“Music with the Torbay Singers will be fun, it may be hard work and it will certainly be worthwhile.”
So wrote the first Honorary Secretary of the Torbay Singers in June 1967, writing to the members of the Torquay Philharmonic Society and the Lansdowne Singers. The two choirs had recently merged to form the Torbay Singers and their members were invited to audition to be part of the new choir.
“From the start, a high standard will be set”, warned the local newspaper. There would be no free passes into the new choir for existing members; entry by audition only. The founding conductor Janyce Pringle set a lighter tone: “The real thing is to enjoy music together. The keynote of all music-making should be fun.”
Janyce had conducted the Lansdowne Singers and taught music at Torquay Girls Grammar School. The new choir gave its first performance that Christmas: a joint concert of carols and Christmas music on 14th December 1967 at the Union Street Methodist Church. The Torbay Singers performed alongside choirs and orchestra from the Boys’ and Girls’ Grammar Schools. The first notes sung in public by the Torbay Singers were part of Benjamin Britten’s A Boy was Born.
The new choir didn’t lack range or ambition: the second concert, in March ‘68, featured a bold juxtaposition of excerpts from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado and Handel’s Messiah. The ambition may have been running a bit ahead of local taste as a review of the third concert reported “Britten Cantata Rather Spiky”, a reflection on the new-fangled style of Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb. The verdict on the choir was much more positive: “admirable chording, reliable pitch and an unfailingly high standard of tonal quality”. The ambition continued undimmed: less than two years after its formation, the choir presented Bach’s St Matthew Passion at Paignton Festival Hall.
Janyce Pringle conducted the choir until 1979 and was succeeded by equally versatile and imaginative musicians, each of whom has made a distinctive contribution: Anne Kimber, Michael Lane, Nigel Amherst, Donald Cashmore, Nicholas Marshall, Chris Williams, Bob Barsby and, since 2005, Tina Guthrie.
The choir’s programmes have always roamed widely across the repertoire, from the forgotten – Rutland Boughton’s Bethlehem – the now unfashionable – Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha – to the frivolous – Flanders and Horovitz’s Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo. But the varied challenges of the core choral repertoire have been a constant theme; in recent years, concerts have featured ever-popular major works by Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mozart, established modern classics by Britten, Bernstein and Tippett and exhilarating recent music by Will Todd and John Rutter.
Music with the Torbay Singers is still fun, occasionally hard work and always worthwhile!