A history of our first 25 years

Singing for pleasure 1985 – 2010

By Carolyn Gulliver, founder member

In 1985, a small group of Headington people realised that there was no provision for local folk to enjoy singing together as a choir. Accordingly, a ‘Singing for Pleasure’ advert was designed and on the appointed evening an assorted crowd gathered at Headington Community Centre in Gladstone Road. A little music of a varied nature was made available – courtesy of Cheney School’s music cupboard! – and everyone burst into song.

It soon became apparent that sandwiched between the operatics and the would-be folk and pop singers there was the nucleus of a conventional choir! HOWEVER – what to do for a conductor? And an accompanist? A hesitant hand went up (its owner had really come to exercise her vocal chords as a relaxation from keyboard and kids) … and that is how the amazing Maureen Cooper first came to us! An added bonus was that she knew of a local young musician who could be interested in wielding the baton. The next week the multi-talented bassoonist, composer and arranger Mark Goddard appeared, and off we went.

Initially, repertoire was whatever came to hand – an interesting mix of Lloyd Webber and Haydn at one point – and the group was completely female. Only later did the stalwart Tony Priest appear, followed later by the rest of our prized tenors and basses. Venues were interesting: St James’, Cowley, where we introduced one of Mark’s own compositions, the Cowley Parish Mass; Christ Church Cathedral; Cowley Parish hall for a ‘Christmas Special’, and Headington Community Centre, where we learned an important lesson – never rely on anyone having a piano that works (although a bassoon often comes in handy).

Eventually we evolved our present routine of a concert at the end of each term, each in a local church. We took part in joint ventures, notably a home and away feature with the Burford orchestra (also conducted by Mark). Our Christmas Oratorio venture with Eynsham Choral Society was marked by extremely seasonable weather- and a breakdown in the electricity supply at their venue!

‘Spare Parts’, a quartet drawn from the choir, established their spot in the programme, as did ‘Bel(le) Canto’, a small chamber group. We were very fortunate in having contributions for several years from Headington Children’s Choir, an excellent group conducted by one of our soloists, Ruth Lamdin.

At the start of 1991, Mark realised that publishing, arranging, conducting and composing were making increasing demands on his time, so sadly we bid him farewell. We were lucky enough to find his successor in Tony Dwyer, who had regularly played in our orchestra’s string section and was therefore familiar with our foibles! Tony nobly put together a ‘short notice’ concert in March that year, and consequently we tackled the more challenging items of the repertoire under his baton, notably the March 1994 performance of Brahms’ Requiem, which for many of us represented the high spot of our achievements to date.

Socially we enjoyed parties, skittle evenings, barn dances, special suppers and the like, plus many visits to choral days and ‘from scratch’ performances. These happy occasions have served to reinforce the friendly ambience of the choir.

After our ten-year celebration, Tony Dwyer suffered from increasing health problems and eventually conducted his last concert for us in March 1996. By that summer we were under the baton of the redoubtable Sally Mears, and so began our long partnership.

Headington Singers has always been very fortunate in its orchestras: many instrumentalists of a very high standard have been kind enough to accompany us over the years. During the 2009 – 2010 season we experimented for the first time in singing with the Isis Chamber Orchestra, a ‘complete’ unit.

The performance venues by this time had settled to being All Saints’, Lime Walk, where we have always been made very welcome. There were occasional forays to St John the Evangelist, Iffley Road, St Mary and St John, Cowley Road and even St Michael and All Angels, Marston Road.

Regular soloists with the ever-growing choir during this period were Penny Martin Smith, Rebecca Moseley-Morgan, Helen Ashby, Helen Maxey, Margaret Cooper, Clare Morgan, Ruth Lamdin, Vanessa Woodward, David Pope, Geoffrey Huntingford, Jonathan Todd, John Buckley, Stephen Barratt, Will Orr, Robin Carr, Tom Lowe and Patrick Irwin.

Our rehearsal space at the time was the octagonal music room at Cheney School, which at times was getting very full of singers!

Our 20th anniversary

This was marked by a concert performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas on 8 July 2005, which was much enjoyed by all. Summer 2006 brought a concert performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, and April 2007 marked our biggest project to date: a Gala Concert in Oxford Town Hall to mark the closure of the Radcliffe Infirmary (opened in 1770) and its move to Headington. The choir were joined by Oxford Collutorium and the Radcliffe Orchestra to perform not only Handel’s Coronation Anthems , Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia and Shostakovich’ Festive Overture but to give a first performance of The Serpent God, specially commissioned for the occasion from local composer Roger Teichmann.

Not content with one joint performance that year, in July we joined Didcot Choral Society in a Haydn Creation at Dorchester Abbey. The following summer brought Spanish and Latin American music to Headington, with guitar and harps!

Meanwhile, practice at the Cheney School Music Room had become very difficult due to our soaring numbers, so it was with great delight that we moved into the wonderful new music building at Headington School in September 2009. Word quickly got around and over 90 singers rehearsed for our ‘Miraculous Mozart’ (the Requiem and other pieces) concert at Easter 2010.

After a summer salute to Shakespeare’s Globe, we now head for a Silver Jubilee featuring old favourites – Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens, Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit and Corelli’s Christmas Concerto – plus a celebratory commission, The Solitary Reaper, from local composer Samuel Pegg.

Maureen is still playing for us, Sally continues to infect us all with her enthusiasm … so here’s to the next 25 years!