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Choir Beginnings

On Sunday, the 8th May 1955, seven people met at the Aberdeen home of Mr. Alexander Elrick to discuss the creation of a new choir. They chose the name "Aberdeen Orpheus Choir", drew up a constitution and elected a committee under the Presidency of the late Mr. John Geddes. Annual subscriptions were set at 1, of which 5/- was to be paid on joining, and the remainder paid off at 6d per week. They also decided to found a Junior Choir which, by training children aged ten to sixteen, would act as a "feeder" to the Senior Choir. Practices commenced in the Hall of Aberdeen Academy, Belmont Street in September, 1955. A Juvenile Choir, for children aged seven to ten, was formed under Miss Irene Riddoch later that autumn. From the outset, the Choir was a family-orientated organisation with parents singing in the Senior Choir while their children sang in the Junior and Juvenile Choirs.
A logo using a "Lyre" motif was designed by James Benzie, a friend of Alexander Elrick and uncle of a founder member of the Junior Choir.  The logo is still in use to this day (see above).


First Concert

The first concert performed by the Aberdeen Orpheus Choir was held in the Music Hall on Friday 6th April, 1956. The Senior and Junior Choirs were both conducted by Mr. Elrick (the Juvenile Choir did not appear on the concert platform until 1957) and accompanied by Miss Helen Reid, Mr. Angus Middleton and Miss Mary Symon.  Guest artists were Mr. James Kelman (bass) and Miss Winifred Bigwood (violin), both accompanied by Miss Nan Davidson.  The acknowledged aim of the choir was to "frame its programme so that any audience, composed, as it must be, of people with widely different musical tastes, will find something of interest".  The choir thereafter gave one concert per year, the programme consisting mainly of unaccompanied part songs. The dress selected for the Choir was conventional for the time, a black suit with white blouse for the ladies, a dark suit with white shirt and black tie for the men. (The Junior Choir wore kilts and white blouses)


Choir competitive achievements

In 1961 funds were raised to robe the Senior Choir for their appearance at the 16th International Eisteddfod at Llangollen in 1962. Here the Choir was placed 4th (out of thirty six) in the Mixed Voices competition., making them first out of the British choirs. This, however, was not their first achievement: they had, by this time, competed and won their class in the Aberdeen, Arbroath and Perth Festivals; broadcast on the BBC "Scotland Sings" programme (1957); been nominated for entry in the BBC's "Let the People Sing" contest and reached the semi-final (1959); and recorded Christmas carols for broadcast immediately following the Queen's Christmas message (1961). The Choir made its first television appearance in a programme from the Beach Ballroom to mark the 21st anniversary of broadcasting from Aberdeen. The choice of songs had to have a local theme and two of the pieces chosen were "The Back of Bennachie" and "Lochnagar"


Choir venues.

From the start, the choir had been given the use of the hall, and a classroom (for sectional rehearsals and auditions) at Aberdeen Academy for free.  During the 1960s, the Town Council decided to impose a fee for the use of Education Committee property and, the potential cost being rather large, the choir decided to seek pastures new.  Advertisements placed in the press brought forth the offer of the hall at the Trinity Congregational Church in the Ship Row, so the conductor, president and the secretary went along one sunny Sunday to meet the Minister and view the hall.  The premises looked fine and the offer was accepted at a nominal rent. 

However, when practices resumed in the autumn, the conductor felt that the members were not giving him their usual level of interest and concentration. This continued for several weeks until a rather strong smell of gas was noticed; it turned out that the choir had been suffering from mild carbon monoxide poisoning.  In addition, a number of the lady members were not happy about walking through dockland in the dark.  So the Education Committee was approached once again to see whether alternative practice accommodation might be available.  This time, a large classroom was made available in Harlaw Academy.  This suited the choir much better, not least because the fitter members could dash across the road at the end of a practice to catch a last drink in "The Prince Regent" before 10 o'clock.  This situation was much improved when the opening times were extended to half past ten.


Choir conductors and accompanists

In 1963, Mr. Elrick handed over the conductorship of the choir to Mr. James Reith who was then working in the Music Department of Torry Academy and who subsequently became head of music at Cults Academy when it opened.

In 1969, when Mr. Reith was forced to step down for health reason, Mr. Marnoch Johnston, deputy conductor and past conductor of the Training Choir (as the Juvenile Choir had become known) took over as conductor with Mr. Fred Robertson as accompanist. In 1974, Mr. Marnoch Johnston also stepped down due to pressure of work and the conductorship was taken over by Mr. Geoffrey Pearce, who had recently arrived in Aberdeen from Beverly Minster to take up a post at Harlaw Academy.

In 1984, after the choir took part in the BBC "Songs of Praise" from St. Mary's Cathedral in Aberdeen, Mr. Pearce left to return to his native Yorkshire, becoming organist of Selby Abbey, and the Honorary President, Mr. Donald Hawksworth, then recently retired Regional Music Advisor and an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, conducted the choir for a year before Mr. Leslie Inness, newly appointed as Head of Music at Robert Gordon's College, took over in 1985.

When Leslie Inness stepped down due to work commitments in 1988 Mr. Kyle McCallum, took over, and remained the choir's conductor until 2003. As a professional teacher and organist at Banchory Ternan East Parish Church, the choir was fortunate to obtain his services as conductor as he was pleased to accept the post.

Choir repertoire

In the 1970s the choir repertoire was  broadened so that, in addition to the customary part songs, masses by Haydn and Mozart, Schubert and Dvorak, were performed, as were excerpts from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and larger choral works such as "Hiawatha's Wedding Feast".  In October 1976 the choir took part in the St. Andrew's Cathedral bi-centennial celebrations, performing a concert which included Vivaldi's "Gloria" and Handel's "Solomon”. 

In the 1990s the choir repertoire was added to and included Vivaldi's "Gloria", excerpts from Handel's "Messiah", Mozart's "Coronation Mass", as well as English anthems such as Wesley's "Ascribe unto the Lord", Brewer's "God is our Hope and Strength" and Malcolm Boyle's "Thou O God art praised in Sion". Wilhousky's well-known arrangement of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and Cy Coleman's "Rhythm of Life" have been popular additions to the repertoire, as have part songs by John Rutter and traditional Scottish songs, mostly in arrangements by Sir Hugh Roberton of the ever-popular Glasgow Orpheus Choir, after which the choir was named and whose style it aims to emulate.

Choir milestones

The choir has celebrated two milestone anniversaries via Civic Receptions by Aberdeen City Council - the 40th anniversary was in May 1995 and the 50th anniversary in May 2005.

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Aberdeen Orpheus Choir is a Charity registered in Scotland, number SC045709