Chiswick Choir changes name to make professional recording

Image above: Hilary Campbell conducting Chiswick Choir, now West London Chorus

Chiswick Choir has a long and proud history, created in 1976 by John Thackray, built up over 30 years under the musical direction of Alistair Jones and developed over the past five years by the award winning conductor Hilary Campbell, who works with a number of choirs, among them the BBC Singers and the Bristol Choral Society.

They are good, and they are big. “Choir sounds small”, chairman Tony Speakman told The Chiswick Calendar, “it suggests 20 – 30 people and usually a church choir, but before the pandemic we were regularly getting 95 people to our weekly sessions and we were packing out the church hall at St Michael’s in Elmwood Rd to the point where we thought we would have to find somewhere else to practice.”

They put on several concerts a year and in 2020 were practising Bob Chilcott’s piece On Christmas Night with a view to performing it at their Christmas concert. That of course got scrapped along with so much else that year, but as they were still allowed to get together in the church and sing, socially distanced and without an audience, they met and performed it anyway.

The performance was videoed by a friend for their own internal use, but their musical director Hilary thought it good enough to try and get a record company to record professionally. She approached Priory Records, who specialise in church music and they were sufficiently impressed with the quality of their work to offer to publish a recording.

Image above: Taking break during the recording at St John the Evangelist Church, South Norwood

All the best stars have to change their name, just ask Norma Jean Mortenson or Reg Dwight. And so it was with Chiswick Choir. The request came that they should change their name to something that would have more appeal to the American market.

‘Choir’ suggests to small a group and ‘Chiswick’ was thought too parochial. They kicked around the idea of being a Choral Society and decided that was “too old fashioned and frumpy”; the record company wanted ‘London’ in the name, so the West London Chorus was born.

(Has the A&R person at Priory Records never heard of the Pasadena Roof Orchestra? Would they have had quite the same appeal as the Orchestra from a city to the northeast of Los Angeles?)

The West London Chorus recorded two of Bob Chilcott’s works: On Christmas Night and Wenceslas in a church in south London.

“We were meant to record in June” said Tony but because Covid has made organising anything like this so difficult, they didn’t record until the end of October.

“There were about 65 of us and we had to get special permission from Bob Chilcott as we were recording the pieces with an organ instead of an orchestra.”

Image above: On Christmas Night cover

On Christmas Night is a musical celebration of Christmas presented as a sequence of eight carols; Wenceslas the story of the Good King with solo parts for the characters of Wenceslas (baritone) and Page (mezzo-soprano).

West London Chorus worked with two professional soloists for the recordings, Mezzo-Soprano Martha McLorinan and baritone René Bloice-Sanders. The smaller solo parts were taken by the Chorus’s four choral scholars. 

Sadly, because the recording date was pushed back, the CDs will not be available until the week after Christmas, which, Tony told us, is very disappointing, but they will be available from the West London Chorus through their website – and eventually on Spotify.

Their next public event is currently planned for Saturday 8 January where those who fancy it are invited to join them in person at St Paul’s Church, Grove Park, W4 3SD or online from 1.30pm to sing Vivaldi’s Gloria.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

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