The meeting commenced at 7.30 p.m. using Zoom. The Chairman welcomed 43 members in attendance to the 2023 Annual General Meeting of the Chester Music Society Choir.

1. Approval of AGM Minutes

The Minutes of the previous AGM 24.05.22 were proposed as accurate by Atie Van Doesburg and seconded by Pamela Toft.


Apologies were received from: Rob Tolefree, Sue Taylor, Helen Merritt and Joanna Bauldreay.

3. Matters arising

There were no matters arising from the last AGM.

4. Chairman's Report

John Ferrari summarised his Chairman’s Report for the 2022/23 season (Appendix 1). John Ferrari concluded his summary by giving a vote of thanks to all who have supported the choir in every capacity.

5. Music Director's Report

Graham Ellis summarised the Music Director’s report for the 2022/23 season (Appendix 2).

6. Financial Controller's Report

David Taylor summarised the Financial Controller’s report for the 2022/23 season (Appendix 3).

John Ferrari invited questions from the floor in relation to the reports. Susie Sheen reported that she had received feedback from audience members who had purchased tickets for aisle seating. They felt that the current prices for the nave seating were prohibitive for a family of four. John Ferrari responded that we are considering placing screens in the side aisles as the November and December tickets will need to be increased due to the costly nature of the works to be performed. David Willis also reminded that concert tickets for all students were free.

7. Appointment of Committee for 2023/2024

Four members of the Committee automatically retired and were willing to stand for re-election. John Ferrari, John Wishlade, David Taylor and Becky Ford were proposed by Graham Webber and seconded by Susie Sheen and then unanimously re-elected by attendees.

John Ferrari commented that there were two vacancies on the committee and reiterated that these were general positions which entailed no specific duties. Any interested parties should contact John Ferrari.

8. Resolutions

No resolutions

9. AOB

(i) Anne Anderson asked what the programme for next season will be. John Ferrari briefly outlined that we will be performing the Verdi Requiem, the Christmas Crackers concert, Finzi and Chilcott in March and Mozart in May. Becky Ford reminded that all details are on the CMS Choir website. (chestermusicsociety.org.uk/members/choir information/choir forward programme/read more)

(ii) John Ferrari mentioned that he had received a message of thanks from SHARE, this season’s elected charity. £1589.71 had been collected across the season’s concerts. SHARE will be making a post on Facebook which will include photographs of our concerts. John Ferrari also stated that the Committee will decide on the new charity for the 2023/24 season at the next meeting. The charities to be considered are Maggie’s (Cancer support), Platform for Life (Mental Health), The Alzheimer’s Society, Save the Family (homeless) and Musicplace North West (music therapy)

(iii) Berkeley Ranby proposed a vote of thanks to Jon Ferrari for his hard work and dedication as the Chairman of the CMS Choir.

(iv) Susie Sheen proposed a special thanks to Graham Ellis and Graham Eccles.

(v) Kate Swallisch proposed a special thanks to Becky Ford

(vi) Bernard Payne enquired about the current situation regarding the Choir Tour. John Ferrari explained that there had not been enough interest on this occasion to make the tour financially viable.

8. Date and venue of the AGM 2024

The date and venue of the next AGM are to be confirmed.

There being no other business, the meeting was closed at 20:41

Cathy Brown
Minutes Secretary 24th May 2023



CMS Choir Chairman’s Report Season September 22 – May 23

Following the disrupted and challenging Season 21-22 we looked forward to returning to some sort of normality in Season 22-23. Budgets were prepared on a somewhat pessimistic basis to allow for the fact that audiences would probably not return to full strength for some time. Actual audience numbers are reviewed in the report. In an attempt to balance the books, the decision had been made to increase the annual membership fees by 75%. The impact on member numbers was unknown but expected to be of low risk.6

Rehearsals commenced in September 22 at Wesley Methodist Church which remained our rehearsal venue throughout the year. My thanks go to Heather and Ken Walker who arrive early and leave late to open and lock up. Thanks also to all those who help with setting out the chairs. Due to popular demand the format has changed slightly with the interval being reduced to 10 minutes and rehearsals finishing at 21:20. No refreshments are served which makes the Voice Representatives role much easier!

