private house party at Wassand Hall at the invitation of Sir Marmaduke Strickland-Constable, a keen musician and supporter of local music making. It was a very foggy night so all the singers had gathered at Sigglesthorne school house to let Noel Wright lead the procession of cars to the entrance to Wassand Hall. He proceeded to lead his trusting followers through a gateway into a muddy field. They eventually arrived safely at the Hall, but when the conductor attempted to make a speech thanking Sir Marmaduke, he was roundly told to ‘shut up’ by the resident grey parrot!
After Walter Hart left the area to take up a post in Leeds in 1961, the choir was conducted by Peter Fletcher. He continued the tradition of singing unaccompanied, but increased the size of the choir to about 50 singers in order to perform larger works with orchestra as well, such as Brahms Requiem as part of the St John of Beverley Festival. After he left in 1966 Douglas Marshall, deputy conductor for many years, trained the choir for a short period before Keith Dixon was appointed in 1967. Dr. Alan Spedding directed the choir continuously since 1969 until his death in 2014, during which time the membership has increased to 150, and most of the major choral works have been performed. The Musical Director since April 2014 has been Colin Wright, previously Accompanist and Deputy Conductor.
When it was founded, the choir was under the auspices of the East Riding County Education Committee. Members paid an annual subscription fee of 10 shillings (50p), which was increased to £1 in 1973. Concert deficits were approved by the County Music Committee and paid by the Council, so the choir had no financial worries. However, in 1977, after financial support had been withdrawn by Humberside County Council, it was necessary for the choir to become an independent body. With the bank balance at that time standing at £212.13, and a concert costing around £900, serious consideration had to given as to whether the choir could continue. At the Extraordinary General Meeting, there was overwhelming support from members, who undertook many fund-raising efforts to raise the necessary money as well as approving a 500% increase in subscription. Two ‘Meet the County Choir Days’ took place in Beverley library, when members demonstrated their varied talents, apart from singing, which raised the profile of the choir as well as making money. The choir is now self-sufficient by subscriptions, grants and fund-raising activities to cover the £25,000 needed every year.
The choir still draws its members from all over the East Riding, and, apart from two major concerts in Beverley Minster, occasionally gives smaller concerts in rural churches. Although it is a very different body from that originally established, Walter Hart’s objective of ‘meeting for the enjoyment of singing’ is still the choir’s aim.