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The Society's First 30 Years

To cover thirty years of the Society’s history without taking into account its unique relationship with Pangbourne College would be impossible. Without the College’s support in providing not only rehearsal and performance facilities, but also a tacit sponsorship in donating them gratis, the College has made possible the Society’s existence. Most significantly, it has been the contribution of the College’s Music Directors – Ralph Allwood from 1973, Bob Barsby from 1978, Darren Everhart from 2000 and, since September 2006, Jonathan Brown – that has ensured the Society’s success.

Ralph Allwood

In the early 70s 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 Handel 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.” That was the start. 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.

Bob BarsbyPeter Points then made his second inspired appointment – in a sense, getting two for the price of one – with the appointment of Bob Barsby. He 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. Bob’s musical passion, his wit, light style and monumental patience impressed, and the Society 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. On one occasion, we joined with the Newbury Choral Society, of which Bob was also Music Director. A reviewer wrote in 1981: “Presiding over the 200 performers, coolly divesting their efforts and controlling all the wonderful sounds, was the calm figure of Robert Barsby. No praise can be too high for him. He provided us with a musical experience in which it was a privilege to share.”

So 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. In 1989, Patrick Hawes, Assistant Director of Music, was commissioned to write a work for the Society. The Wedding at Cana was premiered in Drake Hall in 1990 to enormous acclaim and the Society repeated the performance in Lincoln Cathedral that summer.

Ralph, Darren & BobOn the Society’s 25th Anniversary, 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 should share the baton for Bob’s farewell concert when Bob conducted his parting offering to Pangbourne: his musical setting of his colleague John Flint’s words, The Ring of Change. It was an emotional, triumphant end to Bob’s modest and often understated approach during his 22-year tenure. Standards had risen, but the sense of fun never diminished.