Banbury Choral Society's 80th anniversary - 'The Music Makers' forge long-term friendships

Celebrating 80 years of singing, the Banbury Choral Society is set to launch its concert season next month.

By Matt Elofson
Wednesday, 9th March 2022, 4:58 pm
Banbury Choral Society's 'Best of Britain' at St Mary's Church on October 19, 2013 (Submitted photo from the society)
Banbury Choral Society's 'Best of Britain' at St Mary's Church on October 19, 2013 (Submitted photo from the society)

The choir currently has around 70 members. The whole ethos of the choir is based on bringing people together no matter what age and without an audition.

A spokesperson for the choir said: "We are a supportive and friendly choir that welcomes enthusiastic singers of all ages. We believe singing is a shared experience that should be fun, engaging and rewarding. There is no audition, we simply ask that members can sing in tune and commit to practice."

Membership in the choir has helped people forge long-term friendships with some members taking part for more than 50 years.

Jill Gainey, a past chairperson of the choir, is one of the longest serving members.

She said: “I feel extremely proud to have been a member of BCS for over 50 years. I get so much pleasure from singing such lovely music on Monday evenings, and rehearsing for concerts with like-minded people. Rehearsals are usually hard work, but there is a feeling of achievement when the conductor is happy.

"I also love the friendship that exists among the members. Many give up their free time to get involved in the day-to-day organisation and work that is needed to stage the concerts. We really are ‘The Music Makers’.

Liz Scamans has sung in the choir for 30 years and has dedicated most of that time to being on the committee.

Banbury Choral Society at Deddington Church 75th Anniversary, July 2017 (Photo by Tudor Photography)

She said: “Thirty years of indulging my passion for singing and experiencing the absolute joy of performing the alto parts of the most spectacular choral works ever written, of making wonderful friendships, of learning from inspirational and dedicated conductors and accompanists, of knowing that every rehearsal will lift my spirits and leave me looking forward to the next time.”

The choir's first concert of the season comes next month with a postponed performance from 2020 of JS Bach, St John Passion. St Mary’s Church Banbury will host the performance on Saturday April 2 at 7.30pm. The choir will be accompanied by the St James’ Players, an authentic Baroque ensemble from London.

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Julian Harris said: “It is an absolute privilege to conduct this wondrous masterpiece again. It is, undoubtedly, one of the most magnificent works of genius ever written and created by the mind of the greatest composer that ever lived. Page after page drips with inspiration and emotion, telling the most dramatic and powerful story ever told. It really is an evening like no other and not to be missed."

Banbury Choral Society and the Deddington Bach Mass in B Minor from March 1978 (Submitted photo from the society)

For more information on how to buy tickets to their April performance of JS Bach, St John Passion use the following web link:

Steeped in history

Banbury Choral Society was founded in 1942 during the dark days of World War II. The choir was known as the ‘Banbury Co-operative Choral Society’ and was founded by Geoffrey Furnish.

The first concert was performed by approximately 70 singers on July 16, 1942 in Marlborough Road Hall, which is where the choir rehearses today. In February 1967 the society no longer received support from the Banbury Co-operative Society thus making it financially independent today.

Julian Harris, musical director of the Banbury Choral Society (photo submitted from the society)

As well as Geoffrey Furnish, one of the most influential conductors of the choir was Eddie Palmer who took over this role in 1976 until his death in October 2000. He brought an element of stability to the choir and he insisted on the highest standard of singing laced with a sense of fun and humour.

Eddie was quoted as saying: “A conductor must be an actor – able to make his musicians think that he knows what he is doing. He must inspire confidence and enthusiasm. If things go wrong – blame the tenors. There are usually fewer of them. One should aim at perfection but not go beyond the point where it ceases to be fun.”

A succession of inspirational directors from Geoffrey Furnish through Malcolm Sargent, ‘Eddie’ Palmer, Sue Freestone, Keith Smith and Martin Quinn to the current director Julian Harris, have increased the choirs’ repertoire as well as developed their skill and abilities.

The choral society celebrated its 50th year in 1992 and to mark the occasion, Walter Cheney, compiled a history of the choral society from 1942 to 1992 called 'We are the Music Makers.' This book was dedicated to the memory of Lionel Pratt who died in January 1992. He was a valued member of the tenor section for almost 50 years. To download a copy click here:

The choir welcomes students from aged 16 to 25 years. They will receive free membership and an opportunity to audition for the choir’s Youth Outreach Scheme which offers a small bursary towards furthering their musical education.

The choir welcomes new members, and anyone interesting joining the choir can see their website here:

Banbury Choral Society's Christmas Concert in December 2020 at St Mary's Church, Banbury (Submitted photo)
Geoffrey Furnish, founder and musical director of Banbury Choral Society from 1942-1974. (photo submitted from the society)
Last Night of the Proms - joint concert with Warriner Choral Society, 7th July 2012 (Submitted photo from Banbury Choral Society)
Pictured: Former Banbury Choral Society Conductor Eddie Palmer and soloists (old photo submitted from the society)