An anniversary year for an Exeter Choir and its conductor

Exeter Choral Society is celebrating its 75th anniversary year in 2018, but it’s also a landmark year in my association with the choir as it’s Musical Director.

In 1943 a singing group was founded in Whipton, on the outskirts of Exeter. The Whipton Choral Society (as it became known) was renamed the Exeter Choral Society in 2005, and now in 2018 is celebrating its 75th birthday. You can find out more about the choir and its concerts in Exeter (a Handel/Haydn/Mozart affair in May 2018, and Mendelssohn’s dramatic “Elijah” in December 2018) on their website.

Spring 2018 also marked the 10th anniversary of my own beginnings with the society, and as I reflect on those years (and how quickly they’ve flown by) I have come to realise that I have a lot to be thankful for.

A cup of tea, a piece of cake, and a deal done

I can’t recall exactly how it all came about, but I remember a telephone conversation with David, a trustee of the Exeter Choral Society, and the beginnings of discussions about whether I might be interested in taking the choir on from September, with their own Musical Director due to step down.

Graduation from the University of Exeter was the previous summer, and I was keen to continue to develop the skills learned from working with the University Singers, so we arranged to meet up over a cup of tea (how very English) at the splendid Tea on the Green by Exeter Cathedral.

I really don’t remember much about the conversation, other than it being supported by caffeine and nice cake. I had virtually no experience working with adult choirs, there was really no need for talk of budget (there wasn’t much money anyway), and no requirement for any further action, other than the sign-off from the choir’s committee and a chance to meet everyone at a rehearsal. I did manage to end up committing myself to singing tenor in the choir’s May concert that year (coincidentally the performance included Mozart’s “Coronation Mass”which featured on the May 2018 programme), and my time with Exeter Choral Society had begun.

There have been some really wonderful experiences over the years, with the choir giving valuable experience of conducting so many wonderful works for the first time, including Handel “Messiah”, Mendelssohn “St Paul”, Brahms “Requiem”, Mozart “Mass in C minor” and so many more.

Here’s to the future, and to many more years of music making.


Resources for Mendelssohn Elijah


The Exeter Choral Society is performing Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah” in 2018. Here are a few handy resources for this term.

Note-learning aids

Choraline is a popular starting-point for singers looking for note-learning aids. You buy the recording for your voice part (with an option to download). There are spoken cues, an orchestra playing the accompaniment, and the individual part is played on a solo instrument to make it easy to follow and listen (and have a go yourself!)
Listen to a sample and buy the Choraline rehearsal recording for Mendelssohn “Elijah”.

Cyberbass is a free web-based resource (although you can also pay to download the CD). There don’t seem to be as many ‘extras’ as Choraline, but it’s free after all. Listen to the Cyberbass recording for Elijah.

Cuts, stands and sits

We’re making some cuts to the piece. Download my notes and check which movements we’re singing (or missing out).

Recordings of Mendelssohn “Elijah”

The first recording of Elijah that I ever bought is this classic, featuring the inimitable Bryn Terfel in the title role.

Play on Spotify

Purchase from


Whose Messiah is it anyway?

There are few choral works that reach as many audiences as Handel’s “Messiah”. I find it curious that it still has to be identified as Handel’s, as if there were some other great work of the same title with which we might confuse it!

I can’t be sure (and a cursory Google search can neither confirm nor deny) but it surely must be one of the most-recorded works of all time, with a truly incredible range of performing forces (size and type), speeds and even orchestrations. I’m no CD collector, but I still seem to have ended up with recordings by Beecham (RPO and Chorus, 1959), the great John Scott (Saint Thomas Church Choir and Concert Royal – Mozart’s orchestration, 2007) as well as digital downloads of more recent ‘classics’ by Messrs. Layton, Christophers and McCreesh. Needless to say, YouTube and Spotify between them can serve up more difference versions than any of us would ever need in a lifetime.

A Somerset Messiah

This term I am leading the Wellington Choral Society in preparations for a performance of Messiah on 24th March 2018. With only two programmed concerts each year, it’s not the sort of choir that really has a repertoire, but Messiah is the one work that peppers the music list throughout the group’s long history and starting work on it after a gap of a few years feels like being reintroduced to a long friend.


