A Short History of Angus Choral Society
In 1966, Colin Wylie from Arbroath invited a group of soloists from the county of Angus to come together to form the nucleus of a “Choir for Angus”. They, in turn brought in members from church choirs and operatic societies etc and the result was the formation of “The Angus County Singers” under the conductorship of Colin Wylie with Elizabeth Sturrock as the accompanist.
Rehearsals were held in the Masonic Hall in Friockheim and such was the enthusiasm that the choir numbers grew and the choir gave their first performance as part of the Grand Diamond Jubilee Concert in the Reid Hall in Forfar performing Mozart’s “Ave Verum” and Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”.
Between 1966 and 1968, the choir tended to share in events throughout Angus with other groups to perform concerts in, for example, Brechin Academy, Forfar Academy, the Reid Hall Forfar and Inverbrothock Parish Church Arbroath. Works included parts of Bach’s “St Matthew Passion”, Bach’s “Sleepers Awake”, excerpts from Handel’s “Messiah” and Handel’s “Zadok the Priest”.
Colin Wylie’s ill-health forced him to share the conducting duties with Albert Cochrane, who was Head of Music at Buckhaven High School. He eventually took over the conductorship of the choir completely. Unfortunately Albert Cochrane stood down shortly after and the choir was left effectively rudderless for a few years.
In 1971 the choir reformed as “Angus Choral Society” under the leadership of Richard Evans with his wife Rosalind as the accompanist and in April 1972 the reformed choir had it’s inaugural concert performing Brahms’s “Song of Destiny”, Haydn’s Spring from “The Seasons” and the Wedding Chorus from Vaughn Williams “In Windsor Forest”. This was followed in December with a performance of Handel’s “Messiah”.
The choir went from strength to strength during the ensuing years with performances including Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio2, Handel’s “Te Deum” culminating with a performing of Bruckner’s “Mass in F Minor” in the Reid Hall, Forfar in April 1976 with a choir of 110 members. This was to be Richard Evans final concert as Musical Director.
John Campbell succeeded Richard Evans as Musical Director and his first major concert was held in the Reid Hall, Forfar in April 1977 with a performance of Haydn’s “Nelson Mass” and Elgar’s “ Bavarian Highlands”. Angus Choral Society travelled the length and breadth of the county under his conductorship –to Forfar, Alyth, Kirriemuir, Arbroath, Brechin and Montrose.
Memorable works included the Beethoven “Choral Fantasia”, Faure “Requiem”, Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneus”, Haydn’s “Creation” and Mozart’s “Requiem”. John Campbell’s last concert with the choir was held in May 1986 in the Reid Hall Forfar. The choir performed Mendelssohn’s “ Elijah”.
Ron Walker took over the reins from John Campbell and his first concert with the choir was in December 1986.The choir sang the Pergolesi “Magnificat” and Britten’s “St Nicolas”.
In December 1989 Ralph Jamieson led the choir in his first concert as the conductor at Forfar Academy in a performance of Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solonelle”. Ralph Jamieson remained as the conductor until December 1996. His final concert was held in South Esk Church, Brechin with a concert of carols. In his seven years as the conductor of Angus Choral Society, Ralph Jamieson conducted the choir in a wide variety of both sacred and secular works including excerpts from “Les Miserable”, Handel’s “Samson”, Tippet’s “A Child of our Time”, excerpts from Durufle’s “Requiem” and many more.
Mark Hindley, who was Ralph Jamieson’s accompanist, took over as conductor at the beginning of 1997. Hi accompanist, incidentally, was Brian Hirst, who is the present accompanist for Angus Choral Society. Mark Hindley conducted the choir until December 2000. Works of note under his leadership were Shubert’s “Mass in G”, Dvorak’s “Stabat Mater” and, or course, the World Premier of “Songs of Angus”, a commissioned work with music written by Christopher Tambling to words by Violet Jacobs. The concert was held in St Fergus Church in Glamis in December 2000 with soloists Alison McDonald Soprano, Frank Church, Baritone and Jeremy Thurlow as pianist and organist.
