Chester Music Society has now been in existence for seventy five years.
During the world war, a very active group called the Arts for the People Committee had been organising musical events. In 1945 there was a strong movement to do something more comprehensive and structured. A meeting was held on 12th October 1945 - in the minutes it is recorded that "a Music Society be formed, the aim being to arrange for regular concerts by eminent artists. To encourage, amongst amateurs, music making both orchestral and choral".
With enthusiasm and breadth of vision, a draft constitution was drawn up, naming the Society as "The Chester and District Music Society". A public meeting was organised for 7th November, which attracted 150 people and by the 16th, there were 116 members.
Eight weeks later the first concert was held featuring Moura Lympany. At the next concert Dr. Malcolm Sargeant - who later became one of the Society's Presidents - spoke on behalf of the Society. Within a short time, there were 501 members - the annual subscription being one guinea.
The country was still in upheaval and everything was in very short supply. Even by 1951 the Society had to apply to the Ministry of Food for permits to purchase tea, sugar and margarine - 6oz of tea, 10oz of margarine and 1lb 8oz of sugar!
The Society was established with three sections, Club, Choral and Orchestral. The concerts held in the Town Hall on Wednesdays were in great demand and members who could not attend were requested to notify the Secretary in order to accommodate members of the public who wished to come.
The list of artists who appeared between 1945 and 1947 reads like a "Who's Who", including Lympany, Haendel, Faulkener, Lush, Hirsh, Rostal, Greenslade, Goosens, Matthews, Pleeth and Ferrier.
Rev. E J G Foster, the Choir Conductor of the time, remembers fondly Kathleen Ferrier, "You cannot expect to hear another voice like hers in one lifetime - and I never have." Rosamond Banks remembers when, after putting out the music stands, she went to the ladies cloakroom to wash her hands in a few inches of cold water, in a small bowl. A quiet voice behind her asked, "May I come in there with you?" She remembers drawing an imaginary line in the water so that they would not quarrel. The two of them also shared the damp, grey towel. Rosamond recalls with great pride and affection that 'the other hands' were Kathleen Ferrier's.
The Choral and Orchestral sections were also well established. A concert programme of 1947 lists 62 orchestral members and a chorus of 36.
Frank Aldred recalls playing Haydn's Creation in the Cathedral, "As is quite usual in the winter, the Cathedral was very cold. When we got to the 'dreary wasteful hail', above us the hail beat appropriately on the Cathedral roof and windows".
Mary Louie Abraham remembers those days and her 'terrifying audition' for senior orchestra. She became the librarian and used to carry all the heavy music stands in an old green canvas cricket bag from the Town Hall cellars. Louie recalls, with affection, her 'old lady partner' in the second violins who drove the leader and Dr. Middleton, the conductor, wild with her continual foot tapping. Louie solved it by borrowing a small mat, ostensibly to 'save the old lady's feet from the cold, stone floor'.
By its fourth full season (1949/50) Chester and District Music Society published a high quality twelve page leaflet - the last page described the '5 Years' Achievement', stating that the Society had become, "an established part of the City's artistic life" and was "among the leading societies of the country".
The 1950s were a difficult time for cultural organisations. The war-time confidence and community spirit was replaced by an age of growing affluence. Television, private motoring and consumer gadgets competed for peoples' leisure time. The Winter Concerts and the Club were well established but the Choir was still relatively small and it had to import singers for some of its bigger concerts. Despite a vigorous start, the Orchestra did not ultimately prosper and was disbanded in 1962.
The Society was reinvigorated later in the 1960s and again in the 70s. Government grants were available for the arts and music. The Choir had a new, dynamic conductor and an influx of young singers. There were more appearances on television and radio. During the 70s the Society was renamed 'The Chester Music Society'. A successful series of Summer concerts became the progenitor of the Chester Summer Music Festival, launched in 1978.
In the 1980s new challenges had to be faced when grants were cut and costs rose sharply. Financial wizardry by the Society's treasurers, self-help by members and sponsorship secured its activities. Chester City Council provided increasing financial support and private firms gave valuable assistance.
In 1988 the Youth Choir was established and the success of the youth policy with initially two, but now three, choirs brought an infusion of young people into the Society's membership.
The last 30 years into the 21st century have seen continuing success, with many outstanding performers, not least several BBC Young Musicians, the latest being Jess Gillam who is now making a national reputation for herself not only as a virtuoso saxophonist, but also as a notable radio and television presenter. The choir now typically achieves regular membership of 160 and under the baton of Graham Jordan Ellis continues to attract large audiences. Sadly, the Junior choirs are no longer with us. Dwindling membership brought about by increasing academic pressures and other demands on the time of young people meant that the numbers supporting our youth choirs were no longer viable.
Even so, the Society continues to thrive and is committed to provide direct musical involvement and enjoyment for many, particularly by bringing increased musical experience to the rising generation.