Chapter 5 From Conductor to Musical Director

The Society’s origins in wartime Britain presented very different social conditions to those of today. It seems that the popularity of choral singing may have begun to decline as early as 1948. A vicar in Writtle, bemoaning the lack of attendees for a choral concert in his church, was reported as saying

 “Village loyalty is disappearing…. The commercial spirit has so invaded life that the good and abiding things of life are held in low esteem, while fleeting fripperies [cinema] are snatched at”. (Essex Chronicle[1] )

For its part, BCS has tried to adapt to this changing environment whilst retaining hold of many of the features of the original choir. So as stricter standards are now in place, the situation described by the choir member below, would no longer happen. 

“I do seem to remember performing Vaughan-Williams’ ‘Sea Symphony’ standing on a narrow bench for the whole performance.  That was long before the days of ‘Health & Safety’ and it would certainly not be allowed now even if I could still do it.  I was much younger then!! “ 

Jenny Reckless

Its heyday was the 60’s and 70’s when there were over 100 singers. The modern BCS is a much smaller affair of about 40 members. It is a choir for adults though our concert programmes often include a children’s choir, (e.g. the Ursuline School choir and more recently Bluebirds choir).

The choral competitions are long gone but the annual performance calendar still includes opportunities to join forces with other local choirs[2] for larger choral works and to recreate that massed-choir sound. An example being the biannual Brentwood Choirs Festival, the modern version of The Essex Five Choirs Festival, which was established 25 years ago. A joint choral concert also takes place at Brentwood Cathedral during Lent.

BCS was founded in a more formal age when the forms of address, Mr/Mrs were more commonly used; contrasting strongly with our modern usage of first names. Very gradually, the term “musical director” is taking over from that of “conductor” or choir master and though the tasks remain essentially the same, the modern MD can’t assume that members can sight read.

During the 70s, some financial support was provided by Brentwood District Council and The Federation of Music Societies[3]. In 2016, BCS must be self -sufficient and advertising our concerts is a priority, though this isn’t an entirely new development. In the committee minutes of spring 1995, it was noted with particular delight and relief that the Christmas concert – Ages of Christmas- was a sell- out.

In the never ending quest to sell tickets and so balance the books, we continue to use traditional advertising methods: posters, flyers, newspaper adverts etc though the information is sent out via email as opposed to being handwritten and posted and the newspapers tend to be online. Some sites are still available to take posters e.g. the Libraries and the Cathedral, others are long gone e.g. the Brentwood Christian Bookshop, Old House, Brentwood Music shop…

At one time, publicity materials were regularly sent out to schools and churches.  But musical tastes have changed and getting publicity in this manner has become more difficult. Once free advertising in the form of concert reviews in the local papers was available. In the late 90’s however, newspapers amalgamated and policies changed. The result was local events had to compete with those from the rest of the county for newspaper space. For example the introduction of the “Go” section in the Brentwood Gazette which adversely impacted on BCS and about which the then publicity Officer complained on more than one occasion.[4]

These modern challenges have been met with modern solutions. Charitable status was applied for in 1987 following an incident of having to pay corporation tax.[5] The resulting gift aid provides a useful contribution to our budget. Fund raising is an increasingly important element of how BCS operates. Quiz nights, Have a Go evenings, group meals out, help not only with the finances but also support the social life of the choir. Targeted “Come and Sing” initiatives ( 2010, 2011) have helped get the message out to members of the community who want to sing.

We have access to digital photos, making our posters much more colourful and eye catching.


2007 Petit Messe Solennelle
Brentwood Choirs 2007
Summer Concert 2015

For communication, we run a website and make use of social media (Facebook, Twitter) too so our reach is far wider than before even if our audience is still local.

Today, our concert programme might include excerpts from Gilbert and Sullivan and “Carols with audience participation” are more likely to be described as a “singalong”.


[1] November 2nd 1948

[2] Brentwood Cathedral Singers,  the Ingatestone and Billericay Choral Societies, Havering Singers

[3] Concert programme December 4th 1976 Beethoven Missa Solemnis in St Thomas’Church Brentwood

[4] Letters from BCS to the Brentwood Gazette in 2000,2001,2002