History


The origins of the Cambridgeshire Choral Society go back over 50 years to the time when one of its founder members, Edgar Alder, was the adult tutor at Bottisham Village College. Edgar was born in 1914, the son of an organist. He was a choral scholar at King's College, Cambridge from 1946-48.

Bottisham Village College was founded in 1937 and was one of the brain children of the great innovator and educationalist, Henry Morris. Village Colleges serve a number of village communities and provide, as well as a centre for child education, a centre for community and social activities. From its humble beginnings Bottisham Village College was to become a centre for adult education, sport and drama as well as a thriving and successful school.

Edgar served as assistant adult tutor and later adult tutor, between 1948 and 1966. One of his passions was music and this became a central part of the College's Adult programme. In the early 1950s a Madrigal Group was formed in which one of the tenors was Noel Ayres who was head gardener at nearby Anglesey Abbey at the time. There was also a thriving Gilbert and Sullivan Society and in the mid-1950s an orchestra whose first conductor was Denis Fielder. Although never more than an ensemble it introduced George Barker to the College as Denis's successor. George Barker brought much to the musical life of the College and in 1958 formed a group to perform Schubert's "The Conspirators". In 1960 this was followed by "The Beggar's Opera". George was originally invited to conduct the Gilbert & Sullivan productions and under his guidance other operas were produced.

A key development was the setting up of the Inter-Village Colleges Federation (IVCF) in the late 1950s. Its main purpose was to foster and protect the common interest of adult students in Cambridgeshire and to fight the effects of economic cuts at that time. Music was a natural expression of this shared interest. In 1959 the IVCF Music Society was formed with over 200 members. The Combined Village College Choir, later to become the Cambridgeshire Village Colleges Choral Society and subsequently the Cambridgeshire Choral Society, was founded in 1960. In the early years there were branches in most village colleges. Ludovic Stewart, the County Music Advisor to the Education Committee and whose parents had run a choir earlier, suggested that the IVCF should start a choir from the Village Colleges to perform extracts from popular major works. This choir was started by Edgar Alder and David (now Sir David) Willcocks but they had bigger ideas: that major works should be performed in their entirety with professional conductor and soloists and as near a professional orchestra as possible in suitably awe-inspiring settings. This was soon to happen. Its first full concert was to take place in 1960 in Great St Mary's Church in Cambridge with a production of Handel's "Messiah" conducted on this occasion by one of the choir's founders, Edgar Alder. The following year Haydn's "Creation" was performed in a very squashed Guildhall this time conducted by the then David Willcocks - the choir's co-founder. Later the performances moved to Ely Cathedral and King's College Chapel.

From its second year until 1964 its conductor was Sir David Willcocks and his involvement with the choir lasted over 13 years until he became Director of the Royal College of Music. To this day he remains its President.

In the footsteps of Sir David Willcocks, Philip Ledger became its next conductor. Tim Brown held the post from 1977 to 1989 and in more recent times the choir has been conducted by Paul Trepte (1990-1996), Stephen Cleobury (1996-1998) and James Thomas (1998-2004). The current conductor is Andrew Parnell.

Since 1960 concerts have been held annually in the Cambridge Guidhall, Ely Cathedral, King's College Chapel, West Road Music School or St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds.

The choir has even performed in the presence of a serving Prime Minister and his wife! In the early 1990s John Major was a surprise member of the audience in a concert at Ely Cathedral. On his arrival hurried steps were taken to get him a front row seat although, in truth, he probably would have preferred a less public position. Throughout the concert his personal bodyguards kept watch from the side aisles and at the end of the performance Mr Major was inundated with people asking for him to sign their programmes!

To reflect the changing makeup of the choir its name was changed to the Cambridgeshire Choral Society in 2001. Today, the choir meets in Comberton, Bottisham, Sawston and Meldreth Primary School.  These groups meet during the autumn and spring terms before the main concert.  A combined rehearsal is held in Cambridge approximately every 6 weeks in this period. The culmination is the concert itself which is augmented by professional soloists and musicians.