We aim to share excellence in choral music with others.
Rochester Choral Society, one of Britain's oldest-established choral societies that is still going strong in the twenty-first century, has always striven to achieve high standards of singing, from the great choral works to traditional folk songs. While we are a secular society and welcome singers from all beliefs and backgrounds, we have, ever since 1922, performed regularly in Rochester Cathedral, a prestigious venue that we regard with great affection.
With the leadership and guidance of our Director of Music, Scott Farrell, and accompanied by our Assistant Director of Music, James Norrey, the Society has delighted audiences with a very high standard of music. Scott is a musician of international standing, as well as being the Cathedral's Director of Music, while Ben has recently announced that he will be leaving Rochester Cathedral as Assistant Sub-Organist to take up the prestigious post of Organist of the London Oratory. Gavin Williams, the former Head of Music at the King's School for 35 years, joined Rochester Choral Society in 2006, as Assistant Director of Music under its then Director of Music, Roger Sayer. He became 'de facto' Chorus Master when Roger became heavily committed elsewhere. More recently Gavin worked with our current Director of Music, Scott Farrell before passing away in May 2015.
We perform three or four concerts a year, often with an orchestra composed of a most talented group of players. They come together as the Rochester Sinfonietta, to perform with us and achieve a high standard under Scott Farrell's baton. It is a pleasure and a privilege for an amateur Choral Society to be associated with such fine musicians, professional and amateur. As amateurs, we also get a thrill when performing with renowned professional soloists.
Ever since 1873, we have kept a balance between the much-loved Baroque and Classical works and the music of living composers, many of whom have become popular favourites. It is perhaps surprising to realise that the composers who were still living when we first performed their works include, in the 19th century, Brahms, Gounod and Verdi, and in the 20th century, Britten, Elgar, Holst, Ireland, Kodaly, Rutter, Stanford, Sullivan, Stravinsky, Vaughan Williams, and no fewer than 27 others.
Indeed of the 40 composers, who were still living when we first sang their works, 34 were British-born. While we celebrate today the anniversaries of the likes of Bach, Handel, Mozart and Purcell, we still like the chance to sing contemporary music, just as we did in the 19th century.
That said, we never forget that we are all volunteers, who sing as much for our own pleasure as for the enjoyment of our audiences.
Of course, it costs a lot to put these concerts on, and, while we cover as much as we can from our members' subscriptions, and by fund-raising, the support of the Friends and Sponsors is important.
A Friend's single membership costs £30 per annum (life membership £300), and for couples, £50 (life membership £450), for which they receive a discount for concert tickets and free programmes. Besides good value for money, being a Friend also enables people of ordinary means to support top quality in music, something normally thought of as the reserve of wealthy organisations.
Sponsors, large and small, are associating themselves with such high quality. We value their contributions, made through advertising in our programmes or financial donations, and we do our best to return good value to them. For example, we can provide refreshments for their clients at our concerts, carry advertisements in our quality programmes, and make mention of them in press releases. We are always receptive to other ideas, appropriate to performing in a cathedral.
People are inclined to laugh when we tell them that it all started by a Nutter, but, in fact, it was the Revd. Canon W. H. Nutter, Precentor of Rochester Cathedral, who founded the "Rochester, Strood, Chatham and Gillingham Choral Society" on 29th July 1873. What became the Rochester Choral Society in 1934 owes a lot to that far-sighted man. Today, we are regarded as one of the finest Societies in the South-East. It's a reputation that we strive to live up to.
2004 was the 1,400th anniversary of this wonderful Cathedral, and our summer concert that year formed part of the festival of the Friends of Rochester Cathedral. Over the years, the organists and their assistants have taken increasing roles as directors, conductors and accompanists. Today, our relationship with the Cathedral is as strong as ever, and is greatly valued.
In 2006, the Society's members and sponsors raised money for the purchase of concert staging, which is stored in the Cathedral, and is made available for use by others. This enhances the quality of musical performances and gives the Cathedral a useful facility for extending its outreach to to organisations, which use the Cathedral for social purposes. A Business Plan showed this to be cost-beneficial to our Society, compared with the costly hire of staging. Even so, the purchase seriously depleted the Society's funds at the time, a position from which we are now recovering, as planned. A key incentive was to improve and sustain the excellence of public performances, our key "selling point", impossible to achieve without concert staging.
Also in 2006, with a Heritage Lottery "Awards for All" grant of £5,000, we undertook a year-long programme, working with young people and their families and schools, under the heading "Celebrating Mozart in Medway". This brought out musical and related skills among young people of various ethnic backgrounds, and engendered an understanding of an important part of our musical heritage. It is an ambition to carry out follow-up projects, to involve young people from the Medway area.
Some members of our audiences have become Friends of the Society, many attend our concerts regularly, some come whenever they can, and there are some who come for the first time. All receive a warm welcome. There is a wonderfully intimate atmosphere in Rochester Cathedral, which is as fine inside as it is beautiful outside.
Singers are welcome to come and introduce themselves at the Tuesday evening rehearsals, which take place at the Vines Church, Rochester, which is between The Terrace (off Victoria Street) and Crow Lane (off the High Street) [map], from 7.30 to 9.45 pm. This enables them to get to know us and feel comfortable before seeking an audition. This is not an ordeal, but helps in a singer's development, and to ensure that he or she is in the right section of the choir.
If you are a singer and would like to come to rehearsals, with a view to joining, you will be welcomed and given every encouragement. Our members and audiences come from all around the Medway, Swale, Gravesham and Maidstone areas, as well as far beyond.
If you would like to come to our concerts, the Cathedral's nave seats, at £18 and £14, and the side aisles (unnumbered) at £7, are priced to attract all music lovers. School children and students in full-time education with ID can attend for just £5.
Compiled: May 2009
Last updated: December 2016
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