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Concert dates The Choir History Mozart Requiem Douglas Leadbitter Catherine Fish


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Stornoway Singers has been part of the musical life of the town for upwards of 30 years. Its origins go back to the early 1980s when a group of half a dozen enthusiastic choristers met in the flat of music teacher Douglas Leadbitter to sing madrigals, motets and anthems purely for their own pleasure.

However, word always gets around and soon there was a clamour for others to join and thus the first incarnation of the Singers was born as the Stornoway Chamber Choir with around a dozen singers. The repertoire remained the same core material and performances started to be given as items within larger concerts. Venues included St Peter's Church and the old Council Chambers in the Town Hall.

Again one thing led to another, more members came along and when numbers reached the upper 20s, the term “Chamber Choir” no longer seemed appropriate and the current name of Stornoway Singers was adopted.

Two performances from the early days remain in the memory, both in the ideal concert location of Lews Castle ballroom, a wonderful and majestic venue - let's hope that one day ballroom may be available again! The first performance included the Vaughan Williams Folk Song arrangements and Michael Tippett's Negro Spirituals from ‘A Child of Our Time’. The second was a performance of Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas. This set a trend which has continued - of tackling more ambitious works and of using the best of local talent to provide all the solo and orchestral parts: in Dido and Aeneas, soloists were Margaret Maclennan, Dr Phil Cooper, Janet and Bruce Burns, and the then schoolgirls Alyth McCormack, Eilidh Mackenzie and Carolyn Burns.


The Stornoway Singers have been extremely fortunate in the quality of their singers. Over the years, it has been able to draw on, not only the gifted amateur, but also several professionally trained singers, too many to name individually. However, at a time when we are remembering the work of the great German Baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, it is worth bringing to mind one stunning performance in particular. Alasdair Barr, who was music adviser for the Western Isles and a member of the Stornoway Singers, sang the baritone solos in the Fauré Requiem. All who were present will remember his glorious and moving performance of the ‘Libera Me’ - a performance which many considered could stand comparison with the finest. Alasdair was a wonderful musician and is much missed.

The repertoire of the choir has included some of the core choral repertoires including the Fauré, Mozart and Brahms Requiems and of course, Handel's Messiah. As with other choral groups, the Messiah has remained as one of the Stornoway Singers’ centres of activity. Its position in British choral music is unique, singers will come out of retirement for it and audiences will flock to hear it. The Stornoway Singers have performed individual movements of the Messiah for a number of years, and tackled Part I at a Christmas Concert in the Town Hall. In 1994 the Messiah was performed in full in St Columba's Church as part of their bi-centenary celebrations. On this occasion, soloists outwith the choir were invited to sing and Alyth McCormack brought a quartet of students from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music where she was a student. The work was recently performed again over two concerts at Christmas and Easter in the newly refurbished Martin’s Memorial Church

Regular features in the choir’s repertoire have included concerts at Morven in Barvas (annual summer charity concerts given in the house at Morven which comprised a mix of chamber and small choir items), and concerts at Rodel Church (not annual, but on regular occasional visits). The repertoire at Rodel has included motets and anthems, Bach’s Cantata ‘God's Time is Best’ and Vivaldi's ‘Gloria’.

At Christmas time every choir comes into its own. For several years the Stornoway Singers performed in a combined concert with the Stornoway Youth Band under the direction of Terri O' Shannon and with the Stornoway Young Musicians with director Liz Emerson. More recently the choir has given a Service of Nine Lessons and Carols annually in the Church of Our Holy Redeemer and once in St Peter’s Episcopalian Church, and for several years now the choir has been broadcast live by Tony Henk on Isles FM, the wonders of the internet allowing the choir to be heard not just by Islanders, but throughout the world.

Douglas Leadbitter