History of KEMS
The King Edward Musical Society (KEMS) of Macclesfield officially started in September 1957 and celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2006-7. It originated from two musical events that had taken place at King's School in 1956 and 1957.
On Saturday 24th March 1956, the King's School Choir supplemented by parents (the King's School Choral Society) and the Brocklehurst-Whiston (a local company) orchestra had performed Handel's Messiah in the Parish Church in Macclesfield. Entrance to the performance was the princely sum of two shillings and sixpence [12.5p]! The performance was directed and organised by the then Director of Music at King's School, Patrick Salisbury.
A year later, on Saturday 30th March 1957, Haydn's Creation was performed with the same choirs and orchestra participating. Two members of the choir then wrote to Charles Beswick, requesting that the choir might be ' . . . put on a more permanent footing . . . ' as this had also been expressed as a wish by some members of the choir. The choir members had already taken the initiative of approaching Patrick Salisbury to form a Music Society that would include instrumentalists as well as singers. Charles Beswick was invited to listen to a recording of the performance of Haydn's Creation on the 14th May 1957 and that meeting included the discussion of the formation of a Music Society in Macclesfield.
The inaugural meeting of KEMS to arrange the first season's concerts took place on the 18th June 1957 in the King's School Music Room. Charles Beswick became the Chairman. Full membership was one guinea [£1.05] per annum and the first rehearsal was he!d on 3rd September 1957, in the King's School Music Room. The 1957 Constitution stated that 'Singers and instrumentalists who are willing to rehearse regularly, and any persons interested in music are invited to join. Full membership is intended for those who wish actively to take part in performances, and Associate membership for those who are more passively interested and wish to support us.'
The Society's Debut Concert was a Christmas Concert that included Bach's Cantata no. T40 (Sleepers Awake) and Fantasia on Christmas Carols by Vaughan Williams. Ralph Chadwick led the orchestra and Patrick Salisbury directed the concert. The Macclesfield Times reported that 'In both choral and orchestral work the Society appeared thoroughly reassured throughout . . . ' For its next concert in its opening season the Choir joined with the King's School Choral Society in a performance of Bach's St John Passion.
The orchestra was formed from members of the new society, the King's School Instrumental Tutors, members of King's School and the Brocklehurst-Whiston orchestra. After its first season KEMS continued to attract new members and, by 1958, there were more ladies in the choir and this created more of a balance in relationship to the number of tenors and basses. Also, the names of our longest serving members - Margaret and John Campbell-Kelly [see large picture] - make their first 'official' appearance. Early correspondence shows that the hire of the Old School Hall at King's cost just five shillings [25p] per evening and the hire of a hall for a concert in December 1958, including the piano and chairs was six pounds, sixteen shillings and sixpence [£6.82] which was then generously reduced to half of that amount!
Handel's Messiah was performed again by KEMS, with the help of the King's School Choral Society, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Handel's death in 1959. At this time the Society also sponsored some Chamber concerts. The renowned oboist, Leon Goossens, was a performer at one of these occasions.
In 1960, Patrick Salisbury left the Society to take up a post as an Inspector of Schools. Simon Johnson succeeded him and directed the Society for four years until he left to take up a post at the University of Reading. Simon Johnson's last concert was Messiah in December 1964 featuring Janet Baker as one of the soloists. He was then succeeded by Neil Chaffey, the next Director of Music at King's School in Macclesfield, who, at the AGM of 1968 was to make a plea for a concert hall for the town of Macclesfield!
As well as giving its usual concerts, in 1961 the Society took part in the celebrations of the 400th of Macclesfield Borough receiving the Royal Charter and participated in a Songs of Praise in October 1964. KEMS celebrated its 10th Anniversary in St George's Church, Macclesfield with a performance of Verdi's Requiem on March 16th 1968. The KEMS Choir was joined by Chester Choral Society and the number of performers was 275 in total! However, by the end of the 1972-3 season the Society had a financial deficit of £100 and the then committee decided to initiate a system of subscription tickets: £1.50 bought you admission to all the three concerts that year (50p instead of 60p per concert). This was also Neil Chaffey's tenth season with KEMS and he was presented with a cheque for £44 from the members.
In 1973, Charles Beswick, one of the founding fathers of the Society, resigned as Chairman. The correspondence surrounding this event is full of interest and indicates the esteem and respect in which he was held and regarded - it was a sad matter for all concemed. He died at the age of 98; members of the KEMS Choir sang at his Funeral Service.
