Society History

The Early Years

The Society began in 1917 when it was created by its first conductor Francis J Foote.  Foote remained the principal conductor until the outbreak of the Second World War.

The choir at this time was a traditional choir as opposed to the community choir it became after the Second World War and in 1929 singers interested in joining the society were asked to write to Foote at the Aeolian Studios, New Bond Street, London where they were expected to undergo a rigorous sight reading and performance audition!

In the thirties the choir was also conducted by Mr F A Stammers.

Not surprisingly, the choir did not perform for the duration of WWII.  Then, as now, there must have been a shortage of men!

The middle years

The Society was reformed as a direct consequence of the Festival of Britain in 1951, when a performance of Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise by the combined choirs of Seaford’s churches was conducted by a Mr Montague Wheeler. Some 70 singers were involved as well as 30 orchestral players. As a result of this success, one of the organising committee, A E Masters, urged the formation of a permanent choral society in the town. He became the Seaford Choral Society’s first Chairman and Secretary, with Wheeler as its conductor and musical director.

One of those involved with the new Society was Michael Lane, the County Music Adviser for East Sussex. He became the Society’s first post-war Music Director when the Society had an established membership of about 80 voices. The revived Society gave its first recital with the Eastbourne Philharmonic Society in November 1951.

According to an article in the local press, the Society’s first year (1951 – 1952) “was difficult” because exceptionally bad weather affected attendance at the choir’s concert and, despite the enthusiasm of some 58 members, the Society made a loss of £18 9s 11d.

The Society continued undeterred and became an important part of the town’s cultural life.

During the 1960s the choir was small in size, with about thirty voices, and its repertoire was restricted to small-scale Christmas and chamber concerts. The Society gave one concert each year in Seaford Parish Church (St Leonard’s Church) and was also involved in the annual Lewes Music Festival.  The Society competed in individual classes for choirs, including madrigal, part song, and oratorio classes. It also participated in the highlight of the annual Lewes Festival, the concluding concert, when all the competing choirs joined to perform major works. These included Brahms’s German Requiem, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, and Bach’s St John Passion.

Following the last Lewes Festival around 1975, the Society reverted to giving two concerts a year in Seaford. It is unfortunate that neither East Sussex Archives nor Lewes Library has retained a collection of Lewes Festival programmes. It is thus not possible to reconstruct the Society’s repertoire between 1921 and the early1960s with any certainty. However the Society’s own archive contains materials that record most of the Society’s programmes from 1965.

Where we are now

Innovations in the 1990s included “Almost Instant” Good Friday performances of favourite sacred works including Faure’s Requiem, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Stainer’s The Crucifixion, and Gounod’s St Cecilia Mass. These concerts were (and are) fund-raising events for causes of the vicar’s choosing. All the participants, including soloists and audience, pay a small entrance fee, with a retiring collection in aid of the cause. These “scratch” performances provide valuable opportunities to repeat well-known works after minimum rehearsals, as well as acting as a recruiting opportunity.

The Society has used a number of rehearsal venues over the years: Seaford Primary School in Church Street (now a medical practice), Seaford Head School, the United Reform Church Hall, the Baptist Church Hall, Cradle Hill School, and since September 2016, St Luke’s Church, Chyngton.

Seaford Choral Society has been blessed with a number of able Music Directors, mostly current or recently-retired school music teachers and organists, all of whom have brought their individual styles to the choir. They include Montague Wheeler, Michael Lane, Nancy Plumber (Sussex Rural Music School, Lewes, 1958 – 1984), Miss Ratner (Music Teacher at Micklefield School), Margaret Darwall-Smith (Micklefield School), Cecil Coram (organist at St Leonard’s), Brian Richards (organist and choirmaster at St Leonard’s, 1958 – 1989), Mavis (Paddy) Lister, Gordon Lawson, Charles Spanner, John Underhill, our last Music Director Sion Parry, Assistant Director of Music at Eastbourne College, and our current Music Director, Anna Tabor.