We Few, We Happy Few, We band of brothers (and sisters) - An article published in June 2006 in the local magazine 'Reflections'.

 

It's almost like a scene from the Shakespearean film epic Henry V ! With baton poised the archers await their leader's signal to unleash a volley of arrows at the beginning of the Battle of Agincourt. Similarly, in total silence, all eyes are focused straight ahead in anticipation of the sweep of the conductor's baton to signal the beginning of a Thursday evening's musical rehearsal of the Chesterfield Philharmonic Society. In an instant, the room springs to life, dozens of voices reverberating in harmony around Chesterfield's Ashgate Croft school gymnasium - Andrew Eyley


AS ALWAYS, members of the Chesterfield Philharmonic Choral Society are polishing their semi tones, 0rchestrating harmonies, and perfecting beat in a bid to maintain the exacting standards demanded by current musical director Steven Roberts.


Taking their present title on 27th April 1967, the Chesterfield Philharmonic is preparing to celebrate its Ruby (40th) anniversary. Their first concert was a Bach Mass in B Minor, performed as the Chesterfield Harmonic Choir and Orchestra in Chesterfield's Parish Church in October 1967.


Local historical records tell of a meeting in Grassmoor, April 1924, which marked the establishment of the Grassmoor Musical Union. Concerts were apparently performed in those early days, including a few choruses out of the Messjah being sung at the Picture Palace, but the choir's activities were short lived. There was little money for music during the 1920s and 30s, and with the Second World War it was not until 1944 that the Grassmoor Musical Union rose again like a phoenix from the ashes.


A membership fee of 2/6d was levied and members were asked to buy their own music. In 1945, the choir was re-named the Grassmoor Choral Union and, in 1949, they sang for the first time with an orchestra. Throughout the 1950s, the choir met with varying degrees of success at music festivals, winning the Rosebowl trophy, at Macclesfield, for the most artistic performance in the senior choral section.


Colin Wheatley, who had attended the choir with his parents since 1944, became conductor in 1959 and launched a new era in its history. The choir performed at the Civic Theatre for the first time and, in 1961, rehearsals were moved from Grassmoor to Chesterfield. The name was also changed to the Chesterfield and District Choral Unjon.


September 1963 saw the choir performing Mozart Requjem in Chesterfield's Parish Church, with members successfully singing in Latin for the first time. All was not well, however, as Winter concerts in the Parish Church proved too cold for many: male members of the choir found that pyjamas worn underneath dress suits provided a very acceptable form of insulation.


Choir numbers grew, especially with the influx of new Post Office personnel into the town, and seeds were sown regarding the formation of an accompanying orchestra. Then, on 27 April 1967 the choir, in combination with its new orchestra, took on the present-day title of Chesterfield Philharmonic.


Longest serving member Gwen Hallam, .who joined in May 1962, followed by husband Tony in September, says: "We have spent our whole married life singing in the choir. We met singing at college in London and have continued with the Philharmonic. It's a way of life really, with friends knowing not to arrange anything for Thursday evenings.


"There are around ninety members, ranging from late teens to eighties, who travel from as far as Pontefract, Sheffield and Hathersage to learn and perform and we're like one big family. There are many core members who have been singing together for over thirty years.
"It's a great organisation which is both serious and fun, with conductor Steven Roberts using his skills to get the best out of us. We are an amateur choir, with professional standards and finesse."

Tony, who has sung at over 200 choir performances and has recently completed a history of the society, entitled Those Who Sing, says: "There have been so many enjoyable occasions with the choir, and so many achievements over the years, that I can't mention them all. But for me, the highlight has to be performing Elgar's Coronation Ode at the Parish Church's 75Oth anniversary concert. Several choir members, and numerous members of the audience, had tears rolling down their cheeks.


"Other notable events were the Society's appearance in Burke's Peerage Who's Who jn Music, a performance with a rather special soprano called Lesley Garrett and a concert in 1982 dedicated to the members of the South Atlantic Task Force and The Falklands Campaign.


"In 1988 the choir welcomed Oxford music graduate Philip Hanwell as Deputy Musical Director. Philip has been with the choir almost twenty years, exhibiting total commitment as accompanist and occasional rehearsal conductor.


"The choir is much more adventurous these days, performing at prestigious venues such as Ripon and Wakefield Cathedrals, the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and Sheffield's City Hall. We have even sung in five or six different languages. Much of this is down to Steven Roberts who joined us ten years ago."


Experienced Musical Director Steven Roberts, who boasts a long list of choral achievement both in Great Britain and abroad, joined .in 1996. "The Chesterfield group is extremely organised and very forward thinking, but most of all they are enthusiastic. I work with hundreds of singers each week and know that the more I give, the more I get back. I believe that we've built up a great relationship over the years, with everyone trying to perform at the highest standard. "The group allows me to be innovative and we constantly evaluate our performances. We have fun, but I will not compromise on quality and members appreciate this. If things aren't right, they will be told. "Concerts are very important, with good singers having the ability to evoke every emotion from their audience. There's no better feeling than leaving a concert to rapturous applause, knowing that all the hard work has paid off. "I have a real passion for music and I can honestly say that it's a great privilege to coach the Philharmonic", says Steven.


Since 1998, annual Choral Days (when rehearsal and performance are crammed into a single exhausting but exciting day) have become an increasingly popular feature of the Philharmonic calendar, with singers travelling from all over the UK to participate in these musical feasts. Charity concerts, including two at Chatsworth, have also been part of the choir programme.


One member, Nerissa (23), joined just over a year ago and declares: "Singing in the beautiful surroundings of Chatsworth's Painted Hall, with the music cascading down the staircase like a waterfall of sound, was absolutely divine. It's an experience I will never forget"


September 2006 marks the opening of the 40th concert season, and on 27th April 2007 the Chesterfield Philharmonic Choir celebrates the Ruby Anniversaryof its inauguration.

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