Season Begins 20-21

Choir AGM 18 May 2020: Chairman's Report

Chairman’s Report for the 2019-2020 Season

Human affairs are complicated. This is the reason why historians rarely make anything other than qualified statements. However, on this occasion I am going to break that maxim. There has never been a twelvemonth like the last one for our Choir.
This time last year I reviewed my time as Chairman and felt pleased with all that we had achieved together. Our membership had expanded with stronger voices. This had allowed Graham to explore new opportunities to tackle challenging works. Our financial position was strong and our reputation growing as a singing body. We had an exciting programme in place to celebrate the Society’s 75th Anniversary in the 2020-21 season and challenging works to test us in 2019-20, confident in the brilliant support of our Chief and Deputy Accompanists. A tour was planned to Salamanca which would reinforce the social bonds between us and provide another opportunity for CMS Choir to be known on a wider European stage; and those social bonds we all value so much were, I think, stronger than ever. There is no doubt that the way things have transpired since then have come seriously to try us.
By May of 2019 we had been hearing rumours that Chester Cathedral were wanting to change the provision of services to us in terms of both staging and seating availability. However, we had no idea just how sweeping those changes were to be. How these affairs were handled by the Cathedral authorities is a matter of record and need not be rehearsed here. What is important is that we review how successfully we have dealt with the challenges which came our way.
We all know that we have had to adjust both our membership fees and the prices we charge for tickets. I am delighted to say that the increased membership fees were accepted by all and, from the evidence of the few concerts which we have been able to deliver, increased ticket prices were not discouraging our audiences, though it remains disappointing that we are unable to use the seating potential of the cathedral to its full capacity. At this point I pay tribute to David Willis whose work in addressing all the issues to do with ticketing is Herculean.
The huge increase in staging costs were an even greater challenge; indeed, a problem which threatened our very ability to continue. Untiring work has been undertaken to address the staging issues and many hours were put in to secure a resolution of the problems they presented. The opportunities to do this were utterly changed by the CMS Board’s decision to dig into cash reserves to enable us to purchase our own staging, a decision for which we must all be grateful. It totally altered the operational parameters and led to much negotiation with companies able to deliver our needs. To own and manage our own staging brings attendant issues: particularly in the areas of storage and logistical operations. This necessitated further discussions with other possible suppliers. In all this, the work of the Staging Sub-Committee has been simply superb. We all owe David Willis, John Ferrari and especially Connie Telford a huge debt of gratitude for their efforts in addressing these very considerable problems. By January 2020, everything was in place to move to installing a full staging solution subject to final due diligence checking of the companies concerned. We had decided that Mainstage Ltd were to be the preferred manufacturers of our staging; they had offered the optimum specification per our requirements and at the best price. Red Rose Removals would be used for our storage and logistical requirements. Then came Covid 19.
Our response to this threat has had to be radical and it remains my confirmed belief that the decision to close all our activities for the foreseeable future was the correct one. The greatest priority we must always have is the protection of our members and our audiences.
It would be easy in all of this to retrench into a position of pessimism. This I refuse to do, and I remain convinced that our overall position is strong. Our preferred companies re the staging issue are perfectly happy to defer putting our plans into operation until we are all able to do so. Despite all the difficulties we have faced our balance sheet is still healthy and potential financial catastrophe has been avoided. We have been able to put on three concerts which were well received, despite our misgivings about Finzi’s ‘Intimations of Immortality’. Jenkins’ ‘The Armed Man’ remained as popular as ever, an emotive piece both to listen to and perform. Roger McGough proved a very popular addition to our repertoire of guests at Christmas and, though we found it challenging, many of us were so disappointed about having to cancel the performance of Missa Solemnis that there is a strong fund of opinion that we should re-schedule it as soon as we can. Sorry Sopranos, I know it is absolutely brutal for you.
We still have superb talent in our Musical Director and Chief and Deputy Accompanists, all of whom are already engaged to take up their roles as soon as they can. Their skill, range of musical interest and sheer enthusiasm were shown in the Come and Sing day in February with its very nautical theme. I hope that it shivered a few timbers. As ever, our sincere thanks to Becky Ford for her outstanding work in organising this event. The tour to Salamanca remains in the balance, but Sue Eales and her team are pulling out every stop to meet the preferred option that a full financial refund be sought for all participants. We now await a decision from ACFEA on flight viability to Spain as this will determine the ability to reclaim airline costs.
We remain blessed with a committee which remains a privilege to lead. They all give of their time so freely and enthusiastically that it makes my tasks as Chairman a genuine pleasure to try to fulfil. It would be disingenuous to single any one out for particular praise; to me they are all Titans.
But the greatest asset we have is our friendship and bond to each other. It is this which makes our Choir so special and which will ensure its survival. Your Society remains totally committed that we will emerge from all this stronger than ever at all levels and in the interim we will be taking steps to try to secure and reinforce the ties which are between us. How this will be facilitated will be fully available on the CMS website. We will recover from this and I promise that we will return to what we love best as soon as we possibly can.
Until then, keep safe, keep well and keep in touch.
Nostra sententia ut resurgam
Clive Cooper 14 May 2020