Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding area is well-known for its rich choral traditions and choir culture. Paddock Wood Choral Society is celebrating its 35th anniversary. Adrian Pitts tells Fred Latty about his ten years as music director ahead of his retirement at the end of 2015…
Tell us how the society began
It started back in 1980 as an adult education evening class at Mascalls School. They had a group that performed in some of the school concerts, but in June 1980 it began calling itself the Paddock Wood Choral Society for the first time and performed as a separate entity.
You’ve been music director for a decade and will be retiring at the end of the year – how have things developed in that time?
I’ve been a music teacher in the area for 25 years now and work in Tonbridge. When I took over, it was a very traditional, small-scale choral society, but I wanted to push it a bit wider in terms of repertoire and take on more of a community function. We support the local church and local charities like Hospice in the Weald, and once every two years we do a big arts festival. I wanted to develop the uniqueness of the repertoire, so you’d get a different experience at different concerts. There’s plenty out there and a big choral range.
Is it a challenge getting people engaged with and excited by singing?
Singing goes through various fashions. When Gareth Malone came along, everyone was quite interested in singing again, so we’ve tried to capitalise on that. Trying to replenish the music of a traditional choral society is quite a challenge, but I’ve tried to make sure there are different access points, as a ‘choral society’ sounds rather formal.
Are the members professionals or amateurs?
The choral society is entirely amateur, although, because I’ve been a music teacher for a number of years, I draw on some of my ex-pupils to help out. Once a year in our March concert we push the boat out to have a professional orchestra and soloists, as I’ve developed quite a lot of contacts in that area over the years.
And is it all run on a voluntary basis?
The committee is made up of volunteers, but the accompanist and I are paid for our roles. Everybody brings their personality to a committee meeting, which can be challenging, but can also be very creative as well. There are lots of supportive people on the committee, so there’s a balance of viewpoints. Some members have been there for a long time, and there are newer members as well, so it’s quite dynamic.
Where does the funding come from?
There’s almost a financial imperative because it’s a charitable society and therefore reliant on its own fundraising. We don’t get many grants or anything so a lot of the time it’s through word of mouth and doing favours for people. We belong to Making Music, which supports amateur music makers in the UK, but we’ve also had small grants from the town council.
How do you go about finding people to join?
We have a ‘Come and Sing’ event, where we assume anybody new who comes doesn’t know anything about music. People are often scared of auditions, so I do what I call ‘voice fitting’ in a group so it’s not too scary. We’re a small choral society; Tunbridge Wells Choral Society and Tonbridge Philharmonic are larger choral groups, so breaking through to those membership numbers is quite a challenge.
You mainly perform at St Andrew’s Church in Paddock Wood – does the venue play a big role?
It’s a blessing, but it’s also an issue that you have to bear in mind, because there are a lot of people who don’t want to go to a religious choir, so if it’s always associated with a church, they may draw that inference. That’s why I like doing a secular repertoire in the summer and things that aren’t religious at all. For the majority of the works we sing, St Andrew’s works really well.
With so many choirs around, is there room for everyone?
The things that go on in Tonbridge offset the things in Tunbridge Wells. Local choral and music societies are quite parochial, but quite often choirs will get together to perform really big works. There’s a clash avoidance diary we use so we don’t put concerts on at the same time and split an audience three or four ways. It’s never perfect, but it does help.
What are your hopes for the future of the choir and local culture when you leave?
The arts in general are taking a little bit of a knock at the moment, politically and culturally, but there’s a rich cultural life locally. I’ve always been a person who’s keen to make music at the heart of the community, so I hope it retains that and goes on for another 35 years, adapting and changing, but also bringing really good quality choral music to the area. It’s a pretty unique choral offering that you don’t get with other choral societies, so I hope the membership will strengthen and develop.
To find out more about Paddock Wood Choral Society, visit www.pwcs3.weebly.com. You can also like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter @PWChoralSoc
Saturday, October 10
PWCS performing in Voices for Hospice concert at St Andrew’s Church, Paddock Wood.
Saturday, November 14
Fair Trade ‘Make a Difference’ shopping event at St Andrew’s Church, Paddock Wood. PWCS singing in the
foyer. A mixture of Christmas and other music
Saturday, December 12
The Glory of Christmas, including the much-loved Vivaldi Gloria and carols from around the world – a truly international programme
Saturday, March 12 2016
Baroque Spectacular to include music by Purcell, Handel and Vivaldi
Saturday, May 14
Free Your Voice! A vocal workshop day open to all, directed by Adrian Pitts. Details TBA
Saturday, June 25 2016