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Folklore surrounds the ‘brotherhood’ of the male voice choir in Bury St Edmunds

St Edmundsbury male voice choir.

St Edmundsbury male voice choir.

The folklore is that the St Edmundsbury Male Voice Choir was forged out of a fire that destroyed a Bury St Edmunds School.

The fire was at Howard Middle School in 1984 – the school was rebuilt and even the choir’s website tells how four years later, as thanks to the community that supported it the choir was formed.

Like many legends however, its founding members admit it is not quite true.

The choir, which celebrates its 25th anniversary next year with a series of concerts, was founded by four teachers including Brian Raistrick, who was head of Howard Middle School.

“The school reopened in 1986. What actually happened was Adrian Williams, who was headteacher at County Upper School and myself decided to club to get a musician to come to teach at our schools.”

The musician was Stephen Linden who was appointed in 1986.

“After he’d been in post about a year a conversation started that the one thing missing in Bury was a male voice choir,” said Brian.

Stephen already had experience of running a choir in Basingstoke and together with Brian and two County Upper teachers, Paul Deane and David Bailey, they met in the Ipswich Arms to discuss setting up the choir.

“What we kept coming back to is that we should try to involved the local community, the residents of the Howard and Mildenhall Road estates,” said Paul.

It was a slow start however. The first week 11 people turned out to practice, by the second week they were already a man down with 10.

“In those first five or six years it was down to Stephen, he was great at getting things started,” said Ivor Thulborn who has been involved since the first rehearsal and is now chairman.

The group rehearses every Thursday evening at Howard Middle School and is now up to 90 members although at one time they had 106 on the books.

The appeal of the choir is quite clear.

“The choir is a brotherhood. It is a social scene, You come together and forget everything that is going on around you good and bad, focus in the music and just sing,” said Bob Emery, another who has been with the choir since the first rehearsal.

“It is just incredibly relaxing,” said Brian.

Although most of the choir are retired, its youngstest chorister is Matthew Satchwell who is 27 while there oldest John Thomas is in his mid 80s.

“You don’t have to read music or have voice trials – the choir will take on anyone. People realise if they can’t sing and leave,” said Ivor.

The group often goes to a pub after rehearsals and it was while in the Woolpack at Fornham St Martin, that they were filmed singing by an American TV crew as part of its coverage for this year’s Olympics.

They have toured several European countries and recently performed in front of the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.

And they admit that the emotion does get to them.

“I can remember singing for at St Mary’s in Bury for an RAF Honington service. I found it quite remarkable. They had lost five men. Suddenly you felt their volunerability. We sang Raise Me Up and you could feel it as you looked out and saw them all reacting to it. That was a very moving experience,” said Brian.

Bob meanwhile said his highlight was singing the Lithuanian National Anthem.

“Under Russian rule singing had been quite a revoluntionary activity so when we sang, there were tears pouring down the faces of the Lithunian people. That was quite something,” he said.

Another concert saw them as the only English choir performing amongst an all male voice choir of 5,000 to 300,000 people at a festival in Estonia – topped off on the second day when they were part of a 29,000 strong male voice choir.

“I don’t think we ever knew what the words meant. You just write down your version of how to say them and sing along,” said Paul.

The choir will be celebrating its 25th anniversary with a series of concerts.

First there is a silver jubilee dinner on January 5 at the West Wing, Ickworth House. It is open to all inparticular past members.

Contact Richard Everett on 01284 787751 or email semvcgane@hotmail.com for tickets.

They will also be performing with guest Laura Wright at the mayor’s charity concert at The Apex in Bury on June 22.

 

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