The history of Chamber Music Plus
Jim Page, who put together the Chamber Music Plus brochures for many years, has sent us this history of the treasured publication:
History of Chamber Music Plus
"When I retired from teaching in 1989, I was roped in as Regional Secretary of the West Midlands Region of the NFMS (now Making Music) and with a lively committee, go-ahead chairmen in Jennie McGregor-Smith and Malcolm Rowson and shrewd treasurers in Ken Hewitt and Mike Spencer the committee organised a succession of enterprising regional events. Over a period of 17 years, workshops for singers were held annually led by all the top choral conductors of the day. John Rutter, who had just written his Requiem, was the first in 1993 and he generously agreed to give the workshop without a fee, so with over 400 singers signed up at £7.50 including lunch, success was guaranteed. What’s more, a healthy surplus resulted and with this money in the bank an ambitious project was planned for 1996 to celebrate NFMS’s Diamond Jubilee by giving simultaneous performances of Verdi’s Requiem in the three cathedrals of the region with the three top amateur orchestras. Michael Lloyd conducted Chandos Symphony Orchestra in Worcester, Nicholas Kok the Birmingham Philharmonic in Lichfield (rehearsed by Paul Spicer) and Guy Woolfenden the Warwickshire Symphony Orchestra in Coventry. Six rehearsals were held in each region and with almost 1,000 participants the occasion was uplifting for both performers and audience.
In its early days Arts Council grants were distributed by West Midlands Arts but its lack of understanding of the work done by NFMS Societies led to many crazy decisions. I remember uproar when the City of Birmingham Choir was refused a grant towards performing Tippett’s Child of Our Time. Yet, perversely the next year Birmingham Singers were given £5,000 towards a performance of Elijah! We published a Regional Newsletter three times a year and in the 49 issues that I edited there was much interesting local news and reports on concerts that Societies put on – some sent in, some written by me - and many a Saturday evening I spent listening to performances of very varied quality. In my mind I used to divide choral societies into four divisions and it always puzzled me as to why some “lower division” societies stuck with conductors who were both uninspiring and technically pretty incompetent!
We used to have Regional Committee meetings twice a year and travel expenses were paid to those who claimed (for which Head Office reimbursed the region) but this came to an end when the Yorkshire Region’s claims became so over-the-top that the new NFMS Director decided to abolish regional committees. This was a great pity as we had done much good work in the West Midlands (including buying a Steinway Model B which was available for hire in the region) and holding singing workshops for so many years. In regional committee meetings Choral Society representatives were in the majority, so inevitably many of the discussions were irrelevant to music society members. Hence the decision to have meetings of Music Societies on their own!
In 1992 (27 years ago!) this group decided to publish a booklet of chamber music concerts in the region and called it “Chamber Music Choice”. It featured concerts put on by NFMS Societies in the region and it was sad that once-successful organisations such as Birmingham Chamber Music Society, Droitwich Concert Club, Bromsgrove Junior Concert Club, Bromsgrove’s Mixing Music, Friends of Dudley Music, Walsall Music Circle and Wolverhampton Music Society have fallen by the wayside. In that 1992 issue there were 59 concerts listed, but in 2010 it was decided that entries would be accepted from non-NFMS Societies. By then NFMS had changed its name to Making Music and in the current issue, edited with panache by Jill Davies and Chris O’Grady, there are almost 300 concerts listed plus 24 full page advertisements. What’s more they also produce a Northern edition and with 11,000 of each brochure printed and a mailing to 1,114 addresses in the central region and 567 in the north they do an amazing job. So in those statistics I think we have the answer to those who say chamber music is dying!"
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Blog written by Jill Davies, who runs the Severn Muses project as well as Chamber Music Plus.
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