Performing a wide range of music, Penshurst Choral Society was formed in 1963 and has gone from strength to strength ever since. Fred Latty met chairman Caroline Thorp to find out more about how the group continues to offer a fun and inviting opportunity for local singers of all abilities…
Tell us about the background of the choir
The choral society was originally started up by the rector of Penshurst 52 years ago. He decided that it would be a good idea to start a choir and it got going with a very small number of people from the village. It then got more well-known as the choir grew and rehearsed in Penshurst Church.
How has it developed since then?
We moved our singing operations to Holmewood House School and have been in their hall now for about 12 years. It’s our main rehearsal venue and the choir now has approximately 80 members. It’s a very friendly society and we take everybody; we don’t audition.
Whereabouts do you perform?
At the moment we’re performing at Holmewood House and Penshurst Church. Penshurst Church is special because it’s our original home and we’ve got a good audience in Penshurst. But it has its limitations, because we can’t fit in an orchestra. In the past, we’ve performed at Trinity Theatre, St John’s Church, King Charles the Martyr and St Paul’s Church in Rusthall. It’s getting increasingly difficult to find somewhere that fits us properly with an orchestra.
Have you taken on any new key members?
In the last year, we’ve taken on a new conductor, Anthony Zerpa-Falcon, who we’re very thrilled with. He’s a great guy and he and his wife, Jong-Gyung Park the pianist, are marvellous together. They’re both outstanding musicians and internationally known, so to get them in Tunbridge Wells is quite a feat and we’re thrilled with the results. More people are coming to the concerts, particularly now that we’ve got them, they’re a draw in themselves.
And how often do you perform?
We do three concerts a year, including Carols by Candlelight in Penshurst Church, which is a mixture of carols and other things as well. The Puccini we’re doing in February is a challenging work and one that’s not performed very often, partly because it’s quite complex, but the choir have welcomed it and they’re very happy. Quite often we’ve had piano concertos as part of our main concerts, and Jong-Gyung is absolutely superb and wonderful as a soloist. She and Anthony are very loyal to the progress of the choir.
Have they improved the standards?
The standards are going up overnight because Anthony’s very concentrated, charming with it and everybody loves him. He puts a huge amount of work into the rehearsals, so the results are very good and it really shows. People go out with big smiles on their faces.
Is there much variation in your repertoire?
On the whole, we perform classical music, but sometimes we go for a slightly lighter repertoire and more modern composers. We generally hire professionals to play, and we’ve got a range
of very good singers in the choir. It’s not quite the normal choral repertoire in this area; it’s something else.
With so many local choirs, would you say there’s a big demand for choral singing in our area?
There’s room for us all; we’ve all known each other for years and try not to clash with our concerts. There have been a lot of things that have encouraged people, and there’s a general recognition that singing is important for life – if it’s something you enjoy, it’s very beneficial. People who come on a Tuesday night go home thinking they’ve had a lovely, jolly and friendly evening. That’s the important thing.
Finally, what do you hope people will get out of the society?
The main purpose of running a choir is that you’ve got to make sure everyone has a really good evening. The aim is to produce concerts of a reasonably high standard, but also for everyone to have fun. There’s a great camaraderie within the choir and we’re very jolly.
Carols by Candlelight 2015
December 6 2015, 6.30pm, Penshurst Church
A celebration of carols old and new. The programme includes Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium and a selection of Bob Chilcott carols.
Spring concert 2016
February 6 2016, Jubilee Hall, Holmewood House School
Puccini’s Messa di Gloria