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History of the Choir

1937 - 2000

The Choir was formed in 1937 by members of St. Albans Church, North Harrow in the same year as the church was consecrated. It began as the St. Albans (North Harrow) Choral Society, but it was not restricted to church members. The annual subscription for membership was initially fixed as 10 shillings (50 pence), but this sum was thought to be too high and was reduced to 5 shillings (25 pence)!

Under Richard Miles, performances included Mendelssohn's Hymn of Praise and Handel's Messiah. The choir had achieved a membership of 60 before the outbreak of World War II. The war brought uncertainty, membership shrank and the black-out caused great difficulties. In 1941, the choir was renamed as North Harrow Musical Society and Edgar Broadhurst was appointed as conductor in 1942. Towards the end of the war, members numbered only 45.

In 1949, Edgar Broadhurst was succeeded by Clarice Brooksbank who held the post until 1977 - almost half of the choir's existence to date. By 1960, the choir had expanded to 100 members, and gave a number of notable performances, including Haydn's The Seasons, Mendelssohn's Elijah and Elgar's King Olaf. Handel's Samson was performed in 1959, marking the bicentenary of the composer's death. In the same year, the annual subscription was raised to £1!

In 1960, the choir adopted its present title of Harrow Choral Society, and by 1964, it was so popular that membership had risen to the record level of 170. This was a decade of achievement, and saw the performance of many of the major works of the repertoire, including Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, the Requiems of Brahms, Verdi and Mozart, Mendelssohn's Elijah, Bach's St. Matthew Passion and B minor Mass. Between 1961 and 1973, the Society took part in 18 Promenade Concerts. Amongst the celebrated conductors of these concerts were Sir Malcolm Sargent, Stokowski, Sir Adrian Boult, Sir John Pritchard, Norman Del Mar and Sir Charles Groves.

The Society's president, Frederic Jackson, died in 1972, and was succeeded by Sir Charles Groves. In 1977, Clarice Brooksbank conducted her final concert for the Society, which was a performance of Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony. She was succeeded by Bryan Fairfax, whose innovations included the first of the now traditional (and highly successful) Christmas Celebrations, and the launch in 1980 of the Friends of Harrow Choral Society.

By the time of its Golden Jubilee, the choir had a new conductor, Nigel Springthorpe (appointed in 1984) and a new Vice President in the noted tenor, Ian Caley, who sang the title role in a Jubilee performance of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius.

The decade before the Millennium was even richer in achievement. 1990 saw the first of the Three Choirs concerts, in which two other local societies - Harrow Philharmonic Choir and Stanmore Choral Society - join us in large-scale performances. Sadly, the 1992 Three Choirs concert was dedicated to the memory of Sir Charles Grove, who had died the previous day. This blow was to some extent lessened by the generosity of his widow, Lady Hilary Groves, in becoming a Vice President.

One major musical figure was succeeded by another when Richard Hickox agreed to assume the Presidency of a Society for which, by happy coincidence, he had, some nineteen years before, played continuo in a performance of Bach's St. John Passion.

Simon Williams, the society's current conductor, appointed in 1992, was already well-known to members as the accompanist, and his leadership has resulted in many further innovations. The choir has performed several excellent works by local composer and choir member Lorna K. Dawson, including Requiem which Lorna in fact wrote while a student of music in Dundee but re-orchestrated and expanded for HCS's English premiere of the work. On the strength of it, her beautiful Cantata Caledonia was subsequently commissioned by Simon on behalf of the choir, who performed its world premiere in 1996.

The choir has also performed Bryan Kelly's Crucifixion, a work commissioned by the Chiltern Choir, another choir for which Simon was at the time also the Director of Music. A further innovation has been the successful launch of a Training Choir (Singing for Starters) under the inspirational guidance of Hilary Musgrave.

Under the leadership of Simon Williams and Bernard Barker, the present accompanist, the choir has enjoyed 'away days' to such places as Cambridge, Sherbourne and Warwick and three successful 'tours abroad' to France. This leadership has also played a large part in the success and growth in popularity of our 'In One Day', come-and-sing concerts and our now traditional annual Christmas celebrations.

We were delighted to attain our Diamond Jubilee in 1997 and, given the commitment and enthusiasm of our present members, and the continued loyalty of our audiences, we have every confidence that we will celebrate many more anniversaries during this millennium.