Choral society co-founder reflects on 50 years and encourages new singers

We are delighted to re-print a letter to the Henley Standard of our co-founder Wendy Hawkins reflecting on the past 50 years and our Chair, Tim, encouraging new singers to come and help shape the future.

Dear Editor,

At Henley Choral Society’s special 50th anniversary Summer Party on Monday 26th June, co-founder Wendy Hawkins was presented with flowers in thanks for her contribution to the Society both as founder and her continued work, including as membership secretary.

Reflecting on the half-century, Wendy said:

“We wanted to set up a choir for anyone to join, to experience the joy of singing together. Singing is good for one’s physical health and now, more than ever, one’s mental well-being. There were choirs in the area but not in Henley and since we had contact with local schools and since the town seemed such a welcoming place, we thought it was worth a letter to the Henley Standard. The response was more than we had expected, and we were soon under way.  Whether or not it would become a success was not something we considered and we certainly didn’t look fifty years ahead!

So much wonderful music has been written, and you can now listen to it any time, but the greatest satisfaction comes from being a real part of a live performance. The music is there, on paper, waiting to be drawn out and turned into something wonderful. Performers are the messengers from the composer to the audience.

For me, the highlight of this year so far has definitely been the performance of The Ice is Listening, which we commissioned from Cecilia McDowall. The composer was at the performance, St Mary’s church was full and there was a real buzz of excitement and success. There have been other memorable performances including Verdi’s Requiem, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Britten’s rarely performed The Company of Heaven, which shared a concert with Mozart’s Requiem: Britten outshone Mozart in the eyes and ears of audience and reviewer, alike. We have given concerts in Falaise and Leichlingen and we sang through Covid. I am proud that we have been able to give young conductors the experience of conducting a large amateur choir and most have moved on to successful careers elsewhere. We now have the thriving Youth Choir and offer concessions to members facing difficulties. Henley Choral Society has been a success because of a constant stream of volunteers, willing to bring their talents and skills to the society. Many people join, unable to read the notes, but, like any other language, the way to get better is to do it.

As to the future, I hope we shall continue to attract a lively stream of singers, men and women, young and old, experienced and not, so that the pleasure of singing some of the best music ever written will continue to refresh the soul.”

As a letter to the Henley Standard was so instrumental in helping establish the Choral Society in the first place, we wanted to send our thanks to the paper as well as give public recognition for the wonderful contribution Wendy has made in bringing the joy of singing and superb quality performances to our community.  If you look at our website then you will see we have an exciting programme under our wonderful Musical Director Richard Harker. There are no auditions, so, once again, through the Henley Standard, we are asking enthusiastic singers to come along – and help shape the next 50 years!

Your sincerely,

Dr Tim Wilson


Henley Choral Society