Mid Wessex Singers – the first five years 1999-2004

In 2024 we are celebrating 25 years of Mid Wessex Singers. The inaugural meeting, organised by co-founders James Turner and John Goacher, was held in September 1999. Thirty four members were recruited – three of those members are still singing with the choir today! One original member, Janet Hayter, has fond memories of the early days:

‘MWS was the brainchild of James Turner and our first meeting was held at St Michael’s Church, Somerton. I can only remember the names of some of the early members: Jadi Carlyon, Barbara James, Jenny and Tony Reese and David Scammell with my husband, John, sitting at the back of the Church. I know that Herina Fletcher, Doreen St John Rushton and Joan Rendell were early members but I’m not sure they were at there inaugural meeting.’

Initially known as the Wessex Singers, James Turner was the Musical Director and rehearsals were held in the Stable Room. The choir held its first public performance with Somerton Festival Band on 8 December 1999 in St Michael’s Church with financial support and encouragement from Somerton Arts Festival. A second concert of light and classical music with Somerton Festival Band took place on 26 April 2000, again in St Michael’s Church.

At a Special General Meeting on 14 September 2000 the name of  Wessex Singers was lapsed and at the AGM, immediately following, the name Mid Wessex Singers was officially adopted.  At this time rehearsals moved to Monteclefe School with a new Musical Director.  Janet recalls ‘In 2001 on 22nd June in the United Reform Church, Samantha Lench from Long Load was our Musical Director and we were accompanied by Mark Sambell, a Somerton lad. At the time they were both studying music at Richard Huish College in Taunton.’

Following this Samantha left to continue her studies and Graham Score stepped in on a temporary basis as MD with Herina Fletcher as accompanist.  Christmas concerts were held in both 2002 and 2003 with donations going to the Somerset charities BIBIC and Brainwave.

Looking back at old concert programmes, Janet reminisces ‘Another early programme was our Christmas Concert 2003, also held in the URC, with Dr Francis Burroughs on the organ, Herina Fletcher on the piano and Aleksandra Carlyon on the violin. It doesn’t mention who the Musical Director was but I think it might have been Graham Score from Yeovil who later sang with us in the bass section.’

In January 2004 a new Musical Director arrived, Gawain Glenton, a tenor at Wells Cathedral and he conducted the choir in its first ever performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria on 24 April 2024.

Several changes happened over the first few years of the choir. In the early days the Chairman was Hugh Montgomery, Jill Clements was Secretary and John Hutton, Treasurer.  In early 2002 Joan Rendle took over as Chair and served for several years. Jeff Evans became Treasurer in September 2003 and Doreen St  John Rushton Secretary in November 2003.  She was the backbone of the choir and font of all knowledge, staying in post for well over a decade! Rehearsals moved again in October 2003, this time to the Somerton Christian Fellowship Church.

By the time the choir was five years old it entered a more settled period with Ian Macleod Jones at the musical helm – but more of that in the next instalment!

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Mid Wessex Singers – the first five years 1999-2004