It was very pleasing to find that on return to rehearsals that we had retained most members and during the season we were able to recruit quite a few new members such that as of May 2023 we have around 141 members – similar to May 2022. Those who have left did not give the increase in membership fee as the reason.

We have made progress with our staging during the season.

  1. We have resolved the issue of missing & damaged items.

  2. AAM (staging contractor) have progressively become more efficient and consequently the cost for the March concert was £2,400 (we budgeted c. £3,200 - based on last year’s bills).

  3. AAM now liaise directly with cathedral staff meaning a CMS representative is not required on site.

  4. A fabricator has been located to modify the defective trolleys.


The main outstanding issue is to resolve the ‘rocking’ benches. My thanks to Rob Tolefree for his continued involvement with the staging. It is noted that the staging is not as high as the previously used staging and as such the choir is not as elevated. Hence projection over the orchestra is more difficult. However, this is something we will have to live with due to ‘Working at Height Regulations’.

Relationship with the Cathedral staff continues to improve but there have been several issues to negotiate, such as:

  1. Modifying the orchestra platform at short notice is not possible.

  2. Recognising that CMS don’t have ‘first call’ on dates.

  3. Conflicts with religious services

  4. Not being able to put the piano on the platform.


And so, to the first concert of the Season – Vaughan-Williams Sea Symphony in November 2022. Ticket sales were better than expected – 364 versus the budgeted 316. The budget was based on the attendance at Elijah a year before. Thus, audience size increased by 15%. The reasons for this are probably a combination of increasing confidence, publicity and people getting used to buying tickets on-line. At this point, I would like to thank David Willis, who in addition to his role of managing the ticket sales has also taken on the role of steward liaison this year, which has been a big help.


The next concert was Christmas Crackers. A different format this year due to there only being availability in the cathedral for one night. The MD describes the musical content in his report. Ticket sales were 708 with all seats sold (the last seats being sold on the day which suggests supply equalled demand). Versus last year (both concerts) this was also an increase of 15%. Coincidence?! The Christmas concert was not stress-free for me! Roger McGough cancelled on the day but fortunately Nick Fry was able to step in at short notice. One upside of this was that Nick’s fee was considerably lower hence increasing income! The one-night format also maximised revenue.


The March concert (Brahms) attracted 240 ticket sales. In a change to normal patterns 25% of these were Aisle seats – with the occupants appearing to move to the Nave at the interval! Ticket sales were disappointing for an orchestra concert (budget = 316). The May concert (Requiems) sold 225 tickets which was again disappointing (budget = 316) although for a concert without full orchestra, the budget was probably overly optimistic. These two concerts together attracted an audience of 465 versus 427 for the single Messiah concert in Spring 2022. A 9% increase.


Final costs for the season are awaited but it is expected the season will conclude with a minor deficit versus budget.

Other activities were the annual Singing Day in St Marys Creative Centre in March and the social event at Easton Hall last June, with superb piano recitals by Graham Eccles and Jon Saunby. These were both very enjoyable and overwhelming success and sincere thanks go to Becky Ford and helpers who made this possible.


The other major non-singing activity was the undertaking of the 5 Yearly Survey at the end of the MD’s term. The opportunity was taken to ask the choir members for their opinions on various matters. The responses are summarised below.


Repertoire: Generally, the responses were supportive of our current repertoire. Members recognise the need to balance works attracting large audiences with less well-known pieces. Specific suggestions will be passed to the MD.


Effectiveness of Rehearsals: Suggestions were improved warm-ups, sectional rehearsals, more focus on technique, more standing-up, encouragement to do more homework.


Instruction and Guidance: Generally felt to be clear, encouraging, and positive


Musical knowledge and technique: Main theme was work around improving vocal technique.


Concert delivery: Most comments were to do with choir / orchestra balance (J.Ferrari comment – I received many positive audience responses regarding the May concert with the smaller ensemble and negative comments regarding the Sea Symphony where the choir were not easy to hear.)


Overall Performance: Key suggestions were – watch Graham more attentively, do more homework, sectional rehearsals, consider re-auditions, improve balance between choir and orchestra.


Overall, the respondents were in favour of re-appointing Graham Jordan Ellis as MD.