Laurie Forrester came next in January 2001 but only remained as conductor until May 2002. Works, under her baton, included Mozart’s “Requiem” and Rachmaninov’s “Vespers”.
Hamish Good succeeded Laurie Forrester with a Christmas concert in December 2002 in Glamis Kirk. He remained in charge until April 2004 with a final concert in the Reid Hall, Forfar. The choir, accompanied by the Angus Chamber Orchestra performed, amongst others, Mozart’s “Missa Solemnis in C”. Other works of note under his leadership included Vivaldi’s “Gloria”.
Brian Hirst’s first concert as the next Musical Director was Christmas 2004. The choir sang in the Glens and Kirriemuir Old Parish Church, singing a selection of carols including some of Brian Hirst’s own arrangements as well as the popular Berlioz “Shepherds Farewell”. Brian continued in the role as Musical Director until April 2008 when the choir performed the Dvorak “Stabat Mater “ in Edzell/Lethnot Church. Brian’s choice of programme for concerts tended to focus on a larger number of short pieces with up to eighteen different works included in one particular concert. Brian Hirst conducted the choir in its fortieth Anniversary Celebration concert on April 2006 in St John’s Church Forfar. The choir sang Haydn’s “Creation” with soloists Jean Webster Soprano, Ken Miller Tenor, Peter Webster Baritone and orchestra conducted by Margaret Jamieson.
Brian was succeeded by Phoebe Gourlay and she continued as Musical Director until April 2010 when she left to take up a teaching position in Kazakhstan. Works performed included Haydn’s “Little Organ Mass”, Purcell’s “Te Deum”, Bruckner Motets, Monteverdi’s “ Beatus Vir, Adoramus Te and Cantate Domino” and Puccini’s “Messe di Gloria”.
One work in particular, for which Phoebe Gourlay deserves special mention, is the performance in April 2010 of the “Songs of a Rainbow Nation”, four songs from South Africa. One of the songs – “Weeping” – forms the basis of the South African National Anthem – “ N’kosi sikeleli Africa”.
Mary Veal was appointed as Musical Director of Angus Choral Society in August 2010 and continues in this role to the present day with Brian Hirst as the current accompanist. Her first concert was in December 2010 when she led the choir in a performance of the “Songs of Angus” to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of J M Barrie.
Mary Veal introduced to the choir some of the modern composers such as Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre. The choir’s first ever performance of Morten Lauridsen’s “ Lux Aeterna” in April 2011 proved very popular and this was followed up in December 2011 with a performance of Lauridsen’s “ O Magnum Mysterium”. Following on with this trend, Mary Veal brought to the choir further works by modern composers in subsequent concerts. In December 2013, the choir sang Eric Thiman’s “ The Nativity”, Lauridsen’s“ Sure on this Shining Night” and Eric Whitacre’s “Sleep”.
Probably the concert for which she will be particularly remembered is the performance of Brahm’s “Requiem” in Brechin Cathedral in April 2012. “A touch of pure class” and “Angus Choral enthrals at Spring Concert”. These were the press headlines following this concert for which Mary Veal can take so much of the credit. This was followed up in April 2013 with Bach’s “B Minor Mass”and in April 2015 the choir performed Mozart’s “Requiem” and Dvorak’s “Mass in D” – A great night of singing”. Future concerts include Charpentier’s “ Messe de Minuit” and Rutter’s “ Magnificat” at the Golden Jubilee concert in April 2016.
Norman Beedie led the choir from September 2016 until April 2017. He brought his wide experience of performance technique and the choir enjoyed his charismatic style.
Graeme Stevenson stepped in at very short notice in 2017, and helped the choir to turn around a possible concert cancellation to a great success. The Society were thrilled when he subsequently agreed to join us in the permanent role of Musical Director.