During the First World War there was a branch of the Coventry Ordnance Factory in Glasgow, and in 1917 a Mixed Voice Choir was formed from employees of this factory. After the end of the War, when the men were demobilised and returned home, the women found themselves redundant – how times have changed! –so the men formed themselves into the Partick Male Voice Choir.
Many other Choirs had been formed from people who had been sent to Glasgow on war work, and quite a few of these folded at the end of the War. There were therefore new recruits from well outside Partick, and so on 9 June 1925 the Partick Male Voice Choir became the Glasgow Philharmonic Choir. The first Annual Concert of the newly formed choir took place on 5 March 1926 in Partick Burgh Hall. The Conductor was Robert Howie, the soloist was Agnes Duncan, and there were readings by Nan R Scott and violin solos from David McCallum.
There have been no gaps in performance since 1925, so the Spring Concert in 2014 will be our 89th Annual Concert.
The Choir has always been very well served by its Conductors, and has never forgotten them:
1925 – 1935: Robert Howie
1935 – 1940: John Rankin
1940 – 1946: Sam Kempsall (J Rankin on War service)
1946 – 1951: John Rankin
1951 – 1956: George McVicar
1956 – 1966: John Rankin
1966 – 1982: Ian Milligan
1982 – 1985: Joseph Cullen
1985 – 1995: Elizabeth Izatt
1995 – 1998: David Hamilton
1998 – 2000: Elizabeth Izatt
2000 – 2001: James Hunter/Daniel Gorbold
2001 – present: William Barr
In addition to the Conductors, our Concert Accompanists have given many years’ of superb service to the Choir: Ailie Cullen (1934 – 1952) and Margaret Rankin (1955 – 1986) between them account for 51 years! From 1986 to 1998 Lynda Green was Concert Accompanist, and now Claire Haslin has succeeded her.
We must not forget our Rehearsal Accompanists who perform every Tuesday evening, often having to sit through note-bashing sessions doing nothing but providing a G or a B flat on demand: Andrew C Taylor, Hugh Haggarty (who had 40 years’ service between them), Florence Elliott, Marion Christie, Claire Haslin, Robin Adams, Judith Keaney, Andrew Johnston, Geneviene Wong and Gavin Brady. In 2002 Elaine Brennan became our Rehearsal and Concert Accompanist, and was in turn succeeded in 2008 by Anna Mavromatidi. The current accompanist is Silviya Mihyalova who took up her post in September 2015.
The Triumphs and the Disasters
Many would suggest that the greatest day in the Choir’s history – to date – was 8th July 1950; the place, Llangollen; the event, the Eisteddfod, when the Glasgow Philharmonic Choir under John Rankin won the International Trophy (Male Choir). In other words, we went and played the Welsh Choirs at their own game and we beat them! The songs in this programme were: Haec Dies; Matona, My Beloved; and Stay, My Charmer, which are still in the repertoire of some of our members.
In 1960 and again in 1961, the Choir was first in the Male Voice class in the BBC competition “Let The People Sing”, and in 1975 we made an LP recording.
In 1972 and 1979 there were Combined Concerts with other Male Voice Choirs: with the Clydebank, Dunblane, Greenock and Paisley Male Voice Choirs inGreenock in 1972, and with the Bannockburn, Clydebank and Dunblane Choirs in November 1979 in the University of Stirling’s MacRobert Arts Centre.
We have often performed with Brass Bands, most recently in the Royal Concert Hall with the Scottish Massed Male Voice Choir and the Kirkintilloch Band. One of the most memorable of these concerts was in 1977, when we shared the City Hall platform with the Kettering Band of the Salvation Army. Ian Milligan conductedThe Mulligan Musketeers, in which the Choir sound like a Brass Band, to the great glee of all present.
In 1990, as our contribution to Glasgow’s being the European City of Culture for that year, the Choir, under the baton of Elizabeth Izatt, organised a very successful Recital Competition for young singers in collaboration with the Woolwich Building Society. The winners, Jane Webster and David Mattinson, were soloists at the 1991 and 1992 Annual Concerts, respectively.
At the end of 1990 the Glasgow Philharmonic Choir was one of the Founder Members of the Scottish Massed Male Voice Choir, and we have maintained our association with them, performing on several occasions in the Royal Concert Hall.
We are the only Scottish Choir to have been invited by the London Welsh Male Voice Choir to take part in their bi-annual Festivals of Male Voice which are held in the Royal Albert Hall. We first took part in 1990 then again in 1994, and we participated again in October 2000, 2006 and 2012.
We have been involved with the National Association of Choirs and the National Federation of Music Societies, and have taken part in a number of joint activities, including a memorable performance of The Messiah in Glasgow Cathedral in October 1998. From that concert and some subsequent events we have formed a lasting friendship with the Gleniffer Singers, who are a Ladies’ Choir.
Our numbers have risen from 38 in 1926 to over 90 in 1962 and are now about 52. There is always room for more members!
So much for the triumphs, and there are many more to remember, but what about the disasters? There have been some, and all to do with buildings. For many years we held our Annual Concert in the St Andrews Hall, until it was destroyed by fire in the 1960s; then for several years we used the former Gaiety Theatre near Anderston Cross until the present City Hall was properly refurbished. It was not until the opening of the Royal Concert Hall which took the strain off the City Hall’s concert bookings that we could obtain a date in April for our Annual Concert, which up to that time had to be held on a Wednesday and Friday evening in February.
