Newsletter – Sotto Voce 2013

SOTTO VOCE – The Ross-on-Wye Choral Society Newsletter


Here we are, having basked in a barbecue summer, resting our voices and looking forward to an exciting new season in Ross. We meet again at 7.30pm at Brampton Abbotts Primary School for our Annual General Meeting on Thursday 5th September. There, the meeting takes the first half of the evening and we shall hear from Clare how we have fared financially in the past year. We saw preliminary figures at our last committee meeting in May and we finished up with a healthy surplus of about £6,500, thanks to some prudent cost savings, the generosity of the Gibson Trust, the Tony Dobbin bequest and a successful and enjoyable fund-raising evening at the Red Lion. But before we get too carried away by the prospect of reduced subscriptions or inviting Placido Domingo to come and sing for us, we have to be mindful of the need to buy the staging we used to hire from the Y Zone (see below). As usual, we shall have wine and nibbles after the AGM, then in the second half we shall have a sing-through of one of the cantatas we shall be performing in November.

This newsletter is a new idea which I hope will keep us all informed and encourage everyone to participate in the affairs of the Society, by writing in with their comments, complaints and even (who knows?) perhaps some helpful suggestions.

Next Season

Russell and John will be continuing as our musical director and pianist. Our first concert will be in St Mary’s at 7.30pm on Saturday 23rd November. The works to be performed are Cantata 140 by Johann Sebastian Bach which we shall be singing in English as Sleepers wake! There is a long opening chorus plus two chorales and two soprano/bass duets. The cantata lasts about 25 minutes. This is followed by Magnificat by Antonio Vivaldi RV 611 which is a bit shorter, and consists of five short choruses totalling about nine minutes with solo parts for soprano, contralto and tenor.

After the interval we shall be doing the first two cantatas from J S Bach’s Christmas Oratorio BWV248, again in English. It should be emphasised that we are singing in English not because we are bad at German. (on the contrary, Mervyn James’s guest Marga who is German, said of our Brahms Requiem that she could have been in Germany). The deciding factor was that the library could only supply us with the English edition and there is no doubt that we shall save valuable rehearsal time by singing in our native tongue. The concert will be with organ accompaniment, but this will be embellished by solo violin obbligato in the first cantata. The organist Michael Haynes is coming all the way from Durham to play some very demanding scores. The other soloists are Peter Harris tenor and the golden-voiced contralto Catherine King who lives at Llangrove and last sang for us in the Messiah we did in 1998 together with our patron Dame Felicity Lott. Catherine’s return is long overdue, but she is a busy international performer.

That concert is earlier than usual, because of potential clashes with other choral societies at a busy time of the year, followed by numerous carol concerts and services in the run-up to Christmas, so we shall start straight in on Thursday 27th November (unless we all decide we need to have one week off) rehearsing  for our Spring concert when we shall be performing The Creation by Franz Joseph Haydn. This wonderful work is in three parts with ten choruses and solo soprano, tenor and bass. Jimmy Holliday, who sang bass solo in our Messiah last December returns, as does tenor Peter Wilman. Soprano Lucy Bowen joins us for the first time from Hereford where she is married to Geraint, the cathedral’s director of music, and is a frequent performer in cathedral concerts. It will be good to make the connection with Hereford, and perhaps attract some audience from there. Again, we shall be singing in English, which is perhaps less contentious as many of the words are from Milton and Haydn supervised publication of the first edition which included an English text. We have invited a choir to join us from Betzdorf, our twin town in Germany. We don’t yet know if they are going to come and they may draw the line at singing in English. The performance will be in St Mary’s on Saturday 8th March, with the Musical and Amicable Society orchestra playing modern instruments, although they will be bringing a fortepiano, as called for in the score.

Our final concert of the 2013/14 season  will be on Saturday 10th May in the Larruperz Centre. This will be A Night at the Opera,  with choruses from the Oxford Book of Opera Choruses edited by John Rutter, which we last sang from in 2007. There will be soprano and tenor soloists, yet to be appointed. To sing in the Larruperz is not a new departure, for we performed there many times in earlier days. The reason we are going there is to show off Ross Choral Society to an audience who may be uncomfortable in church and there is a huge daily footfall from town and the surrounding countryside which will be exposed to publicity for the concert. John will accompany on the piano. This is a change from the earlier plan to do The Beggar’s Opera, but by extraordinary coincidence, Brian Jackson and the Phoenix Singers are putting it on at the Phoenix Theatre in November.


When Herefordshire Council decided to close down the Y Zone in Hill Street and sell the premises, it created a potential problem for us, as whoever bought it might dispose of the staging to a buyer who might remove it from Ross and pay a price which we could not afford to better, In the past, we have hired the 1m x 2m decks which are an essential element in our bespoke staging for St Mary’s, so we could not afford to lose access to it. In the event, Ross Baptist Church was the buyer so Dennis got straight on to them to ensure that we could have first refusal on the staging if they wanted to dispose of it. Once they had decided they did, the Committee agreed that Dennis should have a budget figure within which to negotiate and thanks to Dennis’s formidable negotiating skills, we have acquired staging which cost something in the order of £11,000 and which has only ever been used by us, for £1,200 – comfortably within our budget.

Unfortunately, there is still a problem. Because the  desks of the two front pews at St Mary’s are now so fragile, they cannot be removed without risk of collapse, which means there will be too little space for orchestra and soloists when we do The Creation. We therefore have to purchase two or three rows – 6 or 9 deck units half a metre wide instead of the full metre, to give us an extra 1 or 1.5 metres of space in front of the chorus. We shall be talking to the supplier at the end of this month to see what he can offer, and Dennis’s negotiating skills will be once more brought to bear.

Situations Vacant

With the retirement of Robin Catcheside  (which we hope is  temporary), together with that of helpers David and John, Dennis is concerned that the erection and dismantling of the staging will become a real problem which can only be solved if he can have regular committed help, rather than the present system of willing volunteers. In other words, he would like an assistant who will commit to all the concert days and learn all the ins and outs of managing a concert in St Mary’s, including the staging, so that in due course he can take over from Dennis, who has done the job so well for the past 15 years.

Clare is finding it hard to do all that being Treasurer means. She is happy to keep the books and produce the accounts, but working as she does in an office some way from the town centre, she finds it hard to get to the bank, to draw cash and pay in takings. If you can help, please have a word with Clare to see what can be done to ease her workload.

Chris Renfield has volunteered to be librarian for which we must all be truly grateful. But she will be in at the deep end when we come back in September, with three scores to issue. We need two or three people to volunteer to book copies out at the first rehearsal, so could we please hear from you if you are willing to help?

Finally, we are short of committee members, so could we please have some volunteers? We usually meet about five times a year.