The Henbury Singers -
a Bristol Choir
for all to join
The choir started in Henbury School, in the Autumn of 1980, at the time when Gavin Hulbert was Director of Music.
Mrs Dorschler, the Assistant Music Teacher, was leading a four part choir of students in school. In the Autumn term, Gavin invited any interested parents to join with this choir, meeting on Thursday evenings. With Mrs Dorschler as accompanist, Gavin then led the Henbury Singers. It was at this time that the practice of being a non-audition choir became established. He led them enthusiastically for well over 10 years until he moved to another teaching post in south Bristol in the mid-90’s.
Oliver Barton had been the accompanying pianist during the last five years of Gavin’s leadership. He succeeded Gavin as Musical Director and arranged for Nick Barlow to support as the rehearsal pianist. This role Nick held for five years before the competing demands of the UWE orchestra became too great.
It was a pity, but understandable, that the level of student membership from the school had dwindled even before Gavin’s departure. During this time of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, the size of the choir tended to veer from 30 to 35. In recent years levels of membership had been closer to 40 to 45.
Choir performances included singing at some of the school concerts, carol services, and ‘social evenings’. Gavin developed the pattern of having a main concert in the spring and Oliver built on this. Venues have included Henbury Church (organ fund), Westbury on Trym church and, more regularly, the Trinity-Henleaze United Reformed Church. On occasion, invitations have been received to sing at other local functions, mainly in North Bristol. For example, Royal Commonwealth Club, Southmead Community Fair, carols at a Brentry Elderly Persons Home, Bristol Zoo and in Pill Church to help with funds in aid of the roof.
In 2004 major building developments of Henbury School were starting to get underway. These affected the availability of accommodation facilities for the weekly musical evening. Thus the venue for the Thursday practice was changed and, in the autumn, the choir moved to Stoke Bishop C.E. Primary School
The choir also gave first performances of a number of compositions by Oliver. These included A Spiritual For Freedom – a very moving piece as the finale of the concert in May 2001 presented for Amnesty International’s 40th anniversary; and several pieces with words by Martin Forrest (a bass member) in ‘Come to the Fair’ – a concert in aid of the charity Dance-Therapy in July 2005. In the concert in March 2012 the choir listened to a performance of a piece composed by music director Richard Jones.
After ten years as Music Director, in 2005, Oliver resigned when he moved away from Bristol to South Wales. Following the move to Stoke Bishop Primary School, Anne Claxton became the practice pianist. She was succeeded by Betty Keefe and she served as accompanist for three years
Some shorter term appointments as MD then followed – shorter term on account of competing commitments of work or of family. Louise Hickey took over the role and she was then succeeded by Martin Pring when she moved away from Bristol. Martin agreed to cover for two terms on a temporary basis. Patrick Williams was next to work with the choir until his work took him away from the region. John Shooter then led the choir for two years from Autumn 2008 until Autumn 2010. He introduced our accompanist, Anna Sibley, to the choir. She is now supported by Stuart Phippen as ‘assistant accompanist’.
Over the years Stephen Bryant had helped out as cover conductor for the choir on various occasions. He had also sung tenor solo with the choir in concert performance(s). He led as temporary MD until Easter 2011 when the choir performed the Requiem by Karl Jenkins. It was at this time that Richard Jones agreed to accept the invitation to become MD of Henbury Singers.
A long established event in the calendar year is the evening of Christmas music with punch and mince pies at Henbury Village Hall. This stretches back over 25 years or so. More recently in the last two years the choir has participated in the Bristol wide music celebration ‘Gathering Voices’. This involves musical groups and individuals from across the City. To date we have sung in St George’s Hall and the Colston Hall Foyer. Also we have sung at two weddings and at the Christmas Festival weekend event at Dyrham Park, Bath.
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