A Brief History of the North Herts Guild of Singers


The North Herts Guild of Singers celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018 with a special concert and other events. Founded in 1968 by John Railton, then the Assistant Music Adviser to North Herts, and originally meeting as an evening class at North Herts College, the Guild subsequently became an independent organisation in 1979. During this time the choir built up a repertoire of the great choral works, popular oratorio and opera pieces. Our picture shows John Railton (left) with the NHGS choir from around 35 years ago.

John Railton moved away from the area in 1984 having established a thriving and enthusiastic choral society in Hitchin. Since then the Guild has benefitted from some inspirational musical directors who have each greatly contributed to the success of the current choir. Among these were Grant Llewelyn and Nicholas Wilks, who was the conductor for more than 10 years and was greatly missed when he left in 1997. After Nick's departure the choir continued to thrive under the batons of Alexander Chaplin, Marion Wood and Jonathan Williams, all exceptional musicians who between them raised standards to a very high level. They introduced us to new and challenging works including David Fanshawe's African Sanctus, Bach's St. John Passion, Tippett's A Child of Our Time and Bernstein's Chichester Psalms among many others. During these years the Guild also participated with other choirs from Hertfordshire at charity performances of Britten's War Requiem, Mahler's 8th Symphony and Berlioz's Grande Messe des Morts in the Royal Albert Hall.

In September 2009 we were delighted to welcome Stephen Bullamore as our conductor. Stephen inspired and challenged the choir with his interpretations of Faure's Requiem, the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers, Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man and Bach’s Passions. In 2010 a performance of Handel's Messiah raised more than £1,600 for our local Hospice - a charity with which we have had a long association. Stephen left in April 2019 to be replaced by Harry Bradford, a young conductor who proved with his very first concert that he was a huge talent.

The Guild has also been fortunate to call on the services of a number of excellent conductors when our regular conductor has been unavailable. Among these were Jeremy Jackman, Martin Sanders-Hewitt, Jacques Cohen and Adrian Bawtree.

The choir has been privileged to have had outstanding accompanists over the years. Kate Elmitt, a founder member of the Guild, accompanied us from 1975 to 2001, followed by Peter Jaekel till 2009; both are remembered with great affection for their talents and enthusiasm. Since then we have been lucky to have the services of Thomas Coltman who was not only a talented pianist and voice coach but also an accomplished bass baritone soloist. Since September 2011, we have been fortunate in having Colin Spinks as our accompanist and répétiteur.

Apart from our good fortune with conductors and accompanists, the choir has also had the opportunity to work with some wonderful soloists, a celebrated actor and other star musicians. These have included Sam Walton, percussion concerto finalist in the 1996 Young Musician of the Year contest; Huw Rhys-Evans, three times Solo Tenor of the Year at the Royal National Eisteddfod; percussionist Simone Rebello; the late Sir Nigel Hawthorne; Guildhall students Ben Thapa and Michael Christie (who went on to form half of G4) and Eugene O'Hagen who is now better known as a member of the singing group The Priests. Orchestral accompaniment has been provided by, among others, the North Herts College Orchestra, the Hertfordshire Chamber Orchestra, Hertfordshire Philharmonia, Musica Donum Dei, English Sinfonia, Charavari Agréable and the London Mozart Players.

John Railton was appointed an MBE in 2012 and died in February 2013. In March of that year the Guild, joined by its sister chamber choir the Orpheus Choir of North Herts,  performed Bach’s St Matthew Passion in John's memory.




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