Welcome to ‘All our yesterdays …’ in honour of our 70th / 120th Anniversary this year (70 years of the Phoenix & 50 years of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir from whom we are directly descended.) Our Choir President, Angus Leitch, will make this his blog of the choir’s life and history from our rising from the ashes of the Orpheus Choir in 1951 down to the present day and our 70th Anniversary.
Come back often and follow each instalment of Angus’s journey as he fills in the choir’s ‘back story’ over the next few months …
The start of it all …
Picture this – the final public appearance of our predecessor, the Glasgow Orpheus Choir at the Festival of Britain in London on 16th June 1951. The final notes of the final song died away and the end had come after a hectic Jubilee Season (but that’s a story for another day).
Over that summer some 67 members of the Orpheus met informally and, in early September, decided to form a new choir under the conductorship of one of their number, Robert Howie, who was Sir Hugh Roberton’s deputy in the Orpheus Choir.
The Daily Express reported: “From a Church Hall in Albion Street, Glasgow, last night came the strains of ‘Belmont’. It was a requiem to the passing of the Orpheus Choir and the birthday song of a new choir.”
‘Belmont’ – recorded by the Glasgow Orpheus Choir in the 1940s:
What’s in a name ?
Several different names were considered, the only stipulation being that the name should not contain the word “Orpheus”. We were almost called The Glasgow Greyfriars Choir. Albion, St Mungo and Aeolian were also mooted but, after much deliberation, at the first Annual Meeting on the 17th September 1951, the name “phoenix” emerged as the most popular selection and was unanimously approved. In the circumstances, what name could have been more appropriate? The Daily Mail reported next day “From the ashes of Glasgow’s fabulous Orpheus Choir there arose last night a squalling choral infant whose name will also become legend in the world of music – The Glasgow Phoenix Choir.”
Monday 17th September 1951 – The First Annual Meeting
Having enthusiastically approved the name “The Glasgow Phoenix Choir”, the meeting went on to appoint the prime movers in the formation of the choir to positions in the first Council. The meeting ended with the singing of “On Jordan’s Banks”, the piece on which the final Orpheus rehearsal had ended earlier in the year.
‘On Jordan’s Banks’ (Bruch/Breitkopf/Hartel)
(Soundtrack from Glasgow Phoenix Choir’s “Celebrating 100 Years of Choral Tradition (2000)” album. [Conductor: Marilyn J Smith; Accompanist & Depute Conductor: Cameron Murdoch] )
Monday 1st October 1951 – The First Rehearsal
Rehearsals commenced in Greyfriars Church Hall (where the Orpheus had rehearsed) on Monday 1st October 1951 at 7.30 pm with Robert Howie as Conductor and David Anderson as Accompanist. The repertoire of the new choir was to be “in the Orpheus style” and Sir Hugh gave the new venture his blessing.
One of the last minutes of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir, dated 31st October 1951, records that it was agreed to grant use of the church hall to the Phoenix for rehearsals at a let of 10/6d (52.5 pence) per night and to sell the entire music library of the Orpheus, comprising 584 pieces, to the Phoenix at half the original cost. Assuming an average cost of 6d (2.5p) per piece, the whole library was purchased for about £15.00. This was funded by a levy of 5/- (25p) on each member.
The First Season – 1951-52
Rehearsals worked towards a series of concerts starting in March. The first public appearance of the Glasgow Phoenix Choir was on February 27th 1952 in Kilmarnock. This was followed by concerts in Alexandria Old Parish Church and Motherwell Town Hall in early March before the big event – the first Glasgow Concert in St Andrew’s Hall on 19th March 1952. Subsequently the programme was performed in Paisley, Clydebank, Ayr, Oban, Largs and Pitlochry Festival Theatre where ticket prices ranged from 3/6d (17.5p) to 7/6d (37.5p) and you could reserve your table at the interval for an “exclusive matinee tea”. Could this be considered as the first choir tour?
Programme for the first Glasgow concert:
One of the items sung in that first Glasgow concert was the beautiful “O Lovely Heart” (words by J.M.Plunkett and set to music by Sir Hugh Roberton). Sung here by the choir in 1962 on our third album “Abide With Me” and conducted by Peter Mooney.