THE VICTORIAN AND EDWARDIAN ERAS
In 1855 James Graham came to Live in Stirling and opened a music salon and library in Port Street. He taught singing and sight-reading. He helped form The Stirling Choral Society in February 1857. We were made possible financially by the generous donation of £5 by Mr Macfarlane. Mr Graham was our first conductor. We practised in the High School. Our first concert took place on the 12th June in the Music Room of the Stirling High School. (Can anyone locate this room in the Highland Hotel?) Our first concert consisted of various sacred tunes and anthems, including the Queen’s anthem, presumably at the beginning. According to the Stirling Journal “The audience was numerous”. Mr Graham retired in 1860. In 1870 there was a concert in the Corn Exchange. The programme included 4 choruses from Mendelssohn’s Festesgesang and the Hallelujah chorus.
The early heyday of our choir started in 1874 when Dr Charles Allum, came from England to be organist of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and to take over the choir. He conducted oratorios for the first time, starting with theThe Messiah at the Smith Institute. He was a Victorian giant, complete with bushy beard, conducting us for 25 years. In order to teach the choir, he could sing any note from the lowest bass to the highest soprano at the correct pitch. Presumably he sang the soprano notes in falsetto!
In 1883 the Albert Halls were opened with another performance of The Messiah.
For our concert of Israel in Egypt in 1892 there were (flattering) reviews in both the Glasgow Herald and The Scotsman. Nowadays we don’t even get a review in the Stirling Observer.
In 1900 Dr Allum conducted the choruses of Stirling, Kirkcaldy, Leven, St Andrews as well as his own church choir! However in 1901 he left for America.
The oldest programme we have dates back to 1905 when the Musical Association performed St Paul in the Peter Memorial Church, conducted by Forbes Forsyth.
On 23rd January 1913 they performed the cantata A Tale of Old Japan by Samuel Coleridge Taylor in the Albert Hall. The conductor was Emil Mynarski.
There was a break because of World War I from 1914 to 1918.
BETWEEN THE WORLD WARS
We would seem to have resumed in autumn 1919.
For our Diamond Jubilee in 1926 a performance of Elijah took place. Mr H.G. Barrett was the conductor and the choir numbered 130!
In 1929 Mr Robert K. MacCallum conducted Sullivan?s The Golden Legend. When he got the Dunfermline Choral job in 1930 the music master from Stirling High Mr G. Forbes Forsyth took over for our 65th anniversary. To improve “first the male section must be recruited”. In those days the subscription was 5 shillings (25p).
Apparently we rehearsed in the church hall of St Columba’s in those days as well.
After a crisis in 1933 Mr Hutton Malcolm was appointed conductor. Rehearsals were in the Guide Hut. In 1935 there was no public performance: only a private one of The Messiah in the Guide Hut.
Isobel Baillie was one of the soloists in The Messiah in 1938.
The last concert before World War II on 24th February 1939 was The Creation.
TWO GOLDEN ERAS
For these 82 years of our choir’s existence, society was quite different, and – from the point of view of our choir, better than what it is today. First and foremost there was no television. This meant that people thronged both to sing in choirs and to listen to concerts. Most of the villages around Stirling had their own choirs. We had good audiences for both our Xmas and Easter concerts. And we received serious and lengthy crits not only from the local press, the Stirling Journal and the Stirling Observer, but also from the national press, The Glasgow Herald and The Scotsman.
THE POST WORLD WAR II ERA
The first concert was also The Creation , in 1948, conducted by W. M. Stirling. In 1951 Derrick Cantrell, the organist at the Holy Rude, revived the choir, now renamed the Stirling and District Choral Union (or by all of us as ‘the Choral’) and conducted The Messiah in the Holy Rude Church. The audience was nearly 900!
In 1953-54 Mr J. Macrae was the conductor for a concert in the North Church (now Argos). Roy Lennox took over in 1954. Bramwell Cook was the conductor from 1960. Under him we performed Bach’s Mass in B Minor in 1963.
