Imperial Male Voice Choir takes its name from Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, part of the University of London and situated in South Kensington. It was here that the choirs' founder members met in the 1970s whilst rehearsing stage productions with the College Operatic Society. The Society's traditional summer tour to Devon offered the gentlemen of the cast the opportunity to take a break from Gilbert & Sullivan and explore the repertoire for male voices in four part harmony.
Performing initially as an octet at charity concerts in the local parish church during the 1978 and 1979 tours, the choir more than doubled its membership in 1980 and gave its first public concert in London. It was at this time that Deborah Miles-Johnson began her long association with the choir as musical director. Harnessing our youthful enthusiasm, she led the choir to a series of successes in competitive festivals, initially in London and the Southeast, but later further afield. Cups and awards were won at festivals, which included Cheltenham, Bath and the inaugural Elgar festival in Worcester Cathedral. It was noticeable that we often boasted the youngest average age of competitors in our class by at least 30 years and adjudicators frequently commented on our distinctive sound and energy of performance.
This section gives some details of the history of the choir and some of our achievements. It is split in to several sections accessed from the menu alongside.
There is a also a table of performances.
The Early Years
Imperial Male Voice Choir originated in the 1970s when some of the gentlemen of Imperial College Operatic Society (normally known as Opsoc), taking a break from being Peers or Yeomen, started exploring some dog-eared copies (found in RN's loft) of Victorian male voice repertoire that was distinctly out of fashion at the time. This led to a male voice octet being formed to perform in the Sunday concert during the summer tour to Budleigh Salterton; the favoured piece being In a Monastery Garden, as it seemed to benefit from lusty and unrestrained high notes! This same group swept the board in the south London music festival scene in the late 1970s.
The success of this ensemble led to the rest of the men's chorus and sundry musical friends being asked to join in order to put on a charity concert exclusively dedicated to male voice repertoire. Rather ambitiously, the whole event was rehearsed and performed over one weekend in autumn 1980 in Essex Church off Kensington High Street. Mike Withers, the Opsoc Musical Director at the time, was given the daunting task of knocking the rank and file into shape for the big numbers, while Debbie Miles-Johnson continued to hone the octet to perfection (of sorts).
Repeating the MVC weekend format the following year in north London led to a campaign for inclusion by our female associates, culminating in the PVC (person voice choir) weekends, which ran for a number of subsequent years. Striving to maintain our musical integrity and provide opportunities for alcohol-aided male bonding, however, Debbie took us on a coach trip to Cheltenham one day in 1983 to match our talents against some other male voice choirs . Returning home with a handsome cup, we elected to try more of these expeditions to outposts of the Empire. - Bath, Bedford, Blackpool and even South Woodham Ferrers were conquered before, ambitiously for a choir which rehearsed only irregularly, we entered the inaugural Elgar Festival in Worcester Cathedral. This was a big event and we entered male voice, mixed and ladies choirs as well as taking our own creche, as many of us by now had young families. The day culminated in a gala concert which ran on to about 11.15pm and, adjudicated by the late Sir Charles Groves, resulted in the men (sorry ladies!) being judged the most promising choir of the festival. Unexpectedly, the mixed choir, which I think Mike Withers had only rehearsed twice, won its class against some very big names and we suddenly found ourselves financially very well rewarded. This was one of a number of competitions where our youth contrasted with all of the other choirs giving us a distinctive sound that judges either loved or hated "your tenors could strip paint" (Bath adjudication). In 1986 we made our first recording, using the technology of the time (cassette tape), although the master was a digital recording that we have recently had transferred on to a CD. We also sang alongside a women's choir in an outdoor concert in Southend one memorably cold May evening!
As we moved into the 1990s we tended to compete less as the atmosphere and politics of some competitions dampened our enthusiasm. Instead, we settled into a pattern of performing one or two charity concerts in most years in churches around the South East with carols at Christmas and occasional weddings. We continued to rehearse irregularly and to explore new repertoire, although there were a few lean years when numbers, if not enthusiasm, dropped due to competing pressures from young families and developing careers which took members elsewhere in the world.
