Hoylake Choral Society is part of Britain’s vibrant amateur music making tradition. We are inspired by the sublime achievements of some of our great college and cathedral choirs which are at least partially supported by professional singers or choral scholars. But we can make music too and aim to perform to a high standard .
During the period of post war austerity Wirral like much of the UK sustained and redeveloped its arts scene within amateur groups. Church choirs have always provided good opportunities for musical development but they are generally not sufficiently large nor do they always have the varied repertoire to build confidence in singing oratorio and other grand works. A music society for instrumental and choral music was needed.
On the 26th November 1947 a group of music enthusiasts formed the Hoylake Musical Society. Members joined as orchestral musicians or singers. On 2nd May 1948 they gave their first concert in which they performed Handel’s Messiah. The orchestra also gave independent concerts and joint ventures were also undertaken. Soloists came from the ranks of the society membership The society grew and prospered and by 1956 was presenting three or four concerts each year, though some were performed by choirs and instrumental groups and soloists from surrounding districts of Wirral and Liverpool. Lectures on music making further enhanced the music scene.
In the first 10 years the society had given 30 concerts focusing on large scale religious pieces, and the orchestra concentrated on symphonic music and concerti as well as smaller pieces. It proved difficult to retain music directors, however, some of whom were professional musicians, choristers or amateurs with good professional level qualifications, as they were frequently promoted to positions elsewhere.
The enthusiasm for amateur music making perhaps burned less brightly as prosperity began to emerge after the post war period when amateur groups promoting the arts in general had to compete with other activities. The number of choir performances diminished and the instrumentalists received some bad reviews in the local press. Sadly this led to some reduction in membership and in 1961 the orchestra disbanded.
After this disappointing hiatus the choir was able to return triumphantly under the baton of Amy Pratt, a talented music teacher and former Liverpool Philharmonic chorister and soloist, and her husband Ernest who acted as her occasional deputy at rehearsal, a sometime rehearsal pianist and excellent organ accompanist at concerts, The dedication of the Pratts from 1959 to 1979 helped to restore enthusiasm, and membership grew once again to over 100 singers. This allowed the choir to develop a repertoire of the great classics from Vivaldi to Vaughan Williams. In !968 the society changed its name to the Hoylake Choral Society*.
Since the stabilisation and development of the society in the 60s and 70s HCS has continued to perform in and around the Hoylake area. Collaborations with local schools or churches at Christmas have featured and we have generally received very favourable reviews in the local press. A list of all our concert programmes is appended to this brief history to illustrate the nature of our repertoire.
In recent years we have had to compete for membership once again. There are a good number of excellent music groups these days. Some focus on lighter music whereas we have generally followed a classic route though with exceptions such as Ivor Novello and Noel Coward.
Whilst we hope to build our numbers again we shall continue to sing classical repertoire, but under the aegis of our musical director David Bebbington we have begun to perform a wider range of pieces for chamber groups from Early Baroque (e.g. Monteverdi and Vivaldi) to Twentieth Century American (e.g. Lukas Fosse and Leonard Bernstein). We favour either an organ accompaniment or a small instrumental group such as a string quartet or quintet. As in the time of the baroque composers our MD frequently orchestrates music to match the available instrumental ensemble, . We have made a point of employing professional soloists, often recent graduates from some of our excellent music colleges and universities. This is a good opportunity for the young singers and inspiring to us as we marvel at the talent that continues to grow in this country, despite the lack of focus on music and the arts in the national curriculum these days.
This brief account of our 70 year history shows how circumstances change and change again, but we are flexible and usually rise to challenges. We have never recruited by audition as we believe that people can try us out and if they enjoy the process of singing with others they will learn as they go. We relish the opportunity to try new music in various genres but retaining a core of the great classics. Versatility keeps us alert and interested and has enabled us to survive as the oldest choral society on Wirral.
*See People for details of subsequent MDs compiled by Tony Woodhead (a past Chairman and longstanding choir member)