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Risca Male Choir – ‘The First Forty Years’

By February 27, 2013Latest News

On Monday December 3rd a book launch took place at Risca “Top” Club, the place where Risca Male Choir started in 1970. The book is about the first forty years of the choir, an important document that would be of great interest to all connected with the choir.

The event was attended by special guests, choristers and accompanists past and present as well as the relatives of those who had made a great contribution to the life of the choir and who are no longer with us. Many of those people received complimentary copies of the book in recognition of the part played in the development of the choir.

The following is part of a speech made on that evening by Martin Hodson, the Music Director of the choir since 1979, and the author and compiler of the book.

Winston Churchill said “Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it’s a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public”.

Well I can tell you that the monster has been killed and we are about to fling him out to the public.

Deciding to write a book about the history of a choir that was only 40 years old might seem to be a bit of a pointless, if not boring to read, task. It’s a bit like when you hear of a biography being written about someone who has won fame in their 20s: surely they haven’t lived long enough or achieved enough to make for a really worthwhile read.

In the case of RMC, I must say that it has been a most worthwhile task, which I promise will make a most interesting read. The choir has achieved an astounding amount in its life so far, where 40 years is quite a short time in a male choir world where many are celebrating as much as 100 years of existence.

The book was to have been produced to coincide with the actual 40th anniversary of the choir in 2010, and indeed attempts were made at that time to achieve this ambition. The initial idea was to have a small committee to work on the text. The historian, Arnold Toynbee said “I don’t believe a committee can write a book. It can govern a country (and a choir maybe), but I don’t believe it can write a book”. And so it was, and the book was on hold. Time went by and little seemed to be happening, the 40th anniversary year came and went, and although it was well celebrated with great events, the book was on the back burner.

Eventually, in September last year I became involved and would now act as the compiler and author. It might have seemed obvious that I should be the one to take on the task: after all, I’d been with the choir for 31 of its 40 years, had conducted pretty much every concert, had overseen every recording since 1979, had entered every competition since 1979, been on every concert tour, and had literally taught every note of music in that 31 years.

It was a task I wasn’t particularly looking forward to as I realised it was going to be a lot of hard work with many hours spent at the computer. At the start I was presented with an interesting introduction from Dr Graham Osborne setting Risca historically and geographically and with information about the forerunners of this present choir. I also had the work that the book committee had produced, and a list of engagement dates and anecdotal facts from the choir archivist Michael Bevan. As well as this I had my own scrapbooks of programmes, newspaper reviews and many other documents I had compiled since starting with the choir in 1979.

It was this initial phase of writing that took the longest time and presented the most frustrating work. Somehow I had to rewrite what was already there and reorganise the data provided. I needed a plan of action on how best to produce the book, how I could make it as interesting as it should be, given the incredible journey the choir had made in those 40 years.

I decided that I would look at each decade, highlighting important concerts and other events, relegating an engagement diary as an appendix to each section.

Once I’d sorted all this out, and had actually started on my own era from 1979 when I first became Music Director, things became a little easier.

The main points of interest I focussed on for each year included Annual Concerts, special theme concerts for which Risca is so well known, concert tours, TV appearances, competitions, recordings, and in particular, the extra special musical events in which the choir had been involved. These for me were the most remarkable things to write about and I hope you’ll find them of great interest. Let me remind you of some of them: the Cherubini Requiem, Beowulf and Grendel, Owain ab Urien, the recording of We’ll Keep a Welcome with Bryn Terfel, Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, Verdi’s Nabucco and Requiem, and Carbon 12 for WNO. Of these, I am particularly proud, and I hope that my sense of achievement and pride will come across to the reader.

I also wanted the book to have contributions from choristers, and so I approached some of them to write about things that sometimes had little or nothing to do with the musical life of the choir at all. And so we have information about the clock, the annual outing, choir headquarters, and the ladies’ section, and I’m most grateful to those who contributed articles and anecdotes. I hope you’ll find them informative, interesting and sometimes amusing! Alongside the text I’ve also included many photographs. Oh yes, we all looked different 20, 30 or 40 years ago!!

The book also contains information about past conductors, accompanists, guest accompanists and solo artists who have been associated with the choir. You’ll find that each decade was filled with wonderful events, and then, as I’ve already mentioned, at the end of each 10 year section you’ll find an impressive list of engagements undertaken: not the most interesting read perhaps, except for the choristers who were actually there. But it’s a pretty accurate list of activities from 1970 to 2010 and needed to be included.

At the very end of the book is an appendix containing lists of artists who took part in Annual Concerts, those who served as officers of the choir, those who acted as presidents, and also there’s a table naming every chorister who has ever sung with the choir since 1970, whether they served for just a few months or for the 40 years to 2010. I also think that if you joined the choir in 2011, you may well still find your name in that list.

The book has been a long time in the making, and now it’s here.

Martin Hodson

Copies of the book, priced at £7.95 plus £2.05 p&p, may be obtained by contacting and sending payment to Chris Davies at 28 The Nurseries, Langstone, Newport, Gwent NP18 2NT, together with their postal address. Please make cheques payable to ‘Risca Male Choir’.

Overseas customers should contact Chris at riscachoir@aol.com for appropriate costs at foreign currency rates.