A Chester music group is celebrating its 40th anniversary season.
When the Chester Bach Singers was formed in 1976, Harold Wilson resigned as Prime Minister, Brotherhood of Man won the Eurovision Song Contest and Liverpool won their ninth Football League title.
In Chester, King’s School music teacher Martin Merry and his wife Liz got together 30 or so of their friends and started a choir.
Fast forward to 2016 and the Chester Bach Singers has long been a fixture in the cultural life of Chester, performing in the first modern Chester Summer Music Festival in 1978, and forming the nucleus of the first Chester Festival Chorus.
The following year they took part in celebrations for Chester’s 1,900th anniversary, performing a specially-commissioned choral work by Scottish composer Edward Harper.
Led for the past 30 years by Martin Bussey, the choir has put on more than 200 concerts, giving critically acclaimed performances of many of the great choral works including Bach’s Mass in B minor, Handel’s Israel in Egypt, Mozart’s Requiem and Haydn’s Nelson Mass.
The choir has also performed with many leading singers over the years, including world-famous tenor Ian Bostridge and current rising stars Marcus Farnsworth (English National Opera and Boston Opera) and Katie Bray (Opera North and English Touring Opera).
The Chester Bach Singers now counts more than 40 amateur singers among its membership.
Chairman Nicky Brooks said: “The choir consists of people of all ages and from all walks of life, from doctors and vets to teachers and business people, as well as students and retirees. Two of our newest members, Penny Lynch and Imogen Parsley, are mother and daughter, which is the first time we’ve had a mother and daughter join the choir together.”
Indeed, Imogen has joined the choir under its Young Singers Scheme which has, since 2003, enabled singers under 23 in education to join the choir a reduced rates.
Many have gone on to study singing at conservatoires and to work in the music industry.
The one thing the choir’s members all have in common is their love of performing choral music, something that Nicky is keen to highlight: “Singing with the Chester Bach Singers is hugely rewarding and we’re incredibly lucky to have a musical director of Martin’s calibre, who gives us fantastic pieces to sing that push us to perform to the very best of our abilities.
“Each year we put on a minimum of five concerts. We also regularly give performances such as carol singing at Christmas, and at weddings and private functions, so it can be very demanding.”
The 40th anniversary season includes two Christmas by Candlelight concerts, in Tattenhall and Handbridge, which have become a key fixture for many people’s festive celebrations. The choir will also perform concerts in April and June, including an appearance in Gloucester.
Chester Bach Singers are also keen to share their passion for outstanding musical performance with other amateur singers. They regularly host workshops and singing days which attract singers of all ages from across the region, and in January will host an afternoon workshop rehearsing and performing Brahms’ Requiem.
Martin Bussey said: “Our Come and Sing events are a real highlight of our musical calendar. It’s great to have the opportunity to share such fantastic works with new faces and with old friends.”
You don’t have to be in a choir to join in with these special events, and there are no auditions. Just come along on the day with energy and enthusiasm and you’ll go home having met new people and learned some music to brighten up the dark nights.”