“Since singing is so good a thing
I wish all men would learn to sing”

This quotation from William Byrd, an organist of Lincoln Cathedral, and one of the great English composers of the 16th century, shows his desire for everyone to share his love of vocal music. His words have echoed down the centuries and live on in South Holland.

South Holland Singers celebrated their sixtieth anniversary in 2007. Based in Spalding the Singers were formed when an Adult Education class revived choral singing in the district after the Second World War. This was to carry on the tradition developed by the Spalding Choral Society, active between the two wars. From the Nineteenth Century small groups of singers had performed to organisations such as the Mechanics’ Institute and the Christian Association.

The aim of the Singers has been, from the beginning, up to the present time, to foster the study, enjoyment and public performance of choral music in south Lincolnshire. It has been successful in that it has been able to perform to a high standard thus attracting an average number of 60 singing members which has risen to 80 in the last few years. Other singers from the district are joining us for our grand performance of the Verdi “Requiem”, increasing the performance choir to nearly 120. The last remaining founder member, Francis Hanson, will be singing on that occasion.

In its sixty years there have been five conductors: the founder Russell Missen 1946 -1957, Colin Martin 1957 – 1973, Philip Lank 1973 -1984, Ronald Ledbury 1984 -1999 and the current Director of Music, Robin Carter, who took over in 1999. Russell Missen was the organist at Holbeach, then Oakham and Nottingham, having to resign from the Singers when he became the organist at Newcastle Cathedral. His successor was Colin Martin who had been the accompanist at the Singers’ first performance, of Handel’s Messiah. A partnership of Colin as conductor and Philip Lank, accompanist and organist at Grantham Parish Church, lasted several years until they decided to change roles. The partnership ended when Ron Ledbury became conductor and Jennifer Chappell accompanist. Jennifer changed from her role as singer in 1966 and supported the choir loyally until her resignation in 2003. Jennifer was followed by the famous theatre organist, David Shepherd. David still accompanies the choir occasionally at rehearsals as well as featuring as a guest organist in the concert performances.

The Singers have been fortunate in enjoying good quality soloists for their concerts, including many national names and from time to time have been able to employ and enjoy an orchestra for accompaniment. They have sung in many of the churches in the district, most often at St. Mary and St. Nicolas in Spalding, as well as Lincoln Cathedral, the Royal Albert Hall, London and the South Holland Centre.

The first performance of Messiah in 1947 at St. Mary and St. Nicolas Church, Spalding, when several German prisoners of war were in the audience, one of the soloists was the tenor, Stephen Manton, guest artist at the Sadlers Wells Opera, as well as a regular broadcaster for the BBC and the soprano, Joan Taylor was a member of the Hallé Society. A newspaper review of that performance stated that “the excellent attendances gave every indication that there is enough interest in the District for more performances of this kind, such musical treats having been few for a very long time.”

There have been many highlights for the singers over the sixty years. Some of these have been as a result of the link begun in 1980 with the Mozartchor of Speyer, Spalding’s twin town in Germany. Since then, there have been eleven exchange visits with joint concerts in both countries, all renowned for musical excellence, friendship and the famous wines of the Rhineland.

Another highlight was held at the old Regent Cinema (now Lloyds TSB Bank) when over a thousand people were present at a Festival of Remembrance in 1952, based on the Royal Albert Hall ceremony. The South Holland Singers, along with Spalding Parish Church Choir were accompanied by the Band of the Grenadier Guards. The soloists were Mary Hammond, soprano, Muriel Hicks, contralto, James Nash, tenor, and Francis Hanson, bass. This resulted in more concerts being held in the now demolished cinemas, the Savoy and the Odeon, being much more comfortable than the Parish Church!

The 1950s and 1960s saw soloists of national reputation join the Singers, such as Owen Brannigan, the famous bass singer. During this same period the conductor, Colin Martin chose a more varied programme of works to be performed, both secular as well as the great religious choral masterpieces. When the Singers became an independent society, instead of an evening class, in 1961 they looked to the support of national orchestras. 1964 saw the London Philharmonic Orchestra share a concert at Spalding Parish Church, enjoyed by an audience of 700. Members of the Spalding Urban District Council are said to have changed their monthly meeting from a Wednesday to a Monday so that they could hear the performance.

The first carol concert took place in 1971 setting a tradition of singing in the villages of South Holland and involving local school choirs who join the Singers in the concerts. They have visited many churches, (some warmer than others!) and enjoyed the performances of the primary school singers of the district, sharing their often very modern Christmas music.

During the 80s and 90s Ron Ledbury, the conductor, provided a balanced programme of traditional and 20th century choral music for the Singers to learn and perform which challenged their vocal skills and demanded quality in performance. Concerts featured music by composers such as Orff, Mozart, Rutter, Fauré and Poulenc.

Some of the longstanding members of the choir still talk about the time in 1989 when they joined the Chelsea Harmonic Choir and the London Festival Players in a performance of Mendelssohn’s “St. Paul”. This high spot came about because the well-known musician and conductor of the Chelsea Choir, Edward de Rivera, lived in South Holland, visited the Singers during a rehearsal and subsequently invited the Singers to make their London debut. They repeated the performance given in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, on the South Bank of the Thames, in Spalding on the east bank of the Welland at the Parish Church, with Ron Ledbury conducting.

“The Land” by Patrick Hawes, now composer in residence for Classic FM, is a piece of music commissioned by South Holland District Council to celebrate the changing of the seasons in this district of farming and horticulture. In 1996, the Singers took part in its first performance which took place in St. Mary Magdalene Church, Gedney, “the cathedral of the Fens”. The Singers enjoyed performing the music so much, that after Robin Carter became musical director in 1999 they prepared to sing it again in 2000, along with a group of students from Spalding High School, in the presence of the composer, at the South Holland Centre.

To celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, the Singers performed a concert of music by English composers, accompanied by the Lincolnshire Jubilee Orchestra. These musicians, now called the Lincolnshire Chamber Orchestra, in 2005, accompanied the Singers who were joined by Cantemus, (directed by EW) in a moving and emotional performance of “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace” by Karl Jenkins. Conducted by Robin Carter, the music, the singing, the call of the Muezzin, the visual images on screen made it a memorable evening for the audience of 400 who filled, to capacity, Gedney Parish Church.

The Singers, accompanied by the Lincolnshire Chamber Orchestra, returned to St. Mary Magdalene Parish Church, Gedney for their 60th Anniversary concert on Saturday, 19th May 2007. The highlight of this performance was the choral masterpiece Verdi’s “Requiem”. Although the Singers have been growing in number recently, they are welcomed, for this grand performance, other enthusiastic singers from around the district. The soloists will be from the Royal College of Music. The Singers were pleased that many were able to join them in their celebrations.

Over their sixty years of existence the Singers have been very lucky in their dedicated conductors, skilled accompanists, hardworking committees, patrons and loyal members. The outstanding service of the only remaining founder member, Francis Hanson MBE cannot go unacknowledged. Francis was Chairman for the first five years, a committee member for 60 years, Hon Secretary for 45 years and is now a Life Vice President. His vibrant bass voice still rings out strongly.

The long time existence of South Holland Singers is proof that there is something to be gained by choral singing, both by the singers and the audiences. The organist, Simon Preston, has described belonging to a choir as “the perfect amalgam of individual expression and corporate responsibility, wearying rehearsals and thrillingly invigorating performances.” The South Holland Singers have a lot of fun as well! So –

“If singing is so good a thing,
Come and join us – come and sing!”

Mary Hurst

This will be updated in due course. We look forward to celebrating our 70th Anniversary in 2017!