MANSFIELD: Music group still singing strong at 40

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Harold Wilson took over as Britain’s Prime Minster, ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest, the Watergate scandal shocked America... and the Mansfield Choral Society first called the tune.

Plenty has changed since 1974, when Ceefax and the Rubik’s Cube were the latest inventions, but the group’s ability to wow audiences has not.

This year the society will celebrate their 40th anniversary of performing after their formation by local conductor David Chamberlain, who took on a previous choir founded by Ethel Houseley.

From those relatively humble beginnings, the society has grown in numbers and influence - current membership is around the 100 mark - and is widely respected among the local musical fraternity.

There have been many well-known composers whose works have featured down the years include J.S Bach, Ralph V. Williams, Edward Elgar, Wolfgang A. Mozart, Antonio Vivaldi and George Gershwin.

The anniversary milestone will be marked by two special concerts. The first, in May, will see Mozart’s Requiem performed alongside the choral societies of Newark and Bingham, along with choir members of Nottingham’s St Peter’s Church.

08-1499-1''Pictured at the Summer Concert held by the Mansfield Choral Society at Queen Elizabeth School last Saturday night are from left, Neville Ward, club treasurer Annette Knight, Mike Neaum, chairman Jean Dalton, soloist Rosie Hill and musical director David Wilson

08-1499-1''Pictured at the Summer Concert held by the Mansfield Choral Society at Queen Elizabeth School last Saturday night are from left, Neville Ward, club treasurer Annette Knight, Mike Neaum, chairman Jean Dalton, soloist Rosie Hill and musical director David Wilson

And in early November, the MCS - who rehearse most Thursday term-time nights at the Queen Elizabeth’s Academy - will be performing Handel’s Messiah at the Mansfield Civic Theatre.

“I think the number one attraction down the years has been that people love to sing in a choir - it’s something that’s quite exciting and people get a buzz from it,” said chairman Stephen Hewlett-Davies, a former chorister, who has been a member for approaching 18 years.

“Some of the best music written from a choral point of view is connected to the church and religion and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, we know that. But for others it’s a chance to sing some fantastic historical works that you just can’t get if you go down to the pub for a sing song.

“For me, it has always been a way of getting away from the stresses of daily life - when you’re concentrating on the music, you can forget about everything else. I’m sure it’s the same feeling for a lot of people.”

In the early days, the society performed and eclectic mix of music, from Smetana’s The Bartered Bride to Liszt’s Christus Oratorio, accompanied by Mansfield Woodhouse-born international pianist, John Ogdon.

Under Chamberlain’s stewardship, they sang for the Children’s Society to mark the Queen Mother’s 90th birthday and won Co-op and Music Club Shields in Mansfield Music Festival for several years running.

In 1991, the baton was handed over to Martin Pickering, ex-chorister from the Chapel Royal at Windsor, and the society continued to grow in size and musical scope.

A particular highlight was an involvement in ‘Hallelujah for Hospices’, the World’s largest simultaneous performance of Handel’s Messiah that featured more than 150 UK choirs and 50 others from around the globe.

David Wilson became musical director in 2002, introducing members to new composers and new works and also improving sight reading, tonal accuracy and performance skills.

Since March 2012, Peter Siepmann - also organist and director of music at St Peter’s Church, Nottingham - has been at the helm.

Mr Hewlett-Davies added: “At the moment, you can count on one hand the number of members who are under 30, but we’re hoping that will change in the future.

“The likes of Gareth Malone on television has brought choral signing back into the mainstream and back into people’s conscience and hopefully people realise it is not high brow.

“We have an open day coming up at the end of May and we would welcome anyone to come along and give it a go and see how it works out for them.

“We’d love, for instance to see former members of Cantamus - those who have not gone on to have a career in music, who might now be in their 20s or 30s - to come along and give their tonsils a work out.

“There are no auditions for our choir and we do our best to be as inclusive as we can. People don’t have to stand if they are slightly infirm and they can sing from a sheet if they can’t remember all the words.”

Tony Waterworth has been a member of the society for 28 years, having joined when moving down from Newcastle for work and has thoroughly enjoyed his experience.

He said: “The change of our conductors has changed our direction, but I think Peter who is leading us now is absolutely magnificent.

“He has a lot of knowledge, uses that to guide us and has a terrific sense of humour - which is not always the case.

“I joined when I was looking for houses in the Chad and happened across an article on the society appealing for new members, particularly tenors. I met up with them and I’m still here now, so it was a very happy accident.”

Last year, the society welcomed famous contemporary composer Jonathan Willcocks for a visit and this year are hoping the iconic John Rutter will follow suit.

Down the years, Southwell Minster, local churches around Mansfield and Mansfield Leisure Centre have all played host to the as well as venues further afar, including those in Nottingham, Grimsby and Surrey.

“There’s been a lot of good memories for me, but I really enjoyed singing at the famous Charterhouse School - that was terrific,” said Mr Waterworth.

“It’s not just the singing and the music that keeps me coming back, but the friendships you make too.”

Judy Bragg is another who has clocked up more than a decade of service, having previously sung for societies in Ruddington and Bingham.

She also describes it as an uplifting environment and said: “We are particularly lucky in Mansfield because unlike some of choirs we don’t seem to struggle for tenors.

“I have to say I’ve enjoyed performing wherever we have been, but one I remember really well was at St Mary’s Church at the bottom end of Nottingham Road.

“Not only is it beautiful inside to look at, but the acoustics were brilliant. We sung just in front of the altar and the audience there lapped it up.

“It was a memorable day all round because Mansfield Town were winning promotion (against Wrexham just over the road). I remember joking that we had some serious competition that day as we could hear the crowds beforehand and that we might have to sing up!”

For more details about joining, call secretary Sally Compton on 01623 883277 or visit www.mansfieldchoral.org.uk