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Sixty Years a Soprano

19th September 2014, by Mark Lawrence

Celebrating 60 years

Celebrating 60 years


City of Birmingham Choir former General Secretary and recently retired longest-standing soprano, Sylvia Emberson was presented with a certificate and a celebratory bouquet by choir Patron and former conductor, Christopher Robinson. Also on the platform at our rehearsal room were choir President, Hugh Carslake, current conductor, Adrian Lucas, and chairman, David Pannell, who also presented Sylvia with Life Membership of the choir.

Sylvia writes, “When I was accepted as a member of City Choir in autumn 1954, little did I realise that I would still be a member 60 years later. City Choir was considered to be the best choir in Birmingham so I was very proud to be one of its sopranos (many of the ladies turned up to rehearsals in very posh hats – I was very out of place because I didn’t have one!)”More….

Sylvia Emberson – Memories 1954-2014

19th September 2014, by Mark Lawrence

Celebrating 60 years

Celebrating 60 years

When I was accepted as a member of City Choir in autumn 1954, little did I realise that I would still be a member 60 years later. City Choir was considered to be the best choir in Birmingham so I was very proud to be one of its sopranos (many of the ladies turned up to rehearsals in very posh hats – I was very out of place because I didn’t have one!) The conductor at that time was David Willcocks (later Sir David) and we rehearsed in the small theatre of the Midland Institute – long since demolished – but it was on the corner of Paradise Street opposite the Town Hall. The majority of concerts took place in the Town Hall with the CBSO. I was still at school but soon left to go to teacher training college which was in Birmingham, so I was able to continue my membership of the choir.
60 Years Service Certificate

60 Years Service Certificate

Everything we sang was new to me, so it was a great challenge but very exciting. My very first concert was in November and was a short programme for television and included Polovtsian Dances in English! The broadcast was live, of course, and went out late because the boxing match before it overran. Two weeks later we sang a new piece by Maurice Jacobson, which he conducted, called The Hound of Heaven (we’ve sung it since and it isn’t easy). This was coupled with Intimations of Immortality by Finzi. Then came the first Messiah – I can remember struggling with the lesser known choruses. How many times have I sung this? Must be about 120 I suppose. After Christmas came A Sea Symphony conducted by Vaughan Williams (the rehearsal was in the morning so that he could have a rest in the afternoon!), my first choral symphony; Verdi’s Requiem and finally Belshazzar’s Feast – all that in the first 12 months. What an exciting start!

In the following years there were many highlights, such as singing in the Royal Festival Hall on St Cecilia’s Day in 1960; being conducted by various CBSO conductors and Sir Adrian Boult; together with many first performances and landmark concerts. Two memorable concerts were the first Birmingham performance of War Requiem in 1963; and A Mass of Life (Delius) in 1993. Another highlight season was the Diamond Jubilee of the choir celebrated in 1980-81 when we sang Missa Solemnis, Dream of Gerontius and in May 1981 a very challenging piece by Messiaen called La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jesus Christ. We’d not sung anything quite like this before! In May, leading up to this celebratory year, we performed Verdi’s Requiem so in the space of 12 months I sang in three of my favourite pieces. I reckon we worked hard during that year but it was all so worthwhile.

In 1973 the CBSO launched its own chorus and this provided us with a new challenge – competition. However, we “upped our game” and made every effort to improve our standard and so hold our own. In 1991 Symphony Hall opened. Two years before this the committee decided that we should transfer our concerts to the new venue. Our first rehearsal scared us so much that we were afraid to sing but spurred on by Christopher Robinson we were soon in our stride. I was General Secretary at this time and worked closely with the Symphony Hall Management Team in an attempt to build up a good relationship with them – I think I succeeded.

All this sounds very serious, but there have been some funny episodes as well. For instance when the ladies used to sing “The Planets” from the back stairs in the Town Hall. Someone draped a black curtain across the entrance by the organ, so that we were unseen, and there was a small hole in the curtain through which our conductor kept in touch with the orchestral conductor – no CCTV then!

All this of course happened a long time ago, but I mustn’t forget that the choir continues to give exciting concerts performing both new and standard works both in Birmingham and out of town, all to great acclaim from audiences and journalists.

You have provided me with immense pleasure; I’ve learned such a lot and met some lovely people both choir members and professional soloists and players – not forgetting four very talented and inspiring conductors. How lucky the choir has been to be trained by Messrs Willcocks, Davies, Robinson and Lucas. It will seem strange to sit in the audience, but that is where I’ll be from now on. I shall miss you all but thank you so much for making City Choir so special.

