HISTORY OF ST EDMUNDSBURY MALE VOICE CHOIR
In 1986 Howard Middle School in Bury St Edmunds reopened following a catastrophic fire. As part of the rebuilding process the head teacher, Brian Raistrick, suggested to the head of County Upper School that a head of music be appointed for both schools with the task of involving the local community in a range of musical projects. Stephen Linden was appointed to the post. Stephen had previously been the musical director of Basingstoke Male Voice Choir and he was keen that a male voice choir be formed in the town. Following a meeting in the Ipswich Arms involving Stephen, Brian and fellow enthusiastic teachers, Paul Deane and David Bailey a choir was formed! Brian provided the venue for rehearsals, andit is at Howard Middle School that the choir still meets today. The first rehearsal was held on 14 January 1988, with David Owen as our first accompanist.
Whilst initial numbers were low, with Stephen’s enthusiasm the choir quickly grew, and its first performance was at County Upper School on 16 July with the school’s Swing Band, followed by another in Brandon on 14 October with the Breckland Brass Band. Since then, the choir has performed extensively throughout the United Kingdom, often assisting many charitable organisations in their fund raising activities.
Stephen left the choir in 1992 to be replaced by James Recknell, head of music at Culford School. It was during his tenure that the choir made its first foreign visit to Kevelaer in Germany in May 1993, one of the towns twinned with Bury St Edmunds. In 1994 and 1995 the choir won the Pontarddulais cup at the South Woodham Ferrers Festival of Male Voice Choirs and in 1996 was named Choir of the Day in the Cambridge heats of the Sainsbury Choir of the Year competition. Also in 1996, a particular highlight of James’ time with the choir were two charity, open air, Last Night of the Proms, concerts at Colchester and Brentwood with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Park where the audiences numbered over 7000 people.
Besides Kevelaer, the choir has also performed throughout Europe having undertaken tours of Belgium, France, Denmark, Holland and Ireland. Our longest foreign connection is with Werdorf in Germany, where we paid our fifth reciprocal visit in 2015. In 2006 the choir undertook an extensive tour of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Links made here led to the choir being the first British participant in the 2 day Estonian Song Festival where our choristers sang with 5000 other male singers before all the choirs participating in the event joined together for the finale, nearly 30,000 musicians and singers! The audience consisted of 300,000 people.
In 2000 Mark Jefferson took over the baton from James. Mark continues to demand a very high level of musicianship from the choir’s members as well as bringing a lot of humour into all that he does. The choir has thrived under his tutelage and now numbers over 90 members. Mark has recorded three CDs with us. The first, Angels Watching Over Me (2001) and second Colours (2006) were recorded in Rougham Church, the home village of our long serving and long suffering assistant musical director, John Ottley. John had joined the choir in 1990 with his first concert being at Rattlesden on 12 May 1990. The third CD Mysterium (2010) was recorded in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral. In 2010 the choir also recorded its first DVD Men at Song, both at Howard Middle School and also in the church at Great Barton.
The choir has hosted groups from Denmark, Sweden, Germany, USA and Australia but also many links have been built with other male voice choirs in England and Wales, often involving home and away visits. Our first association was with Basingstoke Male Voice Choir (our 19th concert in 1989) but subsequently we have performed concerts with many other choirs including the Dalesmen from Derbyshire, Wigston Male Voice Choir from Leicester, Mansfield Male Voice Choir in Nottinghamshire and the Gentleman Songsters of Dudley. Our Welsh connections include the Beaufort Choir of Ebbw Vale, City of Bangor Male Voice Choir and more recently Côr Meibion Dyfi from Machynlleth.
In 2013 the choir celebrated its 25th birthday, the highlight of the year being a summer gala concert at the Apex in Bury St Edmunds with the soprano, Laura Wright. 2014 continued our tradition of singing with other choirs with a Festival of Choirs being held in Southwell Minster, Notts and the same concert being repeated at St Mary’s in Bury St Edmunds. Our fellow choristers were our friends from the Mansfield and District MVC and the Dalesmen from Belper in Derbyshire.
During the past 25 years not only have we had three musical directors but many choristers have come and gone as well as accompanists. 251 performances have been given in this time. These have included concerts in churches, chapels, cathedrals, village halls, open air venues and even restaurants as the choir has sung at weddings, private functions as well as giving more traditional concert performances. Many of our performances have been for charity. The choir has always been an eclectic mix with members from Scotland, Wales, Ireland and all parts of England as well as Suffolk. Seven original members of the choir survive from January 1988 with another 20 having joined in the first year still being active members. Many past choristers are now Friends of the Choir and regularly attend concerts.
Friendship and music are a powerful combination.