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History of the Haverhill Singers

Haverhill Singers is one of Haverhill’s oldest groups.  It has floundered from time to time but is now flourishing and presents two or three concerts each year in Haverhill or the surrounding villages.  Its repertoire ranges from Mozart to Sondheim, from Tallis to the Beatles and from ‘a cappella’ to full orchestral accompaniment.


Daniel Gurteen junior founded the Haverhill Choral Union in 1860, meeting at first in the Corn Exchange, and his family has maintained close links with the society to this day.  Mr Christopher Gurteen, our President since 2007, sadly passed away in November 2022.


The earliest record we have is of an 1891 performance of J F Barnett’s The Ancient Mariner at the Old Independent Church’s original building.  Similar cantatas by Victorian composers were performed in the next few years and Handel’s Messiah was attempted (1875) to be followed by Handel’s Samson and Judas Maccabaeus.  By 1884 the Choral Union had moved into the newly built Haverhill Town Hall with its magnificent organ (removed in the late 80s/90s).


Haverhill Choral Union was widely known by 1890 and special trains were laid on to transport people to the concert along the Colne Valley Line from Halstead - the Haverhill South rail station was conveniently situated just behind the Town Hall!  It was normal for the Society to use 120 to 150 performers, of which 35 would be in the orchestra.  Soloists were often engaged from Litchfield Cathedral Choir.  This success continued with annual performances of popular works but in 1897 Handel’s Acis and Galatea proved financially disappointing.  The group began to falter and was disbanded in 1905.


After a lapse of almost twenty years the Choral Union was revived in 1924 with a fine performance of Elijah one year later.  There were intermittent concerts for the next two decades including a Samson in 1928 and Sterndale Bennett’s The Woman of Samaria in June 1942 (this was conducted from the organ by Mr George Leake who had been with the Society since 1889!).


In 1950 two combined concerts of Hiawatha, Messiah and Acis and Galatea were given with the Clare Choral Society.  It appears that the Society then lapsed again until October 1964.  Sir David Willcocks became President for several years and gave valuable support to the Society, offering the services of several students who subsequently achieved international recognition.  These included Stephen Varcoe, Nigel Perrin, Charles Brett, Sir Andrew Davis and John Wells.


During the 1960s and 1970s the Society continued to perform a wide range of oratorios, cantatas and songs in Haverhill and the surrounding villages under a number of conductors, but the appointment of Edward Dodge, Head of Music at the Friends’ School, Saffron Walden in 1987 heralded a new era for Haverhill Choral society and with increasing numbers of singers bigger and more demanding works were presented such as The Music Makers (Elgar), Carmina Burana (Orff), Sea Drift (Delius), Ein Deutsches Requiem (Brahms) and the Verdi Requiem.  The Society’s repertoire increased in other areas to include songs, operatic choruses and Christmas music.  The Society made a very successful visit to Haverhill’s French Twin town, Pont St Esprit, in 1990 when two concerts were given with choirs from both towns singing together.  Edward stood down in 2002 (after 16 years at the helm) due to his teaching commitments.


Jane Wright, Head of Music at Samuel Ward Upper School, took over the baton in September 2002 and her first concert with Haverhill & District Choral Society was Let all the world in every corner sing which featured Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs and Haydn’s Nelson Mass.  Under her direction the repertoire was expanded further and yet more ambitious works undertaken such as Chichester Psalms (Bernstein), but also, in a lighter vein, music from Gilbert & Sullivan, Rogers & Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Burt Bacharach.  The society now ‘boasts’ that it has sung music in English, French, German, Latin, Italian, Russian, Japanese and Hebrew!  2005 saw an ambitious concert of English music at St Mary’s including Vaughan Williams’ “Serenade to Music” written for Sir Henry Wood’s Golden Jubilee as a conductor and scored originally for sixteen soloists, although the Society chose the approved four-part version.  It is interesting to note that of the sixteen original soloists, three have sung with Haverhill Choral Society in the 1920s – Margaret Balfour, Harold Williams and Robert Easton.


Under Jane’s direction, a second successful visit to Pont St Esprit took place in 2016 and their choir returned to Haverhill to sing with us in October 2017.  In that year, the Society changed its name from ‘Haverhill & District Choral Society’ to the less cumbersome and more modern sounding ‘Haverhill Singers.’  In 2012 the Society joined with Sudbury Choral Society to perform Verdi Requiem in St. Edmundsbury Cathedral.  This was probably the biggest challenge the Society had undertaken, both musically and logistically and, under the inspired conductorship of Jane and David Butcher from Halstead, was an outstanding success.


Jane retired as Musical Director in 2018 after sixteen years of devoted work and commitment in building the Society and its repertoire.


John Clenaghan took over as our Musical Director in 2018.  His first concert in December 2018 included choruses from Messiah, Haydn’s Little Organ Mass and works by Alan Bullard and Bob Chilcott and was very well received by the Haverhill Echo critic.  We have tackled a variety of works under John’s direction since then but unfortunately disaster struck when the Covid19 pandemic swept the land in 2020 and rehearsals for Brahms’ ‘Ein Deutsches Requiem’ were halted abruptly.


The society were not able to perform again until December 2021 when restrictions were lifted and a concert aptly named Gonna Rise Up Singing was performed and well received in Hundon Village Hall with a slightly reduced choir size.


Haverhill Singers are committed to bringing choral music from a wide range of genres to Haverhill and the surrounding areas.


If you have any historical information about the Society or old programmes, posters, newspaper cuttings or photographs our archivist would be very pleased to hear from you. Please do contact us at

Image by Rafik Wahba
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