Wednesday’s rehearsal took place on the eve of the Beast From the East/Storm Emma cold weather that has crippled much of the UK. Despite the forecasts, over half of the choir braved the sub-zero temperatures and faithfully gathered to continue their exploration of  this familiar music. Away from the cold, we enjoyed breathing new life into an old masterpiece. It was a beautiful embodiment of the persistence and sheer determination of our choral tradition, brought to life by a choir which has thrived in this west country market town for so many years.

YouTube, Spotify, iTunes et al may proclaim that this is Handel’s Messiah, but here in Wellington this great music belongs to the people that sing and play it, and those who come to hear it.

If you’re within reach of our town on 24th March 2018 then please come and listen to some beautiful live music, performed by singers and players from our community.

Wellington Choral Society and the Wellington Sinfonia, conducted by Laurence Blyth, will perform Handel “Messiah” at St John’s Church on Saturday 24th March 2018.

Tickets £12 available online or from:

Odette’s Tearoom, 27 High Street, Wellington (01823 667919)
Taunton Visitor Centre,  Market House, Fore Street, Taunton (01823 340470)

Supporting the Somerset Community Foundation

Later this year I’ll once again be masterminding the musical forces for the Somerset Community Foundation’s annual Sing for Somerset event on Saturday 16th December 2017 in Wells Cathedral.
It’s a wonderful occasion, with a massed choir (‘Somerset Voices’) joining together with the Mid Somerset Orchestra to provide the music for a Lessons and Carols service on a scale not often seen outside concert halls. As well as being a great occasion to kick-start many people’s Christmas celebrations, the event is an important fundraising event for the Somerset Community Foundation, who do such important work in communities around the county (read more in their website)

Calling choral singers!

This year’s repertoire is all set, and we’re now on the lookout for a few more singers to augment the choir. Membership has traditionally been drawn from Taunton and Wellington Choral Societies and other choirs in the Taunton area, but if you’re able to attend rehearsals in Taunton (one in October and three in December) and can learn the carols in that short time, then we would love to see you.

The majestic organ case and beautiful ceiling at Wells Cathedral

How to get involved

If you’d like to find out more about taking part, please get in touch. There’s a very modest subscription to help with some of the costs (with optional return ticket to Wells on a specially-chartered coach from Wellington or Taunton) and all singers are given a meal in the Cathedral restaurant between the rehearsal and the service.

Key dates and times

Rehearsals take place in Taunton:
Saturday 14th October (2.30pm-4.30pm), Saturday 2nd December (10am-12noon), Wednesday 6th December (7.30pm-9.30pm) and Tuesday 12th December (7.30pm-9.30pm)
The service:
Saturday 16th December at 7pm in Wells Cathedral (with rehearsal during the afternoon)

Westcountry singers set sail, bound for Exeter Cathedral

A press release about the ‘Sea Symphony’ concert that I’ll be leading later this year.
Singers from choral societies in Exeter, Exmouth and Wellington are undertaking an epic voyage, culminating in a large-scale performance in Exeter Cathedral later this year.
Members of the choirs, who will be joined on stage by the Exeter Symphony Orchestra and their conductor Brian Northcott, have begun rehearsals for a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sea Symphony” that will take place on 25th November 2017 and include a fundraising collection in support of the RNLI.
Devon-based conductor Laurence Blyth, who is tasked with bringing the 200 singers together, is looking forward to the challenge. Speaking from a visit to the Exmouth RNLI Lifeboat Station last month, he said:
“I feel privileged to be given the opportunity to conduct a large-scale performance of this amazing symphony in such stunning surroundings. Many of the singers won’t have sung in the Cathedral before, and I know that they’re looking forward to the concert already.”
The members of the Exeter Symphony Orchestra are no strangers to Exeter Cathedral, following recent performances of Dvorak’s “Cello Concerto” (with Raphael Wallfisch) and Laura Rossi’s “Battle of the Somme”. They will open the concert in November with Arnold Bax’s tone poem “November Woods” conducted by Brian Northcott.
Tickets for the event are on sale now and are available from and 01392 665770