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Music to our ears, over the years

Members of Bristol's original Madrigal Choir

Members of Bristol’s original Small Choir gather outside the Victoria Rooms to celebrate 60 years of yearly reunions

Cake to celebrate the 60th reunion of Bristol's original Madrigal Choir

A special cake to celebrate the choir's historic anniversary

22 September 2014

On Saturday 6 September, members of Bristol’s original Small Choir gathered together in The Victoria Rooms to celebrate the 60th consecutive year of their annual choral reunion.

The celebrations included singing, presentations, and toasts, and two former members of staff, Professor Raymond Warren (Head of Music from 1972 to 1994) and Kenneth Mobbs (one of the original lecturers in Music from the 1950s), also participated in the event.

In late 1947, arts student R V Smith (BA 1950) formed a choral group called the Nonesuch Singers. After Smith left Bristol, the first Professor of Music, Walter Stanton, created another choir from members of the Nonesuch Singers. The group were known as the Small Choir (as opposed to the Big Choir, also formed by Professor Stanton).

Under Stanton's leadership, the choir learnt and performed many types of unaccompanied choral music, not just in the University but around Bristol. Very few members of the choir were music students; most came from other faculties.

In 1952, Professor Stanton took a choir (chosen from the Small Choir) to the Bayreuth Festival in Germany. Two years later, the late Dr Jack Rider (PhD 1953) and his wife Jean (née Grice) (BSc 1951), both members of the Bayreuth Choir, held the first choral reunion at their home.

Such was its success that the reunion soon became an annual event. It was not long before the numbers increased steadily as other members of the Small Choir were encouraged to join. Professor Stanton himself conducted the group many times before his death in 1978, often in his own home.

Subsequent reunions have been held every year in various members' houses around the UK, but for the last few years have been held in Wells, organised by Dr John Rivière (PhD 1954). However, sadly, due to the advancing age of group members, the reunion on Saturday 6 September was not just a celebration of 60 years of singing together, but also an occasion for farewells, since it was the last.

As Dr Rivière put it: 'The wheel has come full circle – we ended up in the same department as that in which our singing journey started.'

It is not known whether any other alumni groups have met so regularly and for so many years continuously; it is possible that the record of the Small Choir is unique.