History of Wombourne & District Choral Society
The choir, originally called the Wombourne Choral Society, was founded in 1929 by Harry England. Formerly a professional baritone, he had been headmaster of Enville School near Kinver, and organist of Enville Church. Following Harrys death in 1942 in his late eighties, Miss Groves, head of music at the Technical High School, became the choirs second conductor. She left the district in 1958 and was then succeeded by Dennis Powell who remained the conductor until 1993. (At some stage the original Wombourne Choral Society changed its name to Wombourne and District to reflect the fact that many of its members come from much further afield.)
The rehearsal venue was originally the Wesleyan Chapel, now the United Reformed Church, in Wombourne's centre, where the first concert under Dennis Powell took place. The main work was Edward German's Merrie England. Later the rehearsal venue moved to the Church School, Wombourne. It was decided that the choir should become an evening class, initially under Sedgley Evening Institute's wing, but later under Staffordshire Education Committee. This lasted until the choir moved to Springdale Junior School, Wolverhampton, when we were adopted by Wolverhampton Education Committee. Several years later, independence was resumed.
Under Dennis Powells tenure, the choir developed to become essentially the choir it has become today. It accompanied the Wolverhampton Symphony Orchestra in many large scale works, including Vaughan-Williams's Sea Symphony, Elgar's Dream of Gerontius and Music Makers, Tippet's A Child Of Our Time, Constant Lambert's Rio Grande, JS Bach's St Matthew Passions and B Minor Mass and Handel's Messiah. Dennis also conducted the choir in a number of smaller works by less well known composers, such as Moeran, Finzi and Poulenc.
When Dennis Powell retired in 1993, David Parkes became the fourth conductor and the choir continued to go from strength to strength. Well-established favourites were mixed with challenges such as Honeggers Christmas Cantata. There were ambitious large-scale performances, notably the Verdi 'Requiem' and Elgars Dream of Gerontius both in Wolverhampton Civic Hall, the latter with Paul Nilon as an overwhelming Gerontius, Brahmss A German Requiem in Dudley Town Hall with Denise Leigh as soloist. Summer concerts became well-established, giving us opportunities to explore a lighter repertoire including virtual excursions to Broadway.
David also led us on a real excursion to France in 2003, starting a fascinating musical and social association with Chantemoy choir from Orléans. This was followed by a return visit from Chantemoy in 2005. Our choir made a second visit to the Loire Valley in 2007 and Chantemoy returned to Wolverhampton in 2010.
In 2006, David reluctantly took his leave of us, and was succeeded by Ian Clarke, already well known to the choir for his splendid organ and continuo playing in several of our concerts. Under Ians direction, the choir continues to develop its repertoire and skills, with performances of steadily increasing scale and musical quality. Membership currently stands at around 100 singers. Those interested in joining may be attracted by the policy of "no auditions". The mix of old and new continues. Vaughan-Williams makes a welcome return in his centenary year.
The choir has frequently used local solo singers, including the baritone John Oxley who is a member of the choir. Other soloists are often drawn from past and present students of the Guildhall School of Music and we have over the years been fortunate enough to sing with young soloists who have later progressed to establish themselves as major performers on the concert stage. The choir has been accompanied over the years by a number of smaller orchestral groups, including most recently Chameleon Arts and the Orchestra da Chiesa. We have also been very fortunate in the pianists who have accompanied us both at rehearsals and performances. Anthea Podmore, our accompanist of very long standing, retired in 2006 and we were very pleased that the equally brilliant Beryl Beech was willing to join us.
As the choir, in its various incarnations, approaches its eightieth birthday, we look forward from a position of musical, numerical and financial strength to a future as a focus for choral activity in this area. And we look back with thanks to the gifted, talented and dedicated individuals who have made this possible.