Later Stuart Anderson became conductor in the early 1960’s. When he left Norma Proctor sang in The Dream of Gerontius in 1964 under Henry Havergal who came at short notice from the Academy. As a result of this expense we nearly went bust, but we were saved by Colonel McHutchon getting us a loan through Standard Life. At that time we performed in what is now the Baptist Church, then called the South Church.
During the 1960’s Sir George Younger (who later became Minister for Defence under Margaret Thatcher) was our chairman as well as one of the tenors. He persuaded Giles Havergal, then principal of the RSAMD, to be our conductor for one year.
The most famous singer from our area in the post World War years is probably Margaret Marshall. She has sung several times with us. The first was in Vaughan Williams’s Sea Symphony during the 1960’s when she was a rising star (The baritone was Ronald Morrison). Later she sang in The Messiah, (1973), The Creation(1975) and The German Requiem (1978). In 1995 she sang Mozart’s Solemn Vespers and Requiem with George Farmer conducting.
Linda Finnie sang in Judas Maccabeus in 1976.
During the coal miners’ strike of the winter of 1965-66 our choir rehearsed at several different schools and churches which happened to have electricity on that night. The schools included Craigs, Stirling High and Riverside. The churches included Kippen Parish, Dunblane Cathedral and the North Church.
Our post-World War II era has been dominated, of course, by George Farmer. His first concert as conductor was in 1969: Kodaly’s Missa Bevis and Faure’s Requiem. Neil Mackie was the tenor then, as so often at that time. There were over 100 singers in our choir at that time! The 14 tenors included Bob Tait, and the altos Anna McLean (joined 1960). The basses included David Aitken (joined 1966) and Ian Richardson (joined 1968). All except Bob still sing with us.
George’s first spell as conductor was 1968/69 until 1978 when Dick Halliday took over until 1984/85. George then returned for a marathon spell from 1985/86 until 1996/97.
Pat McMahon and Frances McCafferty were regular soloists at that time. One of George’s most ambitious pieces was Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony. George’s last concert was Elijah with my son Duncan Sutherland (with his voice about to break at 14) as the youth.
Richard Galloway conducted us from 1998 until his unfortunate death in 2000.
Irishman Eric Dunlea conducted us from 2000/01 until Xmas 2009. His great ambition was to perform the Verdi Requiem which we did in 2007 with the St Modan’s School Choir and some members of the Rosenethe Choir.
Another memorable concert was Liszt’s Christus in 2002. For this we combined forces with the Falkirk Festival Chorus under Bob Tait. We performed this work for the first time ever in Scotland – even earning a favourable crit from Michael Tumelty!- in both Stirling (the Albert Hall) and Falkirk (Town Hall).
In 2002 we renamed ourselves the Stirling City Choir in recognition of city status being conferred on Stirling.
Since September 2009 we have had our first female conductor, Gillian Craig.
For some years we have had a Chamber Choir under the leadership of Kathleen McPhail. This consists of about a dozen sopranos and altos who perform a few separate pieces for our December and February concerts. In addition there have been special events such as a concert at Plean Castle in 2006 and the Provost’s Awards Ceremony at Stirling Castle in 2008. Some of the pieces are written or arranged by Kathleen herself. The conductor originally was Eric Dunlea and is now Gillian Craig.
For our February 2010 concert we co-operated with Big Noise, the sistema programme to train young string players in the Raploch. Together we performed a version of the final choral movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony entitled Big Joy.
In April 2018 Gillian Craig conducted her last concert for us: a memorable performance of Haydn’s “Creation.” She then retired from her post as Director of Music at the end of nine fruitful years. During this time she had conducted Handel’s “Messiah,” Mozart’s Requiem and Brahms’s Requiem among many others. For the 60th anniversary of our post-World War 2 re-constituted choir she had conducted Mendelssohn’s “Elijah.”
During the summer of 2018 the choir appointed Michael Segaud from Perth as our new Director of Music. He has already made many innovations to our activities. For our Xmas concert 2018 he included individual readings by various members of the choir in between the traditional carols. The choir also gave a combined reading to musical accompaniment by Ian Boulter. Michael also conducted one of the carols whilst playing his violin (his solo instrument).
Thank you to an earlier choir historian and former alto and secretary, Marjorie Lumsden, for lending me her relevant documents and notes.