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A Brief History of the St.Cecilia Singers
70 Years of Singing

Annual Summer Concert 22nd June 2013 at Park Road Baptist Church

Back Row (Left to Right): Cyril Usher; Roland Carpenter; Roy Benning; Alan Dodds; John Cooke; Colin Rayner

Middle Row: Ursula Hanzlik; Jan Haylock; Margaret Benning; Naomi Sheehan; Dawne Harpin; Norma Carter; Carol Younghusband; Rachel Smith; Janine Musson; Mike Parkinson; Keith Gubbins; Mick Bowerman; Guest; Tracy Quirke

Front Row: Pat Lawman; Mary Lovejoy; Janet Couldridge; Ingrid Pajo; May Hadley; Pat Bugby; Dianna Eves;
Emma Trounson (M.D.) Maureen Trusler; Katie Hayes; Lynne Dale; Guest; Rosemary Cockerill

logoAs men and women were returning from the war and the original Adult School Male Voice choir was struggling to reform, a meeting was held on September 27th 1943 with the aim of forming a mixed voice choir for Rushden. After some discussion it was decided to form this choir and Mr. C. T. M Francis was appointed the Conductor. A committee was formed, and it was decided to use the existing rules of the Adult School Choir as a foundation for the rules of the new choir (as yet unnamed).

Miss Mary Gomm was chosen as the Accompanist, choir practice was to be held at the Adult School on Mondays and the subscriptions were set at 3d per week.

The next committee meeting was held on November 22nd 1943 coincidentally being St. Cecilia Day, and it was at this meeting it was proposed by Mr. Francis that the newly formed choir be named The St. Cecilia Singers of Rushden. This was agreed.

The first concert of the choir was held on January 22nd 1944 at the Salvation Army in aid of the Serving Men’s Fund. Following this several more small concerts were held in the locality and the first Celebrity Concert was held at the Ritz Cinema on 17th February 1945.

In August 1946, following an audition, the choir gave the first of many broadcasts for the BBC, sometimes alone and sometimes jointly with the Rushden Temperance Band.

Also in 1946 the choir entered a Choral contest at Leamington Spa, and such was the size of the choir at this time that a sub committee had to be formed to choose which singers would represent the choir. Subsequently the choir carried off 1st Prize in this competition, one of many cups and certificates that the choir have won over the years. The choir travelled extensively to different eisteddfods in Oxford, Leicester, Birmingham, Blackpool, and Loughborough, etc. to name but a few, and in 1951 the choir reached the finals of an all England competition and sang in the newly opened Royal Festival Hall. Unfortunately the St. Cecilia Singers were drawn first, but have the honour of being the first choir to perform on the stage of the Royal Festival Hall. There was naturally stiff competition from the other finalists and the choir were eventually placed ninth.

Over the next two decades the choir continued to perform in many concerts and eisteddfods throughout the area ably led by Chris Francis. The choir’s strength varied throughout the years sometimes having too many, and sometimes too few members. The rehearsal room was changed many times during this period also. Finally following the death of his wife a few years earlier Mr. Francis finally put down his baton in September 1972.

Mr. Frank Willmer then took the choir for a short period until ill health forced him to retire in October 1975.

Following advertisements in the local press for a new Musical Director, Mr.John Wearmouth was appointed on 5th July 1976, and it was upon his instigation that the first of many Annual Concerts with an orchestra was held on 10th December 1977, and Vivaldi’s “Gloria” was the main item on the programme. At this time also, for various reasons, it was decided to enter only local music festivals at Oundle, Bedford and Northampton, where the Choir continued to enjoy good results.

John continued as Musical Director until November 1981 when work commitments forced him to retire.

Chris Lowe took over the baton and leadership of the choir from January 1982 and the choir continued to move on, exploring new repertoire, particularly in the Annual concerts, and were invited to perform in many venues throughout the area. The number of competitions that the choir entered however, gradually diminished for a variety of reasons but mainly due to the lack of competition at these events, which did not warrant the amount of rehearsal time needed to prepare for them.

In 1990 Chris advised the Choir that he would be leaving and took up the baton for the last time at the Annual Concert in November 1990.

In January 1991, the St. Cecilia Singers appointed yet another Chris, but this time of the opposite sex, when Mrs Christine Twell took over as our Musical Director.

