Choir AGM 15 May 2018: Chairman's Report

A very warm welcome to you all to this, the 72nd Annual General Meeting of Chester Music Society Choir

To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Work commitments in preparing the standards for the forthcoming A Level examinations in History and family commitments which took me to the furthest reaches of northern Scotland forced me to abandon attendance at the rehearsals for our most recent concert, which explains why I was entertaining the Sheriff of Chester on Saturday rather than in my usual place trying to keep with up with my colleagues in the First Bass section. Some would say that this absence did their sound a lot of good. At this point I must pay tribute to my colleagues on the committee who have covered my rapidly disappearing back with such aplomb over recent weeks, particularly John Ferrari and the inimitable John Wishlade. There is the old maxim that no one is indispensable. Let me tell you that John contradicts it. I am massively in his debt.

Whilst I would have preferred singing on Saturday, it did present the opportunity to sit and listen to what we do. A few comments if you will indulge me.

Diction could sometimes be better, especially at the end of words with hard consonants; and our sound definitely does suffer when we have our heads down in our copies. I seem to have heard these points before; they suggest that our Musical Director does actually know what he is talking about! Another thing is that we could smile more; there are times when we look like an Undertakers Convention.
However, these are minor criticisms in what was a concert which I thoroughly enjoyed. There were some moments which were both rousing and intensely moving. Well done to all.

But the best aspect of Saturday was to see David Parkes-Smith back in the ranks of the Tenor section and Fred Mudway in the audience and very much hoping to re-join our singing in the new season. I know that you will all join me in wishing them both a full and speedy recovery.

This season we have experienced the passion of Italian opera and went Crackers at Christmas with Richard Coles. Who could ever turn down the chance of an evening with the towering genius of Wolfgang Amadeus? And the choice of music for our final concert of the season had astonishing prescience given events this week. I am beginning to wonder if our MD has some facility with the Dark Arts. Audiences have been good: numbers attending our concerts have been  2975 with ticket receipts of some £30,000. I will leave it to our Financial Comptroller to report more fully on the effects that this has had on funds. We all owe David Willis a massive debt of gratitude for all that does in organising our ticket sales We also had the experiment in performing in Storyhouse. Setting this up was a source of considerable frustration: communication was sometimes difficult, promises were made which were not kept. Nevertheless, working with the Chester Bach Singers and Chester Male Voice opened useful new avenues of communication between like-minded people whose organisational efficiency I found to be  far greater than that of the venue. Speaking personally, I found singing in Storyhouse was rather like trying to project one’s voice through a plastic bag stuffed with cotton wool. There is a certain Musical Director who said that this would be the case. You see, I told you that he knows his stuff. Re Storyhouse, as long as I have the privilege of serving as your Chairman it is an adventure which I would not be in any rush to repeat. Working with the other choirs with whom we shared that stage might be an entirely different matter.

All this activity presented some interesting situations for me to prove what endless fascination this post can offer: from sitting in on a rehearsal with Chester Male Voice which took me back 40 years to when I was a callow young man in Stoke-on -Trent singing with my father and grandfather; through wandering the dark and damp labyrinthine streets of Chester trying to find the entrance to Richard Coles’ hotel, to the delights of exploring the keyboard cornucopia which is Graham Eccles’ home. In addition, Graham likes rebuilding vintage Jaguar cars: respect! And our two Grahams continue to command respect from me: their professionalism, helpfulness, good humour and consummate musicianship are simply superb. Thank you both.

The enthusiasm which we bring to our activities was also reflected in our wider activities: The Choir Open Day in February to work on Mendelsohn’s ‘Elijah’ organised with the spectacular dynamism and efficiency which typifies all that Becky Ford does and our support for this year’s nominated charity the British Heart Foundation in honour of Christine Husband. Our efforts in this cause have raised over £1700.00 which the foundation is absolutely delighted with. I will be writing to Christine’s husband to inform him of this. In addition, I will be sending out a mailshot to all members asking for suggestions for our nominated charity for the 2018-19 season.

Our recruitment drive has continued apace to see total membership standing at 162 with 13 new members, of whom some are definitely not of a ‘certain age’. Much work has been done on this by many people, but particularly Jon Banks, Becky Ford and Anna Steel. Please keep it up, and we can all help by inviting any promising singers along and continuing to ensure the warm welcome for which the choir is well known.

My enforced absence in recent weeks has meant that the usual formalities in choosing our committee for next year have not been observed. For this I offer my unreserved apologies. However, there are some changes to report. Rob and Jude Greaves have decided to stand down as our Librarians after several years of brilliant service. We all pick up and return our copies with little thought for the enormous amount of work which lies behind this smooth flowing operation. Rob and Jude, on behalf of us all can I thank you for all your unstinting effort and please accept this small token of appreciation from me personally. Roger Black is also standing down as our Concert Manager owing to pressure on attendance given that he would like to spend more time with his family who all live in far flung parts. This is a shame as Roger has brought his own considerable style to the role. He will be missed in an official capacity but will continue to sing with us.

This leaves vacancies, of course. Rhiannon Jones has offered to take up the cudgel as our new Librarian, a role for which she is eminently qualified. Could I please have   a proposer and seconder for this candidacy before we proceed to a vote.

The role of Concert Manager is slightly more problematical. Whilst Roger has been away celebrating around the world his Golden Wedding Anniversary, his role has been admirable filled by a combination of John Ferrari, Steve Davies and Gareth Evan-Jones. This a role which I would like to ask them to continue on an ad hoc basis as neither Steve nor Gareth would wish for this to be formalised as a specific position on the committee. However, that avenue could be sustained by John Ferrari in his capacity as Vice-Chairman. Would the AGM therefore be prepared to sanction further exploration of this approach to this matter?

It is also proper that all members have the opportunity to nominate and stand for membership of the committee. To this end I will be contacting all members to invite such nomination and/or offers to stand. Should any be forthcoming then a ballot will be arranged.

Finally, can I thank  all of our superb Committee for their support, boundless energy and enthusiasm, you continue to be the best Committee I have ever worked with. And I would also like to thank  the whole Choir for all its support, good humour and dedication. To hold this position is a privilege.

And because it is only right and proper that our MD has the last word, I am delighted to inform you that Graham has been elected as an Honorary Fellow of the Guild of Musicians and Singers. Such luminati stretch from Vasili Petrenko to Rick Wakeman via some extremely distinguished company. Graham you make me feel so unworthy.

Seriously, I know that you would all like to join me in offering Graham our most sincere congratulations.