Later in the decade we found a new (and popular) rehearsal venue in the upstairs room of the Morpeth Arms in Pimlico where our twin passions of real ale and singing could be enjoyed together! This resurgence gave us the confidence to set off en familles to South West France for our first tour in August 1998. We found ourselves rather too spread out and many kilometres were driven but we held two concerts in the towns of Chalais and Issigeac which appeared to be much appreciated by the mainly French audience as evidenced by the wonderful receptions laid on for us afterwards. The organisation of the tour was hard work but the weather was (very) hot and the families were able to socialise to a far greater extent than was normally possible. In the years that followed, events included a Victorian evening, the National Waterways Festival and making our second recording (this time a CD, still available to buy).
Into the New Millennium
This impetus continued into the new millennium. As families grew, lapsed members returned to the fold alongside some keen new singers, though we found ourselves geographically spread out to all points between Brighton and Chesterfield. An annual rehearsal weekend was instituted by renting a whole youth hostel, thus allowing the choir to spend a full weekend concentrating on music (between beer breaks) away from distractions like work and family! The first of these was at Blaxhall in Suffolk, followed by Burley in the New Forest. And then two years at a new and very comfortable youth hostel at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, which boasted the attractions of a an adjacent rehearsal hall, seaside walks and a good pub just around the corner! In 2004 we organised our second foreign tour, to north western Switzerland where there is a tradition of male voice singing and one of the local choirs is conducted by the cousin of our regular accompanist, Cecily Nicholls.
We organised ourselves rather better this time and took a number of apartments in one large complex in the Jura Mountains. We held one concert of our own in the local town of Sainte Croix, receiving a glowing review over the whole front page of the local newspaper. The second concert, jointly with our host choir, saw the village church of St. Aubin filled to standing room only for a stupendous evening. The whole week was pronounced a great success, particularly as our entourage now consisted mostly of teenagers who organised their own parallel entertainment programme, allowing the adults more time to themselves. Earlier in the year we had made our third recording and these were available hot off the press to sell at the Swiss concerts.
For our Anniversary year of 2005 we decided to compete again and set off in May for Truro to compete in the International Festival of Male Voice Choirs. There were 14 choirs from around the world competing in the small choirs section and we just missed a third place although we were the highest placed choir from the UK. The jury also awarded an unscheduled Conductor's Prize to Deborah Miles-Johnson, possibly for putting up with us for 25 years! The rest of the weekend was fairly hectic as we were asked to sing at the Gala Concert on the Saturday evening as well as spending Sunday performing at the Eden Project and sharing an evening concert with a Slovenian choir in St Ives.
The main 25th anniversary event was a return to our roots with concert at Holy Trinity Church in Prince Consort Road next door to the Imperial College Union Building where it all started. The concert contained many of our favourite pieces with 3 different piano accompanists, violin by Helena Nicholls and 8 guest sopranos. This was followed by a party in the Union Building to wrap up the evening.
2006 - 2008
Our main event in 2006 was a long weekend in Slovenia which started with a dinner hosted by the British Embassy on the Friday evening. The Saturday proved to be a very long day with a coach trip to visit the short coastlineÂ seeing the spectacular Postojna Caves en route, testing out the incredible acoustic with Steal Away, and then a joint concert in Ajdovscina with our hosts, the Male Choir Srecko Kosovel, Slovenia who we had met in Cornwall the previous year. After the packed concert we were taken to a nearby mountain village and treated to a wine cellar crawl with different courses and wines in each location. We finally reached our beds at about 4am and then were up for a tour of Ljubljana with the British Ambassador at 9.30. In the afternoon we visited a monastery in the east of country and then performed a concert in the town of Rogaska Slatina. On the Monday we visited the Lake Bled area for a walk and boat trip and then were deposited at the airport for our flight home.
A Busy 2007
After a quiet 2006, 2007 was much busier, starting with a concert at Bromley Reform Synagogue and then a second visit to the Cornish International Festival.Â This time we were third behind a Swedish University Choir and a choir from Germany. The weekend was pleasant, with a performance in the gala concert, a concert in Bodmin and time for a boat trip to Falmouth and a fairly long walk interrupted by a long lunch outside a pub withÂ a splendid view down the Fal. InJuly we performed at the Uckfield Festival with the Mid Sussex Sinfonia at a Last Night of the Proms event to a packed hall with the concert being broadcast on Radio Uckfield. This was an enjoyable evening with the chance to perform pieces such as the Peers Chorus from Iolanthe and Huntsmen's Chorus from Freischutz with full orchestra.Â August saw us returning to Switzerland, staying this time in a Holiday House called La Rouvraie and located high above Lake Neuchatel. We had the usual busy week, with side excursions to various places and three packed concerts performed jointly with three local choirs: Historique de la Société La Patriote, Vallorbe; Historique de La Cressiacoise;L’Helvétienne. Finally in October we sang in a concert at St Barnabas Church in East Dulwich to raise funds for St. Christopher's Hospice.