Christine continued with the now well-established concert format of the year, and again moved the Choir forward with the standard of singing and music that was performed, and it was Christine that took the Choir into its’ Golden Jubilee Year of 1993. This was a year when two major concerts were performed to celebrate the Golden Jubilee and many fund raising activities took place to finance these. It was also the year when the Choir joined the National Federation of Music Societies (now Making Music) and Geoff Twell arranged the publication of a booklet entitled “Hail Bright Cecilia” depicting the history of the Choir up to that point, together with anecdotes and competitions.

In 1994 the St. Cecilia’s “Friends” scheme was launched which proved to be not only another source of revenue, but also formed a nucleus of concert audiences and attendance at social functions.

At the end of 1998 after eight years as Musical Director, Christine announced her intention to further her career as a teacher, which meant that she would be reluctantly leaving the St. Cecilia Singers.

This led to the appointment of Philip Evans as Musical Director in 1999, and with it a new phase of the St. Cecilia Singers history. The rules and structure of the choir were amended to bring the administration more up to date, and it was at Philip’s instigation that the Choir adopted an official logo. Philip also brought with him new ideas and gave the choir a new impetus by introducing new music and raising the standard of singing and this in turn encouraged new members to join. The Choir still continued with social and fund raising events, which were important, but as concerts were planned with more care, some profit was now being made, from which the Choir were able to make donations to local charities.

Unfortunately, career prospects again intervened as it so often does in the teaching profession and the Choir had to say goodbye to Philip in July of 2000.

Martin Budgett was then appointed as the new Musical Director in September 2000.

Since then the choir has gone from strength to strength, with increased audiences, new venues, new members and a very high standard of performance.

In 2003 the Choir celebrated its Diamond Jubilee and performed many popular concerts during the year, culminating with the biggest and most exciting concert that had ever been performed during its history. Combining with Daventry Choral Society, Towcester Choral Society, Wellingborough Orpheus Choir and the New Phoenix Chorus & Orchestra the St. Cecilia Singers staged a Gala Concert at Derngate Theatre, Northampton to celebrate their Diamond Jubilee. During the first half the choirs sang excerpts of popular classics from the St. Cecilia Singers repertoire and in the second half performed the magnificent Mahler 2nd Symphony (Resurrection).

The Choir faced 2004 anticlimactically following the thrilling events of our Diamond Jubilee year. However these feelings were soon dispelled when the Choir performed Evensong at the beautiful Peterborough Cathedral. A wonderful experience and a fitting start to a busy year of concerts.

This experience was repeated again in 2005, and in 2006 we again visited Peterborough Cathedral to stage a full-blown concert of English Music, when we performed Vaughan William’s “Sea Symphony” to a capacity audience. Our soloists on this occasion being the internationally acclaimed baritone David Wilson-Johnson and the talented local soprano soloist Rachel Bedford.

We continued to perform many notable concerts in and around the local area but in 2007 after 7 years as our conductor Martin Budgett left us to take up a new teaching post in Norfolk.

The Choir then had the difficult task of finding a new Musical Director, but we needn’t have worried as 11 applicants applied for the post, and by a process of elimination Stephen Bell was appointed to be our new Musical Director from September 2007.

Stephen, a local very talented musician, took us to new heights of performance in many different venues over the next few years. We were delighted to celebrate our 65th Anniversary in the newly refurbished Park Road Baptist Church with a performance of Mozart’s “Requiem”. Following this we continued to perform at PRBC (now very much our home venue) with challenging works by John Rutter, Karl Jenkins, Schubert, Elgar, Faure, Handel and many others. As Stephen was also the MD of the Northampton Concert Band, we regularly joined with them to perform at PRBC.

In November 2011, for the first time in many years the Choir performed Handel’s “Messiah” to a near capacity audience, and at the end enjoyed a standing ovation.

At the beginning of 2012, Stephen announced that he would be leaving us after our November concert of this year, to further his musical career.

Stephen’s final concert with us was of Brahm’s “Requiem” and for the first time we were accompanied by two Grand pianos. The pianists were internationally renowned Jennifer Partridge and Andrew King and the soloists once again David Wilson-Johnson and Rachel Bedford. This was a particularly challenging work and we were pushed to our limits by Stephen in rehearsal to give a very memorable performance.

During the year we had once again to find a replacement MD, and we were thrilled to engage our first professional Musical Director, in Emma Louise Goddard who will start as our MD in January 2013.

As with many Choirs, the St. Cecilia Singers are always on the lookout for new members. If anyone is interested please get in touch, and full contact details can be found on our website As you can see, we sing all genres of music, and anyone with a reasonable singing voice will be welcome to attend any of our rehearsals.

Roy Benning
Chairman – St. Cecilia Singers, 2013

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