The First 40 Years
To recognise Pangbourne Choral Society’s 40-year history (from 1973 to 2013) without acknowledging its unique relationship with Pangbourne College would be impossible. The College’s support, in allowing us to use The Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel (and other facilities) for rehearsals and performances, has made possible the Society’s existence. Most significantly, it has been the contribution of the College’s musical directors (Ralph Allwood 1973 to 1978; Bob Barsby 1978 to 2000; Darren Everhart 2000 to 2006; and Jonathan Brown 2006 to 2014) that has ensured the Society’s success.
In the early 1970s the College was suffering a ‘musical drought’, which ended in 1973 with the headmaster Peter Points’ inspired appointment of Ralph Allwood. It was Ralph’s conception of a choral society that saw, after only ten rehearsals, a choir of 120 voices comprising boys, staff and wives, parents and friends, singing Haydn’s Mass in Time of War and two of Handel’s Coronation Anthems. A reviewer wrote: “We were left with the realisation that the College is only on the edge of its musical education; we wait and hope for many more concerts like this.” For the next five years, under Ralph’s charismatic leadership, the choir’s repertoire and reputation grew. There were no auditions. You came to sing, or to learn to sing. You came to share in the birth of a tradition under an inspirational conductor who put Pangbourne music on the map.
Peter Points then made a second inspired appointment. With the appointment of Bob Barsby, the Society was, in a sense, getting ‘two for the price of one’. Bob and his wife Jane were for the next 22 years to enliven and inspire by their joint commitment to the choral tradition at Pangbourne: he with his stylish and relaxed manner, she with her beautiful soprano voice in both the choir and solo work. Thanks to Bob’s musical passion, light style, wit and monumental patience, the choir grew in strength. Membership rarely dropped below 120, sometimes reaching 200, as Bob continued Ralph’s policy of including the College choir, pupils and other schools occasionally.
Bob kept expanding our repertoire for two concerts a year over 22 years. We sang everything from Baroque to Bernstein, Tippett, Britten, Fanshawe and Lloyd-Webber; from the sacred to the profane, with Orff’s Carmina Burana.
Patrick Hawes was the accompanist for the choir during the 1980s, and in 1989 was commissioned by Ken and Joy Whitehead to write a work for us. The Wedding at Cana was premiered in Drake Hall in 1990 to enormous acclaim and the choir repeated the performance in Lincoln Cathedral that summer. Since that time, Patrick has gone on to be one of the country’s most popular and inspirational composers. From 2006 to 2007, he was Composer in Residence for Classic FM; and in 2009 Patrick was commissioned by HRH The Prince of Wales to write the Highgrove Suite.
On the Society’s 25th Anniversary in 1999, Bob and Ralph shared the rostrum in Drake Hall, where it had all started in 1974. And it was fitting that Bob should conduct the first Choral Society concert in The Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel in 2000. It was also apt that Darren Everhart – who took over as the choir’s music director that year – should share the baton for Bob’s farewell concert, when Bob conducted his parting offering to Pangbourne, The Ring of Change: Cantata 2000, his own musical setting of his colleague John Flint’s words.
During his time with Pangbourne Choral Society, Darren developed the repertoire with pieces as varied as Bernstein’s West Side Story and Britten’s War Requiem. For the latter, the choir was encouraged to dress in rags, to add authenticity by symbolising the hardships and brutality of war.
In 2004, Ralph and Bob returned to join Darren for the 30th Anniversary Concert. Ralph conducted Fauré’s Requiem (in which the soprano soloist was a young Kathryn Jenkins), Bob conducted his own Cantata 2000, and Darren conducted John Rutter’s Feel the Spirit. The concert was accompanied by The Philomel Orchestra, led by Rufus Frowde.
Jonathan Brown took over as the choir’s Musical Director in September 2006. With gentle persuasion, persistence and skill, he has managed to draw outstanding concert performances from our non-audition choir, encouraging us to sing more challenging and rewarding works during his years with us. And his wealth of musical contacts has enabled
us to enjoy the support of top-class soloists and orchestras.
In June 2014 Jonathan was joined by Ralph, Bob and Darren for a 40th anniversary
concert that included Brahms Geistliches Lied, Vaughan Williams Toward
the Unknown Region and Handel’s Worthy is the Lamb and Amen from Messiah.
As part of the 40th anniversary season, Alun Hughes (one of our long serving basses) put together ‘The ABC of PCS’, a fascinating A-to-Z from the Society’s archive.