After the previous busy year we decided to do rather less, starting with a performance for a birthday party and taking a weekend to Magalas in the Lanquedoc before performing in a pre-Christmas concert in Staines for Daybreak. In between we began a rolling programme of recording our latest repertoire.
Disclaimer: This webite contains forward-looking statements relating to the Choir's performance and future plans. These statements are based on the Choir's current expectations, estimates and projections, are not guarantees of future performance, involve certain risks, uncertainties and assumptions that are difficult to predict, and are based upon assumptions as to future events that may not prove to be accurate (this is especially true of Embraceable You). Actual outcomes and results may differ materially. The author, conductor, members of the IMVC and Doris Arnold take no responsibility for the veracity of this programme, or for the accuracy of its contents. Voices may go down as well as up. The author asserts his right to be anonymous.
With apologies to SB
The historic church of King Charles the Martyr in the Georgian centre of Royal Tunbridge Wells allowed us to try out repertoire for our forthcoming 40th birthday celebrations and raise money for Demelza Hospice. For the first time we were joined by a female a capella group; The Hasty Nymphs from South London moved seamlessly from “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” to the 15th century “Ah Robyn”.
Our 40th Anniversary Concert on June 25th saw us hiring The Cadogan Hall at Sloane Square. We pushed the boat out by engaging the Salomon Orchestra and soprano Mary Bevan. Our member Michael Withers donned his white tuxedo to share conducting duties, our accompanist Leanne took advantage of the excellent piano to entertain us with some Tchaikovsky and we took the opportunity to thank composers and arrangers Geoff Davidson, Ian Assersohn, Andrew Parnell, Jeremy White and Stephen Brown whose talents have provided us with some of our most popular repertoire. The chief guest of the evening, however, was Alyson Blackwell whose father’s legacy had given us the impetus to plan such a celebration. Old friends joined us in numbers in the bar afterwards and there was time for a chorus of what else but “Vive L’ Amour”.
Yet another visit to St. Peter’s Church, Staines, where we always receive an encouraging welcome, began our 2016 programme in April. This time we were joined by guest soprano Jennifer Coleman, whose repertoire ranged from the Bach/ Gounod “Ave Maria” to a “Song of a Nightclub Proprietress”. A cameo appearance by Russian-born pianist Maria Levandovskaya added to the variety and we were pleased to raise funds for local charity, the Penrose Club, which was celebrating 50 years supporting people with learning disabilities.
In November we made yet another trip to Hertfordshire singing to a full St. Mary’s Church in the centre of Hitchin. This time our guests were Prime Brass, a Cambridge-based ensemble who added their sonority to two of our favourite numbers: our “Gershwin Medley” and Sullivan’s “The Lost Chord”. The local press recorded a substantial sum raised for Garden House Hospice.
Gustav Holst’s atmospheric church in Thaxted was the venue for our Christmas collaboration with the Hertfordshire choir Amici Cantate, directed by our member John Tripp. Apart from our own seasonal items we had the opportunity to join in Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Christmas Carols” and Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols”, raising money for St. Clare Hospice.
Our Spring programme began with concerts in St. Albans (St. Saviour's again, March 28th) and Ham (St. Andrew's, April 5th) in which we joined forces with Rhein-Main Vokalisten, a mixed choir from Offenbach, Germany featuring Birgit Ahrens, an old friend from Imperial Opera days.
Our much anticipated Whitsuntide tour to Ireland culminated in concerts in St. Mary's, Killarney(23rd May) and Sneem Hotel (24th May), this latter in collaboration with the South Kerry Rosen Choir.
On June 27th a packed Romsey Abbey (Hampshire) heard us perform alongside Mountbatten, a local community choir after a pic-nic in the Abbey grounds and a record amount was raised for the Abbey's appeal.
