Chapter 3 BCS Performances

An extensive repertoire of mainly classical music has been performed during the choir’s 75 years (see Appendix One).

There are gaps in our data, but based on the available information, Messiah has been sung most often (12 times to date).  Next in the popularity stakes is Verdi’s Requiem (sung 9 times).  Handel has been the most popular composer. His works have been performed on no less than 31 occasions.

The person standing up on a podium in front of the choir, variously known as conductor, choral master or musical director has the heavy responsibility of ensuring the success of a concert. The conductor acts as guide to the singers and players, keeping the beat, cueing entries, signalling changes in volume.  A disciplined approach tempered by a good sense of humour is  a necessary part of the toolkit. During concerts, he/she controls the choir by non-verbal means: hand gestures, facial expressions etc. and become very adept at conveying exactly what is required. Conductors become masters / mistresses of the withering glare and can signal approval and disapproval by a mere glance!

A conductor requires extensive knowledge of music history and theory, as well as the ability to play at least one instrument. They traditionally have additional specialised training in choral singing. In its 75 years of existence, BCS has been very fortunate in always having had well qualified conductors of great musicianship.

  From To
Edgar Brice 1941 1992
Bruce Pennick 1992 1994
Geoff Davidson 1994 1996
Alex Chaplin 1997 1998
Nicholas Sherwood 1998 2012
Mich Sampson 2012 2015
Jonathan Schranz 2016 To date

These BCS performances would not have been possible without input from many talented musicians (e.g. Philip & Alan Mortlock, Della Nicholson) who provided support in rehearsals and orchestral accompaniment for concerts. Other regular contributors to the BCS programmes over the years were: The Essex Chamber Ensemble, Brentwood Chamber Orchestra and The Aurelian Ensemble.

During its lifetime, BCS and their partner choral societies, have shared a stage, (and a few bows), with many gifted singers, amongst them: Dame Felicity Lott (soprano), Jane Webster (soprano), Sam Boden (tenor), Nicholas Watts 2003 (tenor), Angarad Gruffyd Jones (soprano), Wendy Dawn Thompson (mezzo soprano) and Susan Marrs (mezzo soprano).

We have also been privileged to share a programme with other renowned artists, for example: Paul Willey, Violinist and John Lill, Pianist[1]

Every concert needs a concert hall but what makes for a good venue? Size, pleasant comfortable  environment, facilities for refreshments, a stage, good access and parking, affordability (especially for amateur choirs), but most of all good acoustics. It is difficult to find venues which meet all these criteria but BCS has had the opportunity to sing in some truly memorable places though others haven’t quite met the bill. The old Odeon cinema on Brentwood High Street had a fixed screen which made the stage very narrow so there was little room for the singers.

More congenial surroundings have been provided by: the Brentwood School Memorial Hall, St Thomas’s Church, Christ Church Warley, Thaxted Parish Church, St Peter’s Church Harold Wood, the Bishop Hill Adult Education Centre, The Brentwood Centre, Brentwood Cathedral and latterly Hutton & Shenfield Union Church.

3 Dr Brice conducting in St Thomas’ Church Brentwood

 Photograph (2)EB St Thomas's


A successful performance also requires many behind the scenes contributions from the member committee (Appendix Two). A great deal of planning and organising effort goes into every concert: ensuring the availability of vocal scores, publicising and selling tickets and keeping  financial records being just some of the tasks which are needed. The committee has successfully steered the society through several crises over time, often due to falling membership with the consequent impact on the Society’s funds. Several times from 1992 onwards, the Society has had to consider the possibility of dissolving or merging with another organisation, but on each occasion via various means, such as increased fundraising efforts, an associate scheme, renewed publicity and marketing efforts, rejigging the roles and responsibilities of committee members, altering the subscription structure, the society has survived.

Thanks to the generosity of Brentwood School, rehearsal space has not been one of the problems the committee has had to face.


[1] For whom  “a Steinway grand piano was booked by the Cathedral”