THURSDAY FEATURE: SOUTH HOLLAND SINGERS - Voices from the area at 70

DISTRICT VOICES: South Holland Singers in concert at St Mary & St Nicolas Church, Spalding, in December 2015.
  • Final drum roll for musical director after 19 seasons

At 7pm on Thursday, December 11, 1947, a chorus of 39 women and 15 men were seated inside Spalding’s St Mary and St Nicolas Church ready to perform Handel’s “Messiah”.

Seven decades later, the tradition and reputation of the South Holland Singers continues to burn brightly as a chorus of 71 men and women, a 26-strong orchestra, five soloists and The Mirinesse Singers prepare to perform Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” at the same Spalding church next Saturday, May 13, at 7.30pm.

Robin Carter, musical director of the South Holland Singers, said: “I’m looking forward to the concert, although it will be very demanding for the choir, soloists and me as the conductor.

“It really will be a wonderful occasion and one that won’t be heard in Spalding again for many, many years to come.”

Mendelssohn’s “Elijah”, composed by German Felix Mendelssohn and first performed at Birmingham Town Hall in August 1846, was the centrepiece of the choir’s second concert in 1948.

Brenda Green (91), of Spalding, the only surviving original member of South Holland Singers, said: “When I came to teach in Spalding, in September 1947, I was looking for a hobby.

CHORUS LEADER: Robin Carter (centre), musical director of the South Holland Singers, with (from left) tenor Shaun Dixon, mezzo-soprano Jane Stevenson, soprano Madeleine Pierard and bass Stuart Young at St Mary Magdalene Church, Gedney, in May 2007. Photo by Tim Wilson. 1905075w91sosi.

“So I was pleased to learn that a new choral society was being formed and, along with Francis Hanson, I went to join the choir at its beginning.

“Another stalwart of the choral society was Jennifer Chappell, a music teacher at Spalding High School who was also the choir’s rehearsal accompanist for a long time.

“She carried out the task with skill and great patience, sometimes joining the choir for performances where she sang as part of the contralto section.”

Francis, made an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List of 2000 for services to Spalding Horticultural Society, Jennifer and the South Holland Singers first two conductors, Russell Missen (1946-1957) and Colin Martin (1957-1973) laid the foundations for the choir’s first 25 years.

As a body of people, the South Holland Singers have been the most pleasant and sociable group one could ever wish to meet

Robin Carter, musical director, South Holland Singers

After alternating between works by Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn, the choir expanded its horizons by taking on music by Bizet (Carmen), Brahms (Requiem), Elgar (The Kingdom) until, in 1980, they established ties with the German town of Speyer.

Another chracteristic of the South Holland Singers is its willingness to work with high-calibre singers, including Cheshire soprano Carrie-Ann Williams who will be performing on May 13.

Speaking at the choir’s concert in Holbeach last June to mark the Queen’s 90th Birthday, Carrie-Ann said: “It’s so much nicer to see the same friendly faces with whom you have such great relationships.”

One of the newest members of the choir who will be singing next Saturday is Julie Martin, of Spalding, who said: “: “I joined South Holland Singers at the tail end of last year having moved to the area in November 2016.

CHOIR MASTER: Francis Hanson MBE, founder member and honorary life vice president of the South Holland Singers who died in April 2015. Photo supplied.

“It was quite daunting as I don’t read music and have no experience of singing in a choir of this size, although I’d previously sung in a small group of about 15 people.

“We sang mostly contemporary music and definitely no choral works.

“At my first rehearsal with the South Holland Singers, I was met by Marnie McMorran who introduced me to Robin Carter, the conductor.

“The choir made me feel very welcome, especially as I have a stressful job and singing provides a bit of an escape where I can let all my frusrations go.

“For me singing brings people together, even when I’ve grappled with the notes and tussled with the arrangements. “The sound our choir makes is exhilarating and, somehow, I feel as if I’m in a different world.

“What a wonderful world it is.”

South Holland Singers’ 70th anniversary concert programme this year of Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” and Handel’s “Messiah” will be the last for musical director Robin Carter.

Since taken over from Ronald Ledbury in 1999, the King’s Lynn born and Boston-based musician and conductor has challenged the choir to take on increasingly challenging and complex works.

Examples of this have included John Rutter’s “Requiem” (2000), Puccini’s “Messa di Gloria” (2004) and Haydn’s “Creation” (2014) which Robin described as “one of the most complicated pieces I’ve ever had to perform”.

Speaking about his final year with the South Holland Singers, Robin said: “I’ve been very grateful for the choir taking the chance in hiring me as its musical director.

“It’s enabled me to fulfil one of my dreams which was to conduct some wonderful choral music, including Karl Jenkins’ “The Armed Man” (2005), Verdi’s “Requiem” (2007) and Mozart’s “Vesperae solennes de confessore” (2011).

“As a body of people, South Holland Singers have been the most pleasant and sociable group one could ever wish to meet.

“Many of them have become friends and will remain so.

“I shall be sad when my time with the South Holland Singers comes to an end, but it really is time for someone with fresh ideas and fresh points of view to take the next steps with the choir.”

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