Chapter 4 Personal Memories of BCS

“I joined BCS when I was at school and had a gap from 1952 to 1958, when I left BCS for national service and then to go to University.  I came back and started work with British Rail at Brentwood station, and I’ve been a member ever since. I am probably the longest serving member.

My favourite piece of music is the Bach B Minor Mass, which is the choral work ‘par excellence’. I have sung this work twice, once with Nick Sherwood and once with my Father who said he wouldn’t do it again as it was too challenging. That performance was in St Thomas’s.

We always sang in the annual Essex Music Association (EMA) Festival. I remember there was a competitive sight reading class after lunch, which we always won. BCS is grateful for many long-serving members who have remained with the Society over the years. The Society aims to perform works which the members enjoy singing and there are also good social activities.”

David Brice , Current Chairman BCS


Memories of BCS? Yes, I have many but due to family and work changes these memories are somewhat disjointed!

It all started while I was still at school (Brentwood County High).  Our senior choir was occasionally invited to rehearse and perform with the Boys school choir. I was so impressed with their conductor Dr Brice- his expertise, energy, discipline and humour made me resolve to join his choral society.

Many years later after leaving school, training then working, I eventually returned to the area and became a member of BCS. This started many enjoyable Monday evenings and the chance to sing some wonderful music, Also the opportunity to join with other choirs to perform larger works such as the wonderful Verdi Requiem.

I remember particularly the Choral Festival in Chelmsford.  Many choirs were involved under the direction of well-known conductors. Part of the day was spent in competitions. On one occasion Sir David Willcocks[1] had chosen a difficult piece of music and BCS had been drawn last in the competition. The first 4or 5 choirs all sang accurately and carefully; then came our turn. Dr Brice said that we would have to get a move on or we would be late for lunch. We assembled on the platform and the accompanist began. Suddenly Dr Brice signalled for us not to start singing. He stepped down to speak to the accompanist who seemed very surprised . The accompanist then started the introduction again at great speed (but our normal tempo).

At the end, Sir David praised all the choirs’ efforts, concluding by saying that only one choir achieved what he considered to be the best interpretation and “One look from their conductor and the ladies knew just what to do” BCS was the winner!

In later years I always hoped to sing at Thaxted because  despite cold May mornings, the atmosphere and superb occasion always cancelled out any discomforts.

Our own performances at Christmas provided other highlights, especially when in a packed St Thomas’s church; Dr Brice would invite to the front, all the children from the audience. He would then, in a perfect soprano pitch, sing “Happy Birthday to Jesus”. The children loved it and readily joined in.

After Dr Brice retired, the newly appointed replacement declined to take over at the last moment. Bruce Pennick stepped in to fill the gap until a new conductor could be found. We enjoyed Bruce’s endless patience and humour.

Other conductors brought their own contributions: the super voice of Geoff Davidson, the talented Alex Chaplin who just before one concert discovered that our accompanist was ill. Alex accompanied and conducted both – superbly.

I next remember the talents of Nick Sherwood and the contrasting, excellent Mich Sampson. And so on….long may BCS continue bringing enjoyment to members and audiences!”

Sonia Smithson, Choir member


I think it was 1953. Miss Mills, our music teacher, told us we had been invited to sing with the choral society and the boys. There was of course a stampede to sing with the boys, but we were also curious to see inside Brentwood School which was normally out of bounds to us. We then experienced the joy of singing Choral Works and most of us continued to sing until we left school, about 1957.

Rehearsals were held on Saturday evenings generally, usually in the music room, sometimes in the Hall. On one occasion, we were singing happily (at least I was) until I realised that I was giving a solo performance. Who wasn’t watching the conductor? The said conductor was not pleased with my efforts and promptly likened it to something bovine, if I remember aright. Everyone joined in the laughter (even me) although I was pretty red faced!

 My other memory is of singing in St Thomas’s and as usual, Dr Brice was putting us through our paces for several hours the afternoon before the performance. I remember that it was quite a challenging afternoon but all the choir members turned up that evening. The first half of the concert went well and we had our usual refreshment break. We all assembled for the second half except for our conductor. David (Brice) went to find his father and I suspect the conversation went something like this.

David:   Come on father we are all waiting for you.

Dr B:               No, I don’t want to

David:   Why?

Dr B:               I’m tired

We were all pretty exhausted but we were much younger and only had ourselves to worry about whereas Dr Brice was conducting us and the orchestra and as we never made mistakes at the same time, he was working far harder than anyone else. We all silently sympathised with him. After some persuasion from his son, he returned to an ovation and the concert finished in triumph.

Barbara Thatcher, Former member of BCS

[1] Sir David Willcocks CBE MC adjudicated The Essex Musical Association Festivals in the years 1949,1951,1960, 1968 and 1971