In summary, I believe the 22-23 season has been very positive and that we have continued to make some major steps to recovery. We will embark upon the 23-24 with another full programme of concerts including Verdi Requiem and Lemn Sissay as our guest presenter at Christmas. We will continue to work to increase ticket sales through additional promotion. There will be no increase to membership fee in 23-24 following the significant rise in 22-23. We are extremely grateful for all the donations and support we have received during the season.


Finally, I want to put on record my thanks for the hard work the committee and all those who carry out ‘functions’ in a non-committee role have continued to undertake. Without them we would not be able to put on the concerts. I would encourage other members to offer their services, not necessarily on the committee. The more who assist, the easier it is for us all – and although it can be challenging, I can assure you that it is extremely rewarding!


Thank you for your support of CMS Choir over the last season and I look forward to seeing you all again in September (if not sooner at the June social event!).


John Ferrari 22/5/23



Chester Music Society Director of Music’s Report : 23 May 2023


We set sail in September with Vaughan Williams’ remarkable Symphony No. 1 – more commonly called A Sea Symphony. The composer always responded well to texts, witnessed by his large choral output, but all his symphonies are works of genius, underrated and under-performed. The inspiration behind this work was the poetry of Walt Whitman, principally his epic Leaves of Grass and the words can be taken at face value, or as an allegory for the journey that we all undertake through the sea of life until those wonderful final moments - “O brave soul - farther sail”. As something of a (tongue in cheek?) antithesis, we included Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet - rumbustious fun in the main, but with some poignant moments. Both works where very well performed by the CMS choir and Liverpool Sinfonia, on top form as usual, supported by two excellent soloists in Susanna Fairbairn and James Cleverley. The very dense and expansive orchestral scoring of the Vaughan Williams meant that the choir was sometimes overwhelmed – a frequent problem in performances of this work including in live professional contexts. Recordings, of course, never suffer with this problem as the overall balance is carefully engineered in the control room in post editing by the Producer and Conductor.

We were also disadvantaged by our new staging, not quite complete, which is significantly lower than our previous staging, proclaimed “unsafe” by Chester Cathedral, and now in use at St Asaph Cathedral. This meant that instead of projecting over the top of the orchestra, we are now trying to sing through the orchestra. We were also joined in this concert by Georgie Bloomfield, a young violinist from the Peak District, studying at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. She gave us an assured and expressive account of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending – a beautifully eloquent descriptive piece and everyone’s favourite. She rightly achieved a standing ovation and much “whooping” from members of the audience (although I suspect in the main, they were her young supporters from the College!).


Unfortunately, we have now been restricted to one evening only for our Christmas Crackers concert in the Cathedral. It was decided that we should therefore expand the evening to a longer concert with interval, partly to justify the expense of putting it on at all. The ticket prices were modestly increased, and we decided to invite a children’s choir to participate as well, something of an experiment. The Saturday Singing Club consequently joined us and gave a freshness and sometimes unexpected spontaneity which only children, particularly very young children, can do! They were delightful and thoroughly entertaining in many ways, joining with the main choir for Walking in the Air and a carol from my own pen, Lullaby my child. As has become customary, we were ably supported by Chester Philharmonic Orchestra, whose contribution included a delightful playing of Parade of the Wooden Soldiers – a popular Christmas piece particularly in America. Our Guest Presenter was to be the Liverpool poet Roger McGough making a return visit. Regrettably he had to withdraw on the day of the concert through illness, and we were extremely fortunate that Chester’s own Nick Fry agreed to step in. Well, he was brilliant and had the audience on his side from the beginning. He delivered an excellent selection of poetry, prose and anecdote, all with his usual engaging style, his asides and ad libs adding to the sense of fun and informality.


We moved into 2023 with rehearsals for An Evening with Brahms, the principal work being A German Requiem, a mainstay of the choral repertoire and much loved by many. It’s not a Requiem in the liturgical sense, but a collection of texts, chiefly from the psalms. The orchestra opened with his dramatic Tragic Overture and we then sang the seldom performed Schicksalslied or Song of Destiny. Both choral works were sung in German with which the choir coped admirably, and we were joined by Linda Richardson and Damian O’Keeffe, both old friends of the choir and distinguished soloists. It was something of a relief that the audience on the evening was considerably better than advance ticket sales had indicated, and they were treated to a confident and atmospheric performance.


