Eye Bach Choir early performanceEye Bach Choir celebrates its 50th anniversary season during 2023-24 with a special programme of concerts inspired by its early years performing in Eye, Suffolk.

At 42 Church Street, Eye, the home of our founders Ann and Merlin Channon, there is a notice that reads “It was in this music room that the Eye Bach Choir first met on 2nd of January 1974.” Eye Bach Choir started its fiftieth season with a concert at Eye Parish Church on Nov 11th that included a performance of the work rehearsed at that first meeting – the motet Jesu Priceless Treasure by J S Bach.

The season continues with a Concert of Festive Music on Dec 15th at Eye Town Hall and a performance of Haydn Nelson Mass on Mar 2nd at Eye Parish Church. There will be a closing season concert of what is sure to be a memorable performance of JS Bach Mass in B Minor on May 25th at Eye Parish Church. It will pay homage to the first performance the choir gave of this work at the church, exactly half a century earlier.

From its humble beginnings the choir quickly gained a reputation across Suffolk for its high quality performances. Its founders were both excellent musicians. Ann was a fine woodwind player, and Merlin played the trumpet to professional standard and was an accomplished conductor, having received lessons from none other than Sir Adrian Boult. Merlin was the driving force behind the establishment and musical development of the choir. Ann looked after the admin and played in our early orchestras.

Regular rehearsals soon began in Eye Primary School. It is inconceivable today, but in those days one of the members would pop round to Ginger’s house – Ginger being the school caretaker – and pick up the keys to the school, returning them to him at the end of the evening. The subscription was 50p a rehearsal to be left in a wooden bowl provided by Ann. 

Eye church is amongst the finest in Suffolk both architecturally and acoustically and it was the obvious venue in which to make music. In addition to holding conventional concerts there, we also performed the shorter Latin Mass settings of Haydn, Mozart and Schubert liturgically, and a pattern of performing three concerts a year became established. By 1978 the choir was able to give its first performance the St John Passion by J S Bach. The choir’s orchestral players comprised a combination of gifted local musicians and many experienced friends and acquaintances of it’s founders who came from all over the country. In those early days, for many members the thrill of performing with an orchestra was very exciting.

In 1994 Merlin handed over his conductor’s baton to the choir’s popular accompanist Margery Baker. Margery led the choir very successfully until 2006 when a critical decision about the future of the EBC was made. Until that point the choir had been run by the founder/conductor who decided the works to be learned and performed. There was a committee of willing helpers, none of whom were elected, but by the early 2000’s costs had risen substantially and the benefits of becoming a formally constituted charity were impossible to ignore. To be able to secure Gift Aid from the Inland Revenue alone was worth hundreds of pounds a year. Another factor was that Merlin and Ann were very keen for the EBC to have a future without them. Accordingly, a formal meeting of all members decided to establish the EBC as a charity, and a constitution was prepared and accepted by members.

Thus, in January 2007 EBC’s founders’ hopes were realised and Leslie Olive was appointed as its first Musical Director and Conductor and decisions about how the choir is run and managed became the responsibility of elected officers and a committee. Since then the EBC has continued to thrive and, thanks to Leslie, the quality of performance the EBC is now far superior to that of its earlier years. It is no longer a matter of simply learning notes but concentrating on the sound of vowels: placing consonants; and phrasing and blending. These are all features of member’s singing which Leslie has improved immeasurably. Leslie’s connections in the musical world have also brought opportunities. Collaboration with his ‘other’ choir has meant EBC has been able to study and perform more substantial works such as the Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony, planned to be performed in Prague in 2020, but sadly had to be cancelled because of Covid. However the choir were able to perform it in Bury St Edmunds cathedral and at Dorking in Surrey with Leslie’s orchestra, the Suffolk Philharmonic, two years later.

Perhaps the most telling characteristic of a successful choir is the level of friendship and camaraderie that it engenders. Many members have been good friends for over thirty years – some even longer – and the sense of accomplishment after a successful concert really is thrilling. The choir’s future is bright. It is always open to new members but we face ever increasing costs. The costs of staging a concert can run to many thousands – a good orchestra and soloists, music and venue hire etc. The days when we borrowed the school keys from Ginger are long gone! We are busy raising the funds to celebrate our fiftieth anniversary. Do come and enjoy the season with us.