A direct result of the workshop initiative was the forming, in 1977, of the Hadley Court Singers; in time, the group expanded to the size of a chamber choir and attracted an appreciative following. In 1990, the choir won the Scottish part of the BBC Choir of the Year competition. An invitation to perform in Stuttgart resulted in a return invasion of 80 Germans to Haddington the following year! The Garleton Singers was another thriving choir that began in 1970 as an evening class in Longniddry Primary School. Their conductor until 1994 was the distinguished musician and pianist, Catherine Welsh. This choir gave many concerts in the Brunton Hall in Musselburgh. Catherine Welsh, with her music contacts, was able to attract many well-known soloists to sing with them. The Stenton Singers, more recently started in 1987 by Lynda Jeffrey, combined with the previous choirs mentioned above to give a rousing millennium concert in the Brunton Hall, performing Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and a work by Kenneth Johnston, Song for St. Cecilia, previously commissioned by the Hadley Court Singers.
By the end of the period, the Dunbar and District Choral Society, by far the longest surviving of East Lothian choirs, had a membership of 60. Their conductor for 32 years, until 1988, was George Robertson, organist at St Mary’s Parish Church, Haddington. In the fifties they struggled with membership and financial difficulties but thereafter flourished and gave many notable concerts. In 1969 they performed before the Queen Mother and in 1999 they celebrated their Golden Jubilee, commissioning an anthem by the composer, James Letham.
While still on the subject of choirs, and going back to an earlier period in our review, a very gifted choral trainer, Morton Robertson, started the Musselburgh Junior Singers in 1948. These children, all from Musselburgh primary schools, sang so beautifully that they were in demand to give concerts all over Scotland. In 1951, having won the Scottish section of the Festival of Britain Choral Competition, the choir travelled to London for the final and came second in the British Isles. They also went at least five times to the Eisteddfodd in Wales, won there on one occasion, and only once came back without some award.
Space does not permit the mention of all the excellent adult and junior church choirs round the county. But one children’s choir should be noted. Isobel Stretton, who conducted for some years the Longniddry Junior Singers, began the St Mary’s Choristers in 1995, adding another dimension to the worship in the Parish Church in Haddington. They sang in St Mary’s on the first Sunday in every month and on other special occasions. The choir gave recitals in aid of charities and was sometimes joined by parents and friends to perform music for mixed voices.
Children were not forgotten in Musselburgh. The Congregational Church had a Junior Choir for many years, which gave concerts for charity and a concert in the Brunton Hall once a year. St Ninian’s Junior Concert Party, started in 1959, had a membership of 40 children, aged eight to 16; they performed a pantomime every year and sang carols at Christmas in some of the villages.
This fertile ground in Musselburgh was not missed by Heather Antonelli who, in 1992, formed Musical Youth. They presented a show once a year and gave concerts at other times. So many children wanted to join that they had to hold auditions. In 1994, by popular demand, Encore was added, to accommodate parents and adult friends of the children who also wanted to play a part.
The popularity of the Broadway musical brought to stage and screen in Britain inspired several active societies in East Lothian. The Haddington Amateur Operatic Society (1947-1970) won popular acclaim in this genre. They were followed in 1956 by the equally popular North Berwick & District Amateur Operatic Society, latterly renamed, perhaps more aptly, the East Lothian Musical Society. Musselburgh Amateur Musical Association performed a light opera or a musical every year from its inception in 1950. Their performance of The Gypsy Baron in 1971 was the first production to be seen at the newly opened Brunton Theatre. The latter became an immensely useful venue for aspiring musical amateurs as well as those of the profession. In 1985 the Dunbar Lyric Group, with similar intentions, was set up but lack of audience support caused them to adapt, and they gave two performances of a pantomime instead every year. Latterly, North Berwick had a Youth Music Theatre associated with the After School Club at the High School. A performance at the Edinburgh Fringe resulted in a visit from London of the BBC children’s television Newsround programme, to film a rehearsal in North Berwick.
In 1996, Sanna McIndoe formed East Lothian Concert Opera, giving audiences in the county the chance to hear classical and romantic operatic arias and choruses. Many of the solo parts were taken by chorus members, and professional artistes from further afield were often introduced. The concerts were held in the Town House, Haddington.
Haddington Music Club
The Town House was the usual venue for Haddington Music Club, an ideal and elegant setting for the six professional chamber concerts the Club promoted each year. Arranged from October to March, they complemented the summer season of the Lamp of Lothian. Their aim was to support Scottish professional musicians as well as those from south of the border and indeed much further afield. Founded in 1986, the Club had a considerable following. For the millennium the Club commissioned two works from contemporary composers. The first was composed by Kenneth Johnston, a member of the Music Staff at Knox Academy, and was performed by the Edinburgh String Quartet with four additional student musicians from the school. The second, a sonata for viola and piano, is to be performed early in the new millennium and is by the well-known composer, Sally Beamish.