Choir celebrates 150 years with special Messiah performance

Torbay Weekly

South Devon Choir is celebrating 150 years of singing, when it performs Handel’s ‘Messiah’ in Torquay on Saturday 11 December. It will be the Choir’s first concert in two years, following the lockdowns and restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

‘Messiah’ was chosen for the anniversary concert as it is probably the most loved of all the major oratorios, and it is also 150 years since it was first performed at the Royal Albert Hall in 1871.

“This is a very happy event for the Choir, which has been unable to sing at full strength since the first lockdown in March last year’, said Jill Stevens, Chair of the Choir.

During those two years, the Choir has been held together through online rehearsals of a wide range of music, from lighter music such as ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and ‘Georgy Girl’ to pieces by Rossini and Haydn.

Jill commented: “We had some steep learning curves at first, as members adapted to modern technology, but most were able to master it and join in the rehearsals. And it’s been wonderful to see how keen and excited our people were to get back to normal practices again, and how much they are looking forward to the concert”’

Throughout the lockdowns, the Choir was led and inspired by its new Director of Music, Simon Dunbavand, who will now be able to conduct his first concert with the Choir on 11 December.

The concert, at St Matthias’ Church in Wellswood, Torquay, will also be the first performance to be conducted by Simon, and also features John Hobbs – the Choir’s former Music Director and now President – who appears as the bass soloist. Also singing will be Westcountry professional singers Catherine Hamilton, Rebecca Smith and Mark Hounsell.

The Choir was originally known as the Paignton Choral Society, but after the First World War it became a section of the Paignton Operatic, Dramatic and Choral Society. In 1982, it emerged as an independent society again, and in 2001 was renamed the South Devon Choir to reflect the wider area from which its members came.