Our rehearsal accommodation has changed also: we used to rehearse in the Unitarian Church in Pitt Street, until it was demolished in 1982. We then moved, lock stock and barrel, to the CWS building in Dalintober Street where we stayed until 1998, when the CWS decided to use the building for other purposes, and found a good home in Adelaide’s, Bath Street, where we now rehearse. Disaster? Perhaps not – many members recall the hissing gas heaters high up on the wall of the Unitarian Church and those terrible canvas chairs, then, latterly, the complete lack of heating in the Dalintober Hall and that dreadful piano, more suitable for a Wild West Saloon – perhaps we actually triumphed instead, by moving on to the excellent rehearsal facilities in Adelaide’s.
The one constant in the Choir’s history – past, present and future – is that it consists of people, not things, and depends on particular people for its success.Our Conductor, William Barr, is making a huge contribution to the Choir’s success, as have his predecessors, but there are others whose work is not so well publicised, but without whom there simply would not be any Choir.
The Choir President is John Taylor, who took over from Bob Watson in 2014.Other Presidents before Bob (from most recent) were Alex Stuart, Tom Aitken, Ian P Ritchie, John Adams, Ian Moffat, John G Milloy and J J Lambert Sinclair, carrying on a fine tradition. Without their leadership the Choir would have been in a poor state indeed. They have in turn been well supported by their Vice-Presidents – Eddie McAuley was Vice-President until 2009, succeeded by John J Taylor. Rob McGhee was elected to the post in 2014. Normally the Vice-President will succeed the President after his term of office expires, now normally in five years.
Bob Watson, the Immediate Past President, was also for many years the Secretary, who has the task of seeing that everything to do with the Choir gets done.Ian P Ritchie was Secretary from the early 1970’s until 1987, when he was succeeded by Norman S MacGilp.. Bob Watson took over from 1997 until 2008, after which John McFarlane became Secretary until December 2011. The Secretary is now Malcolm Flemington.
The Choir has been very fortunate in its other officials, too: the Treasurer is Bill Clark whotook over from Bill Hamilton, who succeeded Andrew Forrest, following a very long period of service from William C Wood and William B Mitchell. Between these two men, they gave well over 25 years of service. The Librarian was John D Greig, who had been 25 years in that post until 2001, and is now succeeded by Alan Provan and Sam Edmondson who followed Ian Dickinson, and the rôle of the Choir Secretary, whose task is to administer Attendance and Concert Seating, has been admirably filled by John Third, then John Carson, James B Lewis, James Barclay, Eddie McAuley, Douglas Greig and now Lyle Simpson. To make the title better reflect the job description, Lyle is now called the Choir Manager, which means that we no longer have to distinguish between Choir Secretary and General Secretary, so the post is now simply “Secretary”.
A fairly recent innovation is the post of Concert Manager, who ensures that all our Concerts run smoothly.We have been very lucky to have, first Lucie Green, then Nan McKenzie (for 25 years) and now Anne Simpson, looking after us.
There are now ten members of the Choir who have each given more than 25 years service: at this point they become Life Members.Of these there are two, Andrew Macintosh (54 years) and Ian Ritchie (51 years) with over 50 years’ service That extraordinary level of commitment is a tribute to the Choir.
In the 75thAnniversary year, (1999-2000) the Choir decided to present a series of concerts in aid of the Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice – one in each of the North, South, East and West of Glasgow, and one outside Glasgow, in Callander Kirk, as well as a special concert in St Columba’s Church of Scotland in London, immediately following the Royal Albert Hall concert. The proceeds from this series of concerts was donated to the Hospice at the Christmas Concert in December 2000.
We had the opportunity to celebrate our 75thAnniversary with a special Dinner in the Royal Scottish Automobile Club on Saturday 26 February 2000.
We participated in the London Welsh Festival of Male Voice at the Albert Hall on Saturday 21 October 2006, and again in 2012.
For the past six years we have been running a Choir Scholarship Scheme for young men in 5th or 6th year at school, in the 2009-2010 session we had no less than seven Scholars, who received a stipend of £150 in return for attending rehearsals and performing in Concerts
The conclusion for the Present is that this is a very active and healthy Choir which strives to maintain the high standards which have been set for us by our predecessors.
What, then, is to come?
The Choir will continue to strive for excellence and high standards of performance. There will be changes in personnel, but the principle that people make the Choir – all of them together, not just the Officials – will remain and guide us into the 21st Century.
But there is a cloud on the horizon.
It is not my purpose to be a prophet: I have no more talent in foresight than anyone else, but the excellent Scots tradition of Choral singing is in grave danger of being lost. In the past few years several long-established Choirs have disbanded, including the excellent Paisley Male Voice Choir, with whom we have shared a platform in the past. The average age of our Choir members is now about 55. Thanks to the Scholarship Scheme and the general quality of the Choir (which is particularly due to William Barr’s hard work and extraordinary commitment) we now have about 60 chorister members, and the roll is increasing, but we must not be complacent and must always strive to attract new members.
In the past few years, we have continued to welcome several new members besides the Scholars. I would like to think that there will be other men to carry on where we have to leave off, and I am now more optimistic about our future.
Robert J Watson, Immediate Past President.