Open Rehearsal – 16th September

7th August 2014, by Mark Lawrence

We will be starting our rehearsals again on Tuesday 9th September, if you are interested in coming along. You can read about our splendid new season of concerts for 2014-2015. We would love to see you there.

open reh flyer In particular, we would like to invite you to our OPEN REHEARSAL at 6.30 pm on Tuesday 16th September in central Birmingham, where you can take part in a rehearsal and see just what it’s like singing in the choir. Maybe that will inspire you to want to join the choir.

Happy Summer wishes!

15th June 2014, by Mark Lawrence

Now that our season is over, we would like to send you our best wishes for the summer. We will be starting our rehearsals again on Tuesday 9th September, if you are interested in coming along. You can read about our splendid new season of concerts for 2014-2015. We would love to see you there.

Most recently, Voices from the City of Birmingham Choir performed in the wonderful church of St Peter, Wootton Wawen, as part of their music festival. Here are a couple of pictures from that day (click to enlarge).

St Peter's Church

St Peter’s Church

Rehearsing for the concert

Rehearsing for the concert

Wonderful Wootton Wawen

18th May 2014, by Mark Lawrence

The name may be hard to say, but we are greatly looking forward to our forthcoming participation in the Wootton Wawen Music Festival. The festival runs from 9th – 14th June, and our concert is on Wednesday, 11th June at 7.30pm. MADRIGALS AND MORE is performed by Voices from the City of Birmingham Choir and instrumentalists Jessica Gabbott (flute) and Kristina Kennedy (harp). It takes place in the marvellous Saxon edifice, St Peter’s Church.

TICKETS £15 (unreserved seating) from Patricia Phillips (01564 793114) or Linda Gilbert (01564 793535)Wooton Wawen's Saxon church

See you on Saturday in Symphony Hall!

12th May 2014, by Mark Lawrence
In Symphony Hall...

In Symphony Hall…

Saturday 17th sees our fantastic musical feast – English Reflections – in Symphony Hall at 7.30 pm.

Along with the popular Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra, we present three works by composers writing in the early twentieth century, a period so much in focus as we commemorate the First World War.

In the concert is the tremendously powerful Hymn of Jesus by Gustav Holst, as well as Vaughan Williams’ evocative call for peace, Dona Nobis Pacem. The orchestra will perform Elgar’s King Arthur Suite. Book your tickets online, in person at the Symphony Hall or Town Hall box offices, or call 0121 345 0603. We look forward to seeing you.

Enjoy English Reflections!

27th April 2014, by Mark Lawrence

In Symphony Hall...

In Symphony Hall…

Not long now until our fantastic forthcoming musical feast – English Reflections – Saturday 17th May in Symphony Hall at 7.30 pm.

Working with the popular Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra, we present three works by composers writing in the early twentieth century, a period so much in focus as we commemorate the First World War.

We are enjoying singing the tremendously powerful Hymn of Jesus by Gustav Holst, as well as Vaughan Williams’ evocative call for peace, Dona Nobis Pacem. The orchestra will perform Elgar’s King Arthur Suite. Book your tickets online, in person at the Symphony Hall or Town Hall box offices, or call 0121 345 0603.

Breadth and depth of choral sound

3rd March 2014, by Mark Lawrence

131116_5291webOur rehearsals at present take us into a broad and deep sound world of harmonic richness and polyphonic mastery, often singing in 8-part (double choir) formation. From the “Technicolor” sound world of Holst’s Hymn of Jesus to the Tudor masterpiece that is Orlando Gibbons’ O Clap Your Hands Together, via Vaughan Williams’ moving Dona Nobis Pacem and Mendelssohn’s Mass for Double Choir, we have plenty to get our voices into.

Meanwhile, we are planning an enterprising and innovative season for 2014-15. As we say, we are “Passionate about great choral music!

Mahler’s Third

18th February 2014, by Mark Lawrence

Our ladies are performing with Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra in Mahler’s Third Symphony on Sunday 23rd February in Birmingham Town Hall at 3 pm.

A sprawling, magnificent work, Mahler’s longest symphony contrasts evocations of the primeval forces of nature with moments of child-like naivety and a final deeply-felt hymn to love.

In Town Hall

In Town Hall with the BPO

Buy tickets online HERE or call 0121 345 0603.

Singing Tuesdays!

25th January 2014, by Mark Lawrence

We are rehearsing Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem and Holst’s Hymn of Jesus on Tuesday nights in central Birmingham.

We are always looking to add to our 150-strong choir of committed singers. We welcome all to consider joining the choir, from sixth formers and students and all ages up. Try out for a while then book an audition. Enjoy an inspirational musical education with us and make new friends, too.

Rehearsing Mozart Requiem

Rehearsing Mozart Requiem

Your Tuesday nights will never be the same again!

Contact us if you want more information – maybe read more HERE?