History of Sleaford Choral Society

There is known to have been a Choral Society in Sleaford more than a century ago, as evidenced by a newspaper account of a concert held in 1889 in the Corn Exchange.  The present Sleaford Choral Society however, cannot claim more than a century of unbroken activity!

A poster for a Grand Concert, once more at the Corn Exchange, in 1900 is the only surviving from this period. Louis Spohr's The Last Judgement, first performed in 1826, was considered a masterpiece and remained popular until the first world war, when it sank into obscurity. It is a meditation on the redemptive idea of a 'new heaven and a new earth' after this world is swept away - its majestic optimism must have been hard to swallow for the interwar generation, but it was a very popular work in 1900 and therefore fitting that Sleaford Choral Society should choose this oratorio to herald the new century.

Records show that Sleaford Choral Society reformed for a few years in the post-war period under the direction of G. Ronald Scott.  One performance during that time was a concert version of Merrie England in 1953, to celebrate the Festival of Britain.  The front cover of the programme showed the price of admittance was 3d.- those were the days! Rehearsals and concerts were staged in what is now St George's Academy on Westgate.

Sleaford Choral Society was reformed in 1964 by Richard White (MD) and G. Ronald Scott, accompanist.  This is the Society we know today and its history is unbroken from this date. The Society is 60 years old (2024) and will celebrate its Diamond anniversary this year.

Subsequent Musical Directors were John Wheeller and John Hugill, before Neville McFarlane, LRAM, took over the leadership in 1973 and remained in the Conductor role until 2000.  Neville, who is still singing in the Tenor section and both arranging and conducting pieces for specific concerts, is a music scholar of Balliol College, Oxford where he gained an MA in Modern Languages.  He made his career in teaching and is well-known in Sleaford as the former Headmaster of Kesteven and Sleaford High School.  The accompanist throughout this era was Geoffrey Pallister, who was also a long-time member of the Bass section.

A pattern was established, which is largely continued today, of three concerts per year -  Sleaford Choral's Christmas concert in December, an Easter/Spring concert in April, and a Summer concert in mid to late June. A reputation was quickly established for high quality performance of not only major choral works, but also at Summer concerts particularly, lighter and shorter items with soloists and instrumentalists.

There has always been a tradition, which continues today, of combining forces with other choirs to perform concerts.  In the 1970's, the Society took part in massed choir performances at Lincoln of The Dream of Gerontius and Israel in Egypt.  During the 1980's, several concerts were performed with The Hereward Singers from the Deeping St James in the south of the County.  For example,  two performances of Carmina Burana in April 1981, one in Sleaford and one in the following week at Deeping St James.  Although originally Carmina Burana was scored for a large orchestra, Orff rescored the work in 1956 by popular request for two pianos and percussion, and it was this version which was used for both performances.  

As is usual for such major choral works, young professional soloists were engaged to perform the Soprano (Elizabeth Woollett), Tenor (Peter Bronder) and Bass Baritone (Charles Naylor) roles.  Both Elizabeth and Peter still perform regularly in the world's best opera houses and have very successful operatic careers.  Charles retired from professional opera singing at the age of 30 for an equally successful career in industry. 

Surprisingly, the three soloists do not seem to include their 1981 Sleaford/Deeping St James Carmina Burana performances in extensive career resumes available online!

Another tradition which is still upheld in Sleaford Choral, is to create concert programmes which celebrate anniversaries.  An example of this was the Society's 21st Anniversary concert, 'A Nelson Night', held in May 1985. Two very different works formed the programme that night.  

Haydn's Mass No.3 in D (The Lord Nelson Mass or The Imperial Mass) is Haydn's largest mass and one of his best-known and beloved choral works. It was performed at Eisenstadt in Austria on the occasion of Nelson's visit in 1800, although it had been written 2 years earlier. In complete contrast, Michael Hurd's setting of words to Hip-Hip Horatio which was first performed in 1975, formed the second half of the concert.  This consists of a light-hearted account of the career of Lord Nelson and, with a certain amount of irony, adopts musical styles appropriate to different stages of his life.  The choir was required at various times to be Cockney, Caribbean, Neapolitan, sophisticated and vulgar!