In 1968 the music teacher at Alleynes School, Miss Alrene Wainwright – Ollie as she was fondly known – formed a small group of like minded people to rehearse and perform choral music. Thus was formed the nucleus of what was to become Stone Choral Society.
From this small start, enthusiastic members spread the word about Stone’s new Choral Society, which enjoyed such rapid growth to the extent that within two years the newly formed choir was performing works such as Haydn’s Creation (March 1970) and more ambitiously Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in December 1970 followed by Handel’s Messiah in October 1971.
The Choir’s repertoire extended across a wide range of music, not only classical but also lighter music such as a Gilbert and Sullivan Concert in 1971 featuring excerpts from Pirates of Penzance, Yeoman of the Guard and Iolanthe. These concerts gave individual choir members a chance to showcase their talents and over the years many soloists have emerged from the ranks of the Choir
In those early years the Choir was indebted to the support of many members of the local community as well as financial support from Stone Rural District Council and the Stafford & District Arts Council. Philip Ravenscroft, the local professional bass soloist was particularly supportive of the Choir.
Since those early years, the Choir has gone from strength to strength growing in numbers and extending its repertoire with every style of music from renaissance sacred music to the most modern pieces such as David Fanshawe’s African Sanctus.
Particularly memorable was the Choir’s participation in the performance of Havergal Brian’s Symphony No 1 – The Gothic – in 1978 in The Victoria Hall at Hanley where the 12 choirs, the orchestra of over 150 players and the 4 brass orchestras seemed to fill more of the Hall than the audience. This was the first performance of the work which employed the complete forces asked for by Havergal Brian’s mammoth score.
The Choir has also had pieces specially commissioned for it such as the work by Simon Lambros entitled In Memoriam, setting to music three poems by Siegfried Sassoon during and after his involvement in the First World War.
Two concerts which notably enhanced the Choir’s reputation were sell out performances of the Monteverdi Vespers and the Bach Mass in B Minor at St Mary’s Church in Stafford with the King’s Consort directed by Robert King in 1984 and 1985. It was also an experience to perform John Rutter’s Requiem at Malvern Abbey with the composer in the audience – indeed he was very complimentary about the Choir’s performance.
The Choir has also participated in various competitions including the Sainsbury Choir of the Year Competition. The adjudicators comments included ‘A highly accomplished choir with warmth and precision’ and ‘a choir with much musicianship and singing with sensitivity’ and it is precisely these characteristics which serve to define the Choir.
The Choir has developed an international aspect with links being established with choirs in Belgium, Austria and the Czech Republic. In 1982 the Choir welcomed Terpsichore from Oostrozebeke in Belgium on the first of several exchange visits. Subsequently links have been established with Choir Vokal from Prerov in the Czech Republic, and we have also welcomed the Stadtchor Ternitz from Austria.
We were privileged to be invited to Bagnacavallo in Eastern Italy in April 2004 to partake in the Community Twinning events between our towns. We performed two concerts, a Schubert Mass in their beautiful Church and a light concert, including some Abba, in their historic Theatre. Wonderful hospitality was enjoyed by the Choir and their visitors.
The Choir’s reputation rests in no small measure on the conductors who have guided the Choir over the last 40 years. From those early years under the baton of ‘Ollie’ the choir has been fortunate to have a number of very talented musical directors including Gary Churchill, Frank O’Neil, David Burrowes, Keith Orrell, Richard Dacey, Patrick Larley, Roger Paul, Simon Dearsley, Amy Bebbington, Sarah Forbes, Charlie Penn and the current Musical Director Harriet Johnson.