2017 marks the 60th anniversary of the formation of East Riding County Choir in 1957. Originally under the auspices of the East Riding County Education Committee, it has been an independent self-funding body since 1978.
The East Riding County Choir had its inaugural meeting during the Summer 1957, and the first rehearsal took place in October of that year conducted by Walter Hart, the County Music Adviser. The Choir at that time consisted of 35 members drawn from across the County at the personal invitation of Mr Hart. Rehearsals were held fortnightly on Saturday afternoons at St Mary’s Boys’ School, starting at 2 p.m. and finishing at 7 p.m. with a break during which a cooked meal was provided by the school meals staff. Some members travelled considerable distances to attend rehearsals in the days when few people owned cars. The Choir placed emphasis on unaccompanied part singing, and covered an ambitious repertoire from a variety of composers. They gave two or three performances a year in halls and churches in different parts of the East Riding. They also supported the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah in Beverley Minster, when local Evening Institute choirs joined together. From 1957 to 1974, the Choir performed Messiah each year, and since 1977 in alternate years. This year’s performance on December 2nd is therefore the 39th occasion on which the Choir has sung this great work in Beverley Minster.
After Walter Hart left the area to take up a post in Leeds in 1961, the Choir was conducted by Peter Fletcher. He continued the tradition of singing unaccompanied, but increased the number of singers to about 50 in order to perform larger works with orchestra as well, such as Brahms’ Requiem as part of the St John of Beverley Festival. After he left in 1966 Douglas Marshall, deputy conductor for many years, trained the Choir for a short period before Keith Dixon was appointed in 1967. Dr Alan Spedding directed the choir from 1969 until his death in 2014, and most of the major choral works were performed. The Musical Director since April 2014 has been Colin Wright, previously Accompanist and Deputy Conductor.
The Choir still draws its 100 or so members from all over the East Riding, and, apart from two major concerts in Beverley Minster, occasionally gives smaller concerts in rural churches. Although it is a very different body from that originally established, Walter Hart’s objective of ‘meeting for the enjoyment of singing’ is still the Choir’s aim.