Dr Harold May

Dr Harold May
(reproduced with kind permission of Royal Tunbridge Wells Choral Society)

The Choir began life as an evening class at the old bullet-riddled Municipal College building in Victoria Circus. It was founded by Dr. Harold May, F.R.C.O., in 1943. The then Municipal College Choir gave its first performance on 14th December of that year, consisting of “Selections from the Messiah” at the Garrison Church, Shoebury. Thus began the association of the choir with this particular work: a full performance of “Messiah” was given at Crowstone Church in 1944 and every year following, until 1951. A similar tradition followed with performances of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” at Highlands Methodist Church and senior members of the audience will remember with joy the lecture recitals given by Dr. May on summer evenings in Prittlewell Priory.

In its early years the Municipal College Choral and Orchestral Society sponsored the birth of the College Opera Group, which became independent in 1950. In this year the name was changed back to “The Municipal College Choral Society” and many challenging concerts followed. Major works were heard in churches all over Southend and further afield as the choir became known. These were heady days, when total expenditure on soloists and orchestra was not to exceed £45.00; tickets were half-a-crown (12½p) and programmes 6d (2½p).The works performed by the choir are too numerous to mention here, but apart from those already named, perhaps some highlights remembered by choir and audience alike would be:

  •  A very early concert performance of Wagner’s “Tannhäuser”,
  •  Coleridge’s “Hiawatha” in the then new Cliffs Pavilion,
  •  Haydn’s “Creation”,
  •  Rutter’s “Gloria” in the presence of the composer,

and, spanning thirty years of the choir’s life:

  • Elgar’s “Dream of Gerontius” at Tunbridge Wells on Passion Sunday 1958 under the baton of Sir Thomas Beecham (rehearsed by Dr. May) — to Elgar’s “The Kingdom” at Brentwood and Crowstone in 1991.

In 1964, with the demise of the old Municipal College, the choir became attached to the new College of Technology, but in 1968, with a membership of 113, the choir transferred to Fairfax School. It was still an evening class, but it changed its name yet again to the Southend Bach Choir we know so well today. To him the choir owed its birth, its progress and its status.

From 1974 the choir passed successively through the capable hands of Michael Hamm (1974-79), during which time it broke away from evening class status and began rehearsals at Chalkwell School, Harold Dexter (1980-82), who dedicated his “Te Deum” to the choir, Martin Merry (1982-83), David Hooke (1983-86) and Gerald Bates (1987-2001) who came to us having already established a reputation with Hutton and Shenfield Choral Society as their conductor from inception and became the Southend Bach Choir musical director with the longest tenure after Dr. May. He celebrated the choir’s Golden Jubilee in 1993 with a memorable performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass.

Having bade farewell to Gerald in July 2001, in September of that year we welcomed our present musical director, Colin Edwards, and look forward to a long and musically rewarding association with him.

In autumn 2003 the choir visited their twin in Cologne and performed a joint concert in the Brauweiler Abbey.

In recent years the Southend Bach Choir has performed not only in the Southend borough, but also at different venues across the county. Please contact us to enquire about more information, if you would like our choir to perform in your church.

For further information on the history of the choir please contact us.