THIS Saturday, May 4, an audience of around 400 music lovers will pack out the Parish Church in Cirencester to hear more than 110 singers and a 35-strong orchestra performing as part of the Cirencester Choral Society.

Singers range in age from those in their 20’s to Dr Richard Davies, who in his 80’s has sung in his 100th consecutive concert with the society. Society chairman Andy Crane said: “We have a very broad range of ages and a big mix of people. Our current conductor Carleton Etherington is great at dealing with all abilities.”

This performance will be extra special because it kick-starts the society’s 150th anniversary celebrations, with a performance of music by Gloucestershire composer Sir Hubert Parry, who had strong links with the society, conducting a performance in 1905.

Cirencester Choral Society’s previous chairman Tim Page, who along with his wife Lorna has written a book about the history of the society, ‘Bright Faces’ said: “Connections with Parry continue today, as his great nephew Raymond Fenton sings with the choir.”

In its 150 years, the society has been entwined with the lives of many great musicians and composers and as well as being conducted by Sir Hubert Parry can include Ralph Vaughan Williams in its list of patrons. It can also count Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, master of the Queen’s music as a conductor at the end of the 1950’s.

It was a prominent advert placed on the front page of the Wilts and Glos Standard on Saturday, October 3 1863 that announced the birth of the society, with the first class held on Tuesday, October 6 of that year.

The meetings were to take place at the Assembly Room, King’s Head in Cirencester and the conductor was Frederick Helmore, who was also running classes in Stroud and Nailsworth and had been choirmaster to Prince Albert.

“Helmore had earned the title ‘music missionary’ around the country for his zeal in helping to establish choral societies,” said Mr Page.

Classes still take place every Tuesday, with two concerts a year. “Our concerts are a big event and are usually now held at the Parish Church. The audiences now are generally too big for the Bingham Hall and the acoustics are much better since the church has been redone,” explained Mr Crane.

The first world war caused the society to cease, re-forming in 1937 and the second world war brought its own set of challenges as men were called away to fight. A shortage of male voices in the choir continues to this day.

“There is often a shortage of men in choirs,” explained Mr Crane. “Women tend to be keener on singing in choral societies.”

The baton has been handed over many times to new conductors over the last 150 years, each one bringing his or her own unique style to the position.

This Saturday it is the turn of Mr Etherington, conductor since 205, to ensure that the Cirencester Choral Society is in fine voice as it celebrates its 150th landmark birthday.

  • As part of its 150th anniversary celebrations, Cirencester Choral Society will be holding a concert on Saturday, May 4 at 7.30pm. Tickets £12 (£6 students, £3 child under 16).
  • For full details of all 150th anniversary events this year go to