1977-8 was the 21st Anniversary season. For this, KEMS commissioned a work for choir and orchestra from Peter Wishart entitled Then out of the Sweet Warm Weather, which was performed at the Birthday Concert on the 12th February 1978 which also included a performance of Dvorak's 'New World' Symphony. Patrick Salisbury returned to conduct part of this concert. For more birthday celebrations KEMS was joined by Southport Bach Choir and Altrincham Choral Society in a performance of Verdi's Requiem at Wythenshawe Forum.
The Silver Jubilee Concerts in 1981-2 featured another performance of Then out of the Sweet Warm Weatheras well as The Music Makers by Elgar. In 1982, Haydn's Creation was performed with the King's School Choir in order to mark the anniversary of his birth. The society also sponsored a 'Compose a Carol for Christmas' competition and the winning entries were to be played at the Christmas Concert in that year.
After Neil Chaffey left the Society, the musical direction changed hands to Brian Goodwin for a short while before Colin Touchin (orchestra) and John Railton (choir) took over for the 1985-6 season. This was the first time that the Society had had two musical directors. John took the KEMS choir to the Llangollen Eisteddfod in 1986 and the choir was placed 5th out of 15 choirs, even ranking higher than some of the Welsh Choirs that were participating. Colin Touchin wrote a piece for baritone, choir and orchestra entitled Hilarion for the Society to perform as part of its 30th birthday celebrations. Under Colin's and John's direction, KEMS also gave the North West Premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem in the Parish Church in Macclesfield and in St John's Church in Buxton in March 1986. November 1987 was the first occasion when the orchestra gave a concert on its own, independently of the choir. John Railton left the choir at the end of the 1988 season and Colin's final concert with the Society was in March 1989.
Martin Hindmarsh (choir) and Stephen Threlfall (orchestra) then took over the musical direction. In 1990, the then Orchestra Leader, William Hine, one of the founder members of the Society, decided to retire and his last concert for KEMS was at Jodrell Bank Planetarium. In 1991-2 the musical direction changed hands again to the former leader of the Hallé Orchestra, Martin Milner, (orchestra) and Simon Mercer (choir). It was under Martin's directorship that the tradition of a separate orchestral concert seems to have become an established part of the KEMS season. In 1994, KEMS also started a junior choir under the direction of Kate Mercer which gave pertormances at its own Christmas Concerts and was included in the Society's Concerts until 1997.
In 1996-7, KEMS celebrated its 40th Anniversary. The final concert in the series was at the Senior Citizens' Hall in Macclesfield and was followed by a dinner at the Hunting Lodge in Adlington. Charles Beswick gave a speech about the formation of the society and the dinner guests were entertained by Timothy Reynish with some stories of his musical experiences. In the next season, a highlight was KEMS choir joining with the Oriana, Barnby and Gatley Choral Society Choirs and Stockport Symphony Orchestra to perform The Dream of Gerontius by Elgar. Stephen Threlfall again took on the direction of the orchestra in 1998. Simon Bowler took over the choir in 1999 and then both the choir and orchestra in the 2000-1 season.
In May 2000, the Orchestral and Choral Workshop was the first event when the members met their new musical directors for the 2001-2 season - Peter Gunstone (choir) and Anthony Houghton (orchestra). Peter's first season with the Society included a special concert to commemorate the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002.
In 2005, Peter was succeeded as Choir Director by lan Chesworth who is our current choral director. In the same year, the orchestra performed at the Buxton Fringe Festival for the first time and now performs there each year. In the 2005-6 season, the orchestra was proud to give the World Premiere of Silk Impressions by Adam Gorb - a piece that reflects aspects of legends, places and industry in the Macclesfield area.
KEMS celebrated its Golden Jubilee with a truly ambitious series of concerts with an international flavour. These included a 'Come and Sing' evening of Handel's Messiah; a concert of English and French music; a Christmas concert for choir, orchestra and audience; a special concert as part of Chetham School's 'Festival of Norway'; a concert of music from the New World including Dvorak's New World Symphony; and a concert featuring the 'glitz and glamour' of the stage and screen. But the highlight of the jubilee year for all who participated or attended in the audience was a magnificent performance, with the Tatton Singers, of Verdi's Requiem at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester on 22nd April 2007.
The KEMS Concert Band, or KCB, started up in May 2005, giving its first outdoor concert in West Park, Macclesfield on July 3rd and its second concert on the bandstand at Buxton Fringe Festival a week later. Its first formal concert was in King's School Hall on 16th October 2005 and the programme started with, rather appropriately, a march called Death or Glory! The KCB has just completed its fifth season and now has around fifty players.
KEMS now looks forward to its 57th season. Over the past years has staged or participated over 300 performances. There have been many musical highlights for performers and audiences alike - and we know that there will be many more to come in the years ahead.