The music’s live! again, and this time we’re in the company of a local choir, the Birmingham Festival Choral Society (BFCS, for short).

A Bit of history

BFCS has a long history, stretching way back into the nineteenth century. Its history is intertwined with that of the Birmingham Triennial Music Festivals. The Festivals were held every three years to raise money for the Birmingham General Hospital. As the nineteenth century progressed, the Festival administrators spent a lot of time and effort attracting the best musical talent to compose and perform new choral music. These commissions composed by Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Sullivan, Gounod, Stanford, and later, Elgar, represented some of the best music of the time, and the BFCS was there, right at the centre. BFCS singers formed the core of each chorus used at the Festivals.

BFCS today

BFCS image
BFCS and the Liverpool Welsh Choral in the Elgar Concert Hall, University of Birmingham.

The choir always had a successful life outside of the Festivals, and after the final Festival in 1912, the choir continued apace. Today, it is a successful, friendly choir giving concerts in Birmingham, the greater West Midlands, and further afield. Sometimes they perform in collaboration with other choral societies.

BFCS and the Music Library

They have been a long term client of our services here in the Music Library, and I’m pleased this is continuing. For their summer concert, BFCS have borrowed copies of Will Todd’s Mass in Blue. Strangely enough, Mass in Blue had only been in stock for a few months before BFCS asked for it. Great minds thinking alike or some such. As far as our limited funds allow, we do buy in popular works which are not yet part of our stock, and add to others when we have insufficient quantities to meet demand. To this end, we recently added copies to our sets of Duruflé’s Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens, op.10. Again to be used by BFCS, but this time not for a concert.

A Weekend away

Most choral societies are happy to have their round of rehearsals and concerts supplemented by the odd social outing. BFCS do things differently. Over a three year cycle, they either have a summer tour abroad, or a workshop weekend away.  2018 was a weekend away over Easter, and here I hand over to BFCS’ publicity chief, Christine Wright, to explain the title of this post, amongst other things …

BFCS in rehearsal
The men of BFCS in rehearsal.

April 2018 was the turn of the Weekend Workshop held, as before, at the Hayes Conference Centre in Derbyshire. Fifty-five BFCS singers took part in a full programme of singing workshops with a variety of music, led by our music director, David Wynne, and singing coach, Christine Cairns.

BFCS course leaders
Music director, David Wynne (L) and Vocal coach, Christine Cairns (R)

They made a great team, with Christine offering helpful advice on how we could adjust our singing technique to make the singing feel easier and sound better. We soon teased her about her ‘magic mushrooms’ – from the image she used to try and describe lifting the soft palate at the back of the mouth! Other tips about to pronounce the words really helped with the high notes. David and Christine had the talent of making hard work seem like fun and getting the best out of us.

Our accompanists for the weekend were Kevin Gill and William Cheung. It was a privilege to work with such talented professional musicians, paid for by the Birmingham Festival Choral Society Training Fund.

Hayes Conference centre
Hayes Conference Centre, Derbyshire

We all had an opportunity to relax at a concert party on Saturday evening. Choir members provided a variety of items, some serious, some humorous. We discovered talents that we didn’t know about – and all enjoyed singing along to an impromptu medley of songs from The Sound of Music!

By the time we returned home to Birmingham on the coach we had learnt lots more about singing together and strengthened many friendships. BFCS once again lived up to its alternative name – the Big Friendly Choral Society!

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