Manuden Singers applaud director Ian Priest's 23 years at choir's helm
The Manuden Singers organised a farewell party for their retiring director, who has raised £50,000 for good causes since he took to the podium almost a quarter of a century ago.
When Ian Priest first took on the role of leading the singers in 1996, his aim was to put on awe-inspiring performances which would see the singers expand from a small village choir to grow and take on large choral works with orchestral accompaniment.
His wife, Teresa, said: "His plan was to perform three concerts each year: two more serious ones and a third, summer picnic concert, rather grandly entitled a 'Village Glyndebourne' after the more famous location in Sussex.
"This event became a tradition and provided opportunities to perform choruses from Gilbert & Sullivan, folk songs, jazz items and blues which echoed round neighbouring gardens.
"Weather-wise we were generally lucky, but had our share of dodging lightning flashes and downpours. The show went on as the audience all retired to Manuden Church to continue the concert and eat their picnics."
The cost of putting on large-scale concerts was vast, and Ian was supported by local musicians, some of whom were of a professional standard, and many offered to perform for free.
Their generosity meant that Ian and the Manuden Singers were able to donate more money to various charities; over the years, countless causes have benefited.
Ian is linked to Stort Valley Rotary, so many of the club's projects were supported by concerts given by the singers. They performed two shows for Grove Cottage – the home of Mencap in Bishop's Stortford – London-based children's charity the Coram Project and Bishop's Stortford Food Bank to name but a few.
Some of the singers suggested other causes, such as the Samaritans, Citizens Advice and the Harlow-based Alcohol and Drugs Advisory Service.
Teresa said: "Among the works tackled by the singers were some of the greatest works in the repertoire, including Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s St John Passion & Christmas Oratorio, Haydn’s Creation and the great requiems of Mozart, Brahms and Faure, all performed to the highest standard that Ian was able to achieve with the singers.
"Early rehearsals always produced expressions of doubt and misgiving about the challenges, but Ian’s enthusiasm and inspirational leadership drove the choir through."
This dedication was celebrated at Ian's leaving party, which was attended by past and present choir members.
Some of his many highlights were discussed. One was the phenomenal effort the group went to following the 2010 Chile earthquake, which left 550 people dead or missing missing and about 9% of the population in the affected regions without homes.
When the quake struck, the Chilean wife of one of the Manuden Singers was in a tall apartment block in Santiago, the country's capital.
Teresa said: "We put on a concert to raise funds and made sure that all of the £2,400 raised was donated directly to the rebuilding of an old people’s home in her village in Chile, with no deductions for administration from the national appeal.
"The Chilean Embassy in London turned up in force and were delighted to be invited to an ‘olde world’ village such as Manuden."
In true Manuden Singers fashion, music was a key focus at Ian's leaving party. He and two of the group's regular soloists, Jeff Phillips and James Priest, gave a rendition of We’re Your Friends from The Jungle Book and Billy Joel’s The Longest Time.
The party ended with Ian being presented with hotel and concert vouchers to attend a performance of his choice at the famous concert hall at Snape Maltings in Suffolk.
Teresa said: "What a lot of fun the singers had over all those years and what an amazing amount was raised for so many charities, but sadly all good things must come to an end."