THE VICTORIAN AND EDWARDIAN ERAS 1855-1918 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 and a generous donation of £5 was made by a Mr Macfarlane. James Graham was the first conductor. Rehearsals took place in Stirling High School (now the Stirling Highland Hotel) and the first concert took place on the 12th June 1857 in the school’s Music Room. The first concert consisted of various sacred tunes and anthems, including the Queen’s anthem. 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 four choruses from Mendelssohn’s Festesgesang and the Hallelujah Chorus. The early heyday of the choir started in 1874 when Dr Charles Allum came from England to be organist at the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and to take over the choir. He conducted oratorios for the first time, starting with The Messiah at the Smith Institute. He was a Victorian giant, complete with bushy beard and remained as conductor 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. In 1883 the Albert Halls were opened with another performance of The Messiah. For a concert of Handel’s Israel in Egypt in 1892 there were flattering reviews in both the Glasgow Herald and The Scotsman. 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 in the archive dates back to 1905 when St Paul wasperformedin the Peter Memorial Church, conducted by Forbes Forsyth. On 23rd January 1913 the choir performed the cantata A Tale of Old Japan by Samuel Coleridge Taylor in the Albert Halls. The conductor was Emil Mynarski. There was a break because of World War I from 1914 to 1918.
BETWEEN THE WORLD WARS 1919-1939 The choir resumed in Autumn 1919. For the Diamond Jubilee in 1926 a performance of Elijah took place. Mr HG Barrett was the conductor and the choir numbered 130! In 1929 Mr Robert K MacCallum conducted Sullivan’s The Golden Legend. In 1930 the music master from Stirling High School, Mr G Forbes Forsyth, took over for the 65th anniversary. To improve “first the male section must be recruited”. In those days the subscription was 5 shillings (25p). At this time, rehearsals took place in St Columba’s Church Hall [now Park Church Hall] where the choir still rehearses today. 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.
THE POST WORLD WAR II ERA 1948 to present The first post-war 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 (known by everyone 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. Roy Lennox took over in 1954. Bramwell Cook was the conductor from 1960. Under his guidance the choir performed Bach’s Mass in B Minor in 1963. Stuart Anderson became conductor in the early 1960s. 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 the choir nearly went bust, but was saved by Colonel McHutchon getting a loan through Standard Life. At that time performances were in what is now the Baptist Church, then called the South Church. During the 1960s Sir George Younger (who later became Minister for Defence under Margaret Thatcher) was Chairman as well as singing as a tenor. He persuaded Giles Havergal, then principal of the RSAMD, to be conductor for one year. The most famous singer from the Stirling area in the post-war years is probably Margaret Marshall. She has sung several times with the choir. The first was in Vaughan Williams’ 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 the choir rehearsed at whichever school or church happened to have electricity. The schools included Craigs, Stirling High and Riverside. The churches included Kippen Parish, Dunblane Cathedral and the North Church. The post-World War II era has been dominated by George Farmer. 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. His first concert as conductor was in 1969 with a performance Kodaly’s Missa Brevis and Faure’s Requiem. Neil Mackie was the tenor then and there were over 100 singers in the choir at that time! Several choir members who joined in the 1960s (Anna McLean and Ian Richardson) still sing with the choir in the 2020s! 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. Richard Galloway conducted from 1998 until his unfortunate death in 2000. Eric Dunlea took over as conductor from 2000/01 until Xmas 2009. His great ambition was to perform the Verdi Requiem which was performed 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 forces were combined with the Falkirk Festival Chorus under Bob Tait. This was the first ever performance of this work in Scotland – even earning a favourable review from Michael Tumelty - in both Stirling (the Albert Halls) and Falkirk (Town Hall). In 2002 the choir was renamed Stirling City Choir in recognition of city status being conferred on Stirling. In September 2009 the choir was joined by its first female conductor, Gillian Craig. In February 2010 the choir performed with Big Noise, the Sistema Scotland programme which works with challenged communities to improve lives through music. A version of the final choral movement of Beethoven’s Ninth symphony entitled Big Joy was performed! In April 2018 Gillian Craig conducted her last concert with a memorable performance of Haydn’s TheCreation. 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’ Requiem among many others. For the 60th anniversary of the post-World War 2 choir she conducted Mendelssohn’s Elijah in the Albert Halls. During this period there was also a Chamber Choir under the leadership of Kathleen McPhail. This consisted of a dozen choir members who performed a few separate pieces for the 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 were written or arranged by Kathleen herself. During the summer of 2018 the choir appointed Michael Segaud from Perth as the new Director of Music. He has already made many innovations to the choir’s activities. For the Christmas 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 organist Ian Boulter. Michael also conducted one of the carols whilst playing his violin. Sadly, the Spring concert of 2020 which was to feature Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man and Adiemus: Songs of Sanctuary, was cancelled due to the global coronavirus pandemic. This was the first time since the Second World War that a concert had to be cancelled. Postscript: Thank you to an earlier choir historian and former alto and secretary, Marjorie Lumsden, and bass Peter Sutherland for contributing to and preparing this history.