A dozen of us descended on Rainham Hall (NT) in EssexJ on July 18th to record some sea shanties intended to provide atmospheric audio for visitors when the Hall opens fully in the autumn. Following a few tots of excellent rum we also performed to an invited audience in the gardens.
In September we returned to St. John the Evangalist in East Dulwich after a gap of over 20 years. This time our guests were a very interesting men's choir from Sierra Leone, though now based in South London, the Leoa Academic Male Voice Choir, who were just as happy singing Haydn as singing in Krio. Funds were raised for the Welbodi Partnership which supports victims of the ebola health emergency that recently struck West Africa.
This year being the 100th anniversery of the outbreak of World War I, we were keen to take part in a Rotary Club Peace Concert at the International Students House in Great Portland Street on May 11th.
Having discovered The Drive Methodist Church in Sevenoaks as a very well-equipped rehearsal venue the year before, we planned a concert on May 17th. We were delighted that Tessa Spong again joined us as soprano soloist, notably singing some Ivor Gurney songs and joining us in a medley of songs from World War I.
Tessa collaborated with us a week later as we re-visited St. Michael's Church Betchworth on May 24th.
Another visit to St. Saviours Church in St. Albans (October 4th) teamed us with Jeremy White, celebrated operatic bass and accomplished arranger who has been very helpful in extending our repertoire over the years.
On November 22nd we revisited St. Peter's Church in Staines in a collaboration with Spelthorne Young Voices, a very accomplished youth choir, and rising musical theatre star Susie Chaytow.
Carol singing this year took us to Spitalfields Market followed by a Brick Lane Curry.
- On April 20th we gave our first concert in Brighton in aid of Bagbooks, members of which group (including our own Bernard Tagliavini) gave demonstrations of the story-telling they use in therapies focused on people with severe disabilities.
- The Maltings in Alton hosted us on June 15th as we, along with his local choir Ancora and orchestra, remembered and celebrated the life of our dear member MAC Newton.
- On June 30th a special concert in Sevenoaks School (Pamoja Hall) teamed us with baritone Richard Suart in a commemoration of tenor Roger Woodward's reaching various milestones and raising money for Hospice in the Weald.
- On October 5th we performed in Oxted.
- Our much anticipated tour to St. Petersburg in late October saw us perform 3 concerts to packed audiences. In the Finnish Lutheran Church we teamed up with a group of young men 30-40 years our juniors. At the prestigious Glinka Capella we flew solo and incorporated songs from our MD and a piano showpiece from our accompanist. In the town of Gatchina we dovetailed with the local balalaika ensemble. Examples of these memorable events are to be found on Youtube. Alongside all this musical activity our guide, Marina, made sure we saw and appreciated more sights than one could reasonably expect in a week.
- Spooky Singing was the name we gave to a paid engagement in March in a grand and atmospheric former Methodist Church in Hackney. Led by Lawrence White we provided a background of Gregorian chant for a production company who were showing a rather gruesome new film called The Devil Inside to an invited audience.
- At the Queen Elizabeth Hall on March 25th we joined forces with Chelsea Opera Group, conductor Robin Newton and some leading soloists for a concert performance of Verdi's opera la Forza Del Destino.
- On April 14th at St George's Church, Beckenham along with members of Imperial Opera, the Joyful Company of Singers and The Purcell Singers, we celebrated the life of baritone Alan Doherty who had sadly died in November 2011.
- On 30th June a concert was given at St. Michael's Church Betchworth with guest soprano Tessa Spong.
- In August the choir sang The Lost Chord and Steal Away at the funeral of tenor and dear friend MAC Newton in Alresford, Hampshire.
- In early October we joined forces with Hertfordshire County Youth Choir for a concert in St Albans - reviews and audience comments.
- We sang at Howard of Effingham School in November to raise money for a group of pupils planning an educational visit to Indonesia.
- Carol singing at Canary Wharf shopping centre raised over £600.
- In early May we joined forces with the RAFA President's Band in St. Peter's Church Staines to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the local Rotary Club. The concert featured songs of World War II and a last Night of the Proms style finale with Debbie in her union-jack dress.
