May 2019 marked the end of an era, as Brian Newman, MD of HCS for the previous 23 years, conducted his last concert in charge of the choir. Brian took over the role in 1996, and under his time in office the choir has grown in both numbers and musical ability. We owe Brian a huge debt of gratitude for all the work he has put in, and for his endless enthusiasm, positivity, sense of humour, and most of all, making singing in a choir such great fun! Below, Brian muses on some of his time in office.
The last 23 years with the choral society have been exhilarating, exhausting at times, but always incredibly rewarding. At the start of my time, the choir numbered about 35, we rehearsed in a small hall at Christ Church in Horam and performed in Heathfield Community College Hall. It now numbers 80, meets at the Union Church (where the choir was formed in 1945) and presents its concerts at the State Hall (Kings Church) with staging and lighting.
Throughout those years, some things have remained constant - the sense of community, the striving after excellence and the mutual support of its members - and some things have changed. These include the first East Sussex performances of new works by Howard Goodall, Laura Rossi and Stuart Johnson, amongst others; increasingly large orchestras; as well as open rehearsals and singing days and overseas trips, including a concert with other choirs at Carnegie Hall in New York.
There have been many memorable performances, made possible by the sheer hard work and commitment of the singers: Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony and Haydn’s Creation as examples, and some in conjunction with other groups, such as our friends in France, South Downs Opera, and student groups within Heathfield. We have made many friends en-route with members of other choirs, soloists and orchestras, including Camerata of London whose playing has inspired many a performance from the choir.
Audiences have grown over the years and the continuing support of local communities has been very rewarding, including All Saints Church in Old Heathfield and the Parish Church in East Hoathly.
Brahms’ Requiem was the first major choral work I sang in alongside my father when I was 16, with a combined churches choir in Southfields, South London. It was the work The Grove Singers performed in St Richards Church and to which members of the HCS committee came, followed by an invitation to audition for the post of MD, so I think it is fitting that it should be the final work I conduct with the Choral Society.
The time has come for me to hand the baton on to the next generation of musicians and I am delighted that Sebastian Charlesworth will be the new Musical Director. I am confident that the choir will continue to thrive under his leadership and look forward to becoming a member of the audience at future events.