Chapter 1 The Beginning

Brentwood Choral Society (BCS), was founded by Edgar Brice, Director of Music at Brentwood school, and gave its first concert,  Handel’s “Messiah” in May 1941 during the Second World War (WWII).

 “The years 1940 and 1941 were the most disastrous of the whole war for Britain” (Collier, 1995)

In the weeks preceding the first concert, the war news was grim: Yugoslavia had been defeated and Allied troops had retreated to the island of Crete only for this to fall to the Germans in June. The sinking of the Bismarck on the 27th May signalled the Allied fight back was continuing but this was at the cost of losing HMS Hood.

Brentwood during WWII

“The Second World War was the first truly civilian war to be experienced by the British people…The dislocation of daily life brought about by the bombing, together with the problems of the blackout, shortages, rationing, travel restrictions and general austerity, placed an often intolerable strain on people.”  (Croall, 2005)

Because of the presence of a railway station, Warley Barracks and the Selo factory (part of the Ilford film company), Brentwood had been designated a restricted area and a police permit was required to enter the town.

In addition, it was “on the edge of the firing line” (Stephenson, 1999). Because it lay on one of the main routes for enemy aircraft approaching London, the townspeople were able to catch glimpses of the Battle of Britain and often saw the impact of the Blitz[1] on London.

In the course of the war, more than 1,000 High Explosive bombs were unloaded in the area by Nazi planes returning from raids on London. Despite this, relatively little damage was reported  and Brentwood School continued to stay open throughout  the war years.

 Doctor Edgar Brice, M.A., D.Mus. F.R.C.O. (chm)

Edgar Brice was born in 1905 in Peterborough. His musical education began at St Edmund Hall, Oxford (aka Teddy Hall), where he was an organ scholar.  From there he went on to study at the Royal College of Music where he gained a diploma in choral training and became a fellow of the Royal College of Organists.  He played the organ at Christ Church, Warley for many years.

Having previously turned down the job of organist at Peterborough Cathedral, he was appointed master at Brentwood school in 1926, at the age of 21. He initially taught English with Music as a subsidiary. Amongst his many pupils was Sir Robin Day of T.V.’s “Question Time”.

When war broke out, Dr Brice was subject to the 1938 Schedule of Reserved Occupations which exempted certain key workers from conscription. These included railway and dockworkers, miners, farmers, agricultural workers, schoolteachers and doctors (BBC Website). As well as his teaching responsibilities he worked part time as an ARP warden.[2] He was fire watching in 1944 when several Doodlebugs[3] were flying low over Brentwood, one of which crashed in Warley. (Stephenson, 1999)

Dr Brice taught at Brentwood school for 42 years, leaving in 1968 to become Professor of Harmony at the Royal Academy of Music.  He retired as Musical Director with BCS in July 1992, on the occasion of the Society’s Golden Jubilee Concert. Brentwood’s “grand old man of music” died in 1995.

BCS-Golden-Jubilee-Concert

1 Golden Jubilee Concert Choir

BCS The First Choir

The wartime government was keen to boost the spirits of the civilian population and encouraged the development of morale raising activities such as singing. Dr Brice founded both BCS and the Brentwood Musical Society in response.  Keep Calm and Carry On2

The first choir was probably about 50 strong and consisted mainly of young people from Brentwood School and Brentwood High School. The adult choir members consisted of a group of singers from St Thomas of Canterbury Church and some who had previously belonged to “Mrs Bayman’s Singers” of Shenfield.

Dr Brice was supported in his efforts by other teachers who worked as accompanist and choir secretary. They rehearsed in Brentwood school.

Messiah was chosen for the first performance of the new choir, at the old Odeon Cinema on Brentwood High St, because of its popularity and because it was so well known especially by the children. Since then it has been sung on twelve further occasions.

 

 

[1] The Blitz was a sustained aerial bombing campaign by Nazi Germany on the British mainland, in which London was attacked 71 times. It eased in May 1941 as Hitler turned his attention to the Russian front. Over 43,000 people were killed.

 

[2] Air Raid Prevention Warden whose duties included checking that blackout precautions were being observed and reporting back on bomb damage.

[3] The V-1 flying bomb. At its peak, more than one hundred V-1s a day were fired at south-east England.

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