- For the late May bank holiday weekend we based ourselves in Dinard on the Brittany- Normandy border. On the Saturday a concert was given in the Anglican church of St Bartholomew and on the Sunday in the Abbaye St. Magloire in Léhon where we achieved the ambitions of singing "The Agincourt Song" to the French (in a great acoustic) and performing "In a Monastery Garden" accompanied by L'orchestre d'harmonie de Dinan complete with electronic bird calls. Our soloist was Tessa Spong.
- Our final spring concert took place in Shalford, Surrey to celebrate the refurbishment of St Mary the Virgin Church. "In a Monastery Garden" featured again as we were very close to the garden in neighbouring Chilworth where Ketèlby had conceived the piece 100 years previously. Soprano Tessa Spong was joined by her trumpeter friend Phil Bysh.
- In October the choir turned out in good numbers for the funeral of our great friend and kindred spirit Ian Woods in St. John's East Dulwich. Memories of 3 great tours to Switzerland were rekindled as we sang Steal Away and Ian's arrangement of Nearer My God To Thee accompanied by his wife Carolyn. Our condolences go to Ian and Carolyn's choir L'Helvétienne de Gorgier and we hope to meet up with them again in the future.
- Real Men Sing was the title of a workshop for boys (and more mature males) organised in Hatfield by our tenor member Neil Bell, who in his real life is lead singing teacher for Herts. Music Service. Though we were able to support the youngsters with our decibels, the need to memorise unfamiliar material for an impromptu performance at the end of the day took some of us beyond our comfort zones.
- Following the decision of Cecily Nicholls, our accompanist for 35 years, to step down in 2012, we organised some "audition rehearsals" for budding repetiteurs and we were delighted to appoint Leanne Singh-Levett to take up the challenge.
- Carol singing in Canary Wharf organised by John and Jo Tripp with various friends and work colleagues raised over £500 in just an hour of singing.
- Our annual weekend away (Pilgrim Hall, Uckfield) in January was notable for the rare opportunity to try out our Bartok on the hotel staff, who were almost all Hungarian. They seemed most amused and professed to understand the lyrics!
- Very sadly, in February, we learnt of the death, after a brave battle with cancer, of Delinne Isaacs; a wonderful former ENO soprano who had recorded with us and shared a concert in Staines in 2008. We were honoured to have performed with her and also, by her family's request, to sing Shallow Brown (her favourite) at her funeral.
- In April we performed a concert in Alton with a ladies choir (Ancora) in aid of Homestart Weywater.
- In May a number of the choir returned 'to their roots' and went off to Budleigh Salterton for the weekend to sing in 'Iolanthe' (a semi staged version) put on by Imperial Productions.
- Our second concert with Wantage Youth Band took place on a very warm evening in early June in Wantage and was much enjoyed by the large audience at Wantage Parish Church.
- A request to provide music for an August wedding ceremony at Cliveden House, a prestigious venue in Berkshire, resulted in the choir being handsomely rewarded for singing a rousing hymn and adaptations of songs by Louis Armstrong and Cat Stevens!
- Our August tour to Switzerland was a great success; we sang two concerts (In Stadtkirche Thun and Temple de St Aubin (NE)), jointly with two Swiss choirs, l'Helvétienne and Männerchor Thun. We also held a shorter concert on our own in Grindelwald (BE) Dorfkirche.
- We also sang during morning church services in Thun and St Aubin.
- The autumn was spent rehearsing and recording for our new CD which was duly released in Spring 2011
- Carol singing was this year in Covent Garden. Despite a good attendance the bitterly cold weather contributed to lower takings (c. £150) for The Children's Society, though drinks in The Globe afterwards were some compensation.
- The year started with a concert in Epsom in March in memory of Edna Tripp, the dear late wife of one of our members. This raised around £3,300 for the charity 'Love Me, Love my Mind'.
- This was followed by an exciting concert in Oxfordshire with Wantage Youth Brass, part of Wantage Silver Band.
- A return to Uckfield to round off the Uckfield Festival in a 'Last Night' with the Mid Sussex Sinfonia.
- In the early autumn we performed some a capella pieces in the courtyard of Hatchlands House in Surrey.
- In October we joined forces with the celebrated Hertfordshire youth choir Cantate in All Saints Church Hockerill.
- Carol singing in Waterloo Station in December raised a goodly sum from the snow-bound commuters.