The annual Choir Day was held at the beginning of March, this time focussing on Renaissance and Restoration anthems and madrigals, mostly a capella, alongside Henry Purcell’s masque King Arthur. Choral societies rarely have the opportunity to sing these genres of music which require a rather different approach to the standard choral repertoire, not to mention a high degree of musical independence and reading skills. The intention of the day was to look at a broad range of material rather than prepare a “performance” of any particular piece, presenting both challenging and straightforward examples, with an historical and analytical context. Although held in a rather gloomy St Mary’s Centre, everyone was cheerful and seemed to enjoy the variety. Graham Eccles as accompanist was his customary genial and efficient self, and the day was masterminded, as ever, by Becky Ford. What a lovely way to end the season!


“Music for Contemplation” was the portmanteau title of our Concert on Saturday, featuring the ever-popular Fauré Requiem, preceded by his beautiful Élegié for solo ‘cello, superbly played by Cathie Bunting. As a contrast of style and period, we also performed John Rutter’s Requiem which uses various texts alongside sections of the Latin liturgy. In our performance, we used the small Ensemble version with organ, the same instruments being used in arrangements I had scored specially for this occasion of the two Fauré works. Our soloists were Olivia Hunt and Damian O’Keeffe, both providing expressive performances. The choral singing was confident and nuanced throughout, especially responsive in Rutter’s lovely setting of Psalm 23 with obligato oboe played by Hilary Duncombe. Our audience was better than anticipated a few days earlier and they were very appreciative, if a little reluctant to start the applause! Perhaps they were stunned by our performance…


During this season it has been good to see the CMS Choir gradually return to full health and strength, particularly when so many similar societies did not recover from the closure that the Covid pandemic imposed. We have overcome many struggles and setbacks along the way, and there are still difficult times ahead. Audience numbers have not fully recovered which creates considerable financial pressure. We must do all we can to grow our audiences and market our concerts widely and constantly. Although choir numbers are lower than in the past, it has been very encouraging to see the regular influx of people wishing to audition, particularly the younger generations and those who are already experienced singers. I hope this continues and the Society continues along a path of growth and musical success. Finally, a word of personal thanks to all members of the “infrastructure” of committee, stewards, platform erectors and general helpers whose support and hard work very often goes unnoticed. Also, of course, to our intrepid and sure-fingered accompanist Graham Eccles, without whom my role would be so much more difficult.

Graham Jordan Ellis



Senior Choir Treasurer's Report, Choir AGM 23/05/2023


. Senior Choir is part of Chester Music Society - other sections are:

Celebrity Concerts, Showcase (formerly the Club)

. Overall turnover for the Society is ~ £85,000 per annum

. Turnover for the Senior Choir is ~ £75,000 per annum

. Senior Choir now aim for a break-even budget


e.g. Year Budget(surplus) Actual(surplus)

---- --------------- --------------

17/18 -592 +3829

18/19 +514 +6070

21/22 n/a -407

. Consider actual Senior Choir Budget for 2022-2023


Type of Expenditure Budget

------------------- ------

Conductor/Accompanists/Artists/Orchestra 30707

Admin 0

Advertising 2200

Hall Hire/Other Hire/Printing/Misc. production 24292

Staging 17600

----- -----

Total 74799

----- -----

Type of Income


Ticket sales 34269

Programme sales 951

Sponsorship 2000

Subscriptions 27300

Gift Aid 5733

Fund Raising 4500

----- -----

Total 74753

----- -----

Surplus -46



Note: The high cost of staging

Most of our concerts run at a loss which is balanced over the season by the

subscriptions. The outturns for the concerts are as follows:



concert budget outturn actual outturn Difference from Budget

prediction budget prediction (actual)

---------------- ----------------- --------------- -------------- -------

V.Williams -12034 -12179 -145 317(364)

Carols -2019 -158 +1861 560(707)

Brahms -12455 -12172 +283 317(240)

Rutter, Faure -4570 -5502 -932 317(224)


----- ----- --------- ----------

Total -31078 -30011 +1067

----- ----- --------- ----------

Overall current receipts/payments position:


payments income difference

-------- ------ ----------

60497 69456 +8959


Estimated outstanding bills to pay this season total about £8000 so estimated profit for the season is about £1000.


David Taylor 23/5/23