Harrow Philharmonic Choir
The Harrow Philharmonic Choir was founded in Autumn 1959 with Isobel Baille as its Patron. By Autumn 1960, Ludwig Koch was the President, a position he held until Isobel Baillie took over. This was from March 1968 until she left the neighbourhood in June 1973. Philip Langridge then held the presidency until May 1978; in November 1978 Dame Janet Baker agreed to be our President and has supported us in this position ever since.
Our first conductor was Frank Redford from 1959 until 1961, after which Philip Cooper held the post until his untimely death in the Summer of 1971. Brian Fieldhouse was with us as conductor for two seasons, after which David Robinson joined us for a very fruitful 18 years. When he moved away in 1991 John Wyatt, who had been a pupil of David Robinson, began the association which has continued happily ever since.
We have been associated with several accompanists over the years. Doris Garbutt was with us from the outset until May 1967; Keith Bennett accompanied for four years during which time he also performed a Mozart Piano Concerto at the concert in May 1970. Peter Robinson and John Elenor shared the position for one year, until Philip Knowles came and stayed with us for 13 years until June 1985. Rex Stephens for one year, followed by Tim Barratt for three years, were succeeded by Heather Toyn in September 1989. She is, happily, still accompanying, and sometimes performing, for us.
In the early days, until 1967, rehearsals were held mainly in the long demolished Bridge Schools in Wealdstone, but since 1967 we have met for weekly rehearsals at the Victoria Hall in Central Harrow. We have also used this hall for social events. Since Victoria Hall’s demolition in 2018 we are now rehearsing at Harrow High School in Gayton Road.
St. John’s Church, Greenhill, Harrow and St. George’s Church, Pinner View have been the venues for the majority of our concerts, but other venues have been used including The Elliott Hall, Harrow County Boys’ School (now Harrow High School), Wealdstone Methodist Church and other churches in Harrow.
Membership has varied over the years but our usual number of singers is about 60.
We have travelled abroad on two occasions. In early June 1989 a large contingent went to Lübeck for 4 days as the guests of the “Chor der Singlieder”. In 1995, also for 4 days in June, we visited Harrow’s twin town of Douai in France.
We have always made a collection for a local charity after our Christmas Carol Concert and on 4 occasions our whole concert has been devoted to a charity. The Children’s Society in 1968 and several items for the Harefield Heart Transplant Trust, a concert in the presence of the Princess Royal. In April 1998, a very lively Opera Gala with Claire and Desmond Rayner as comperes was presented in aid of the Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre. Most recently, in November 2000, we gave a concert in aid of the “Michael James Trust” which supports young musicians.
We have taken part in most of the Voices for Hospices concerts in the Speech Room at Harrow School. The 2017 and 2019 concerts were hosted by Harrow Philharmonic Choir with music arranged by our conductor so that all the choirs represented could sing together.
On 10 occasions we have joined together with Harrow Choral Society and Stanmore Choral Society for a “Three Choirs Concert” performing large scale works. These exciting concerts have required large venues and we have used Watford Colosseum (3 times), St. Alban’s Abbey (6 times) and Brent Town Hall (once). The works we performed can be found in the complete programmes.
From 1983 we ran a carol competition for local schoolchildren initially sponsored by Guinness and more recently by the “Harrow Observer”. Some very tuneful contributions were forthcoming from talented local youngsters but support has dropped away because of pressures of the school curriculum. The competition was suspended after 1998.
In September 1999 the Choir was invited by Pilgrim Tapes to make a recording of favourite Christmas carols. “Carols for Christmas” was produced for commercial sale at Christmas 1999.
The choir has commissioned, and given their first performance of these works
1977 In Wilde America – Stephen Dodgson
1979 Song of Songs – Timothy Baxter
1980 Sudden Light – John Hall
1985 Mass of the Sea – Paul Patterson (1st London performance in the presence of the composer)
1987 In Winter’s Cold Embraces Dye – Roger Steptoe
2000 Venite – Richard Payne