Long Established Choir

    1882 possibly?BIRMINGHAM CHORAL UNION is one of the longest established choirs in the Midlands, having been founded as Birmingham Choral & Orchestral Union in the 1880s. It is amazing to realize that we have been making music in three different centuries! Over the years, we have performed in the world première of Peter Wishart’s Te Deum, first public performances in Birmingham of Gordon Jacob’s A Nun’s Priests Tale, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and Richard Chew’s Webb Dives In. We have appeared in many venues in the City and elsewhere, including York Minster, Llangollen, the canal sides in Birmingham and Walsall, Warwick Arts Centre, The Archers at the BBC, Birmingham Botanical Gardens, The New Bullring, and many more. We performed Verdi’s Requiem in Symphony Hall in March 2004 and were delighted to reach a wider audience than usual. This Concert was also a tribute to the late Geoffrey Brevitt, a former Chairman, tenor and tireless worker for the Choir. Our June 2004 concert was in the recently refurbished St Martin’s in the Bullring, where we also entertained our Friends.

    Pre World War II

    1914 Programme of Merrie England at Birmingham Town Hall

    1927 BCU logoMuch of the recorded history of Birmingham Choral Union prior to World War ll has, sadly, been lost although occasionally a reminder of its earlier existence turns up in unexpected places; For instance, a member who purchased some music at a Birmingham shop found inside it a programme for a Birmingham Choral Union performance of Merrie England on 24 January 1914!; In it were listed the names of all the members of the Choir – 126 Sopranos, 111 Contraltos, 51 Tenors and 68 Basses – a total of 356 singers! The cover described it as the third concert of the 27th Season.


    Edgar RichardsOur late President, Marian Dawes, carried out extensive research into the Choir’s history. When Edgar Richards, celebrated 50 years with the Choir, she asked him to record his memories on tape. Information on the Choir comes from many sources – our own archives; local historians; previous members; jumble sales and book shops, to name a few!; We would be delighted to hear from any former Members, or, indeed, anyone with an interest in the Choir and who has information or pre-1945 programmes!  Please complete our contact form.

    1946 to 1949

    The archives contain a full history of its concerts since 1946, however, when its conductor was Appleby Matthews – founder of the C.B.S.O. His ambition was to conduct a performance of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ with the C.B.S.O. This ambition was realised at Birmingham Town Hall on 7 May 1949 but proved to be his last concert as, two months later, he died, suddenly and unexpectedly.

    1949 to 1954

    Photograph of Denis CrosbySucceeding him was the talented young conductor, Denis Crosby, whose death on Good Friday 1954, at the age of 32, was a sad blow to music in the Midlands and to the Choir in particular. Under Denis, the membership again grew and enjoyed a much wider repertoire with performances of Julius Harrison’s Mass in C, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Dvořák’s Stabat Mater and Berlioz’ Childhood of Christ.


    The Choir under Harold Gray, OBE

    An old logoThere then followed a long and stable period of 20 years under the baton of Harold Gray, OBE, with whom Birmingham Choral Union enjoyed many exciting performances with the C.B.S.O. Two concerts were recorded for the BBC and later transmitted. The Choir took part in Birmingham ‘Prom’ concerts and the C.B.S.O.’s Christmas concerts and, on a number of occasions, joined the City of Birmingham Choir for Good Friday performances of St Matthew Passion. Harold’s last Concert as Conductor of Birmingham Choral Union was Mendelssohn’s Elijah on 26 April 1975. However, he remained our President until his death in 1991 – nearly 40 years’ association with a delightful man.

    Llangollen Gala Concert 1972 by courtesy Nigel Cripps

    Llangollen Gala Concert 1972 by courtesy Nigel Cripps

    Harold and his wife Jocelyn attended the Civic Reception in the Council House, on the occasion of our Centenary, with Edgar (Chairman at that time) and Betty Richards. Edgar was still in the Bass section at that time, having been a Member for well over 50 years! In 1967 and 1972, Birmingham Choral Union was invited to give the last concert at the International Eisteddfod at Llangollen, the first performance was Verdi Requiem, the second with the Hallé Choir of Berlioz, Grande Messe des Morts. Other notable events included the world première of Peter Wishart’s Te Deum and the first public performances in Birmingham of Gordon Jacob’s A Nun’s Priests Tale and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.

    Since Harold Gray

    After he retired, Richard Silk and David Sadler took over the reins before our present Conductor, Colin Baines, joined us in 1981. Under Colin’s baton, the Choir has continued to grow and develop. We also count ourselves fortunate to have Darren Hogg as our Accompanist.

    Charity Support

    The Birmingham Choral Union has always been willing to fulfil its Civic responsibilities as, for many years, it gave concerts for the News Vendors Association and it supported the Laser Appeal for the Eye Hospital. We continue to be active in supporting local, national and international charities. The Charity we promoted in 2003, for example, was ‘Hope & Homes for Children‘ – which Mark and Caroline Cook founded in 1994, and, last season, we promoted several other Charities and Organisations.

Historic Photographs.

BCU Centenary.

Programme History.

Some long-served past members.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.birminghamchoralunion.org.uk/history/