Our local choir has become a local institution yet many who live here really don’t know much about it. Their Musical Director Sue Heath-Downey gave me an hour and a half of her time to find out all about the choir’s development and how they make music for everyone.

So how did the choir get started?

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Well it really started from running! In 1997, having lived here some years, I was finding my feet again in the area and decided to join a running group with Ian Owers the then Director of Time and Talents. He was a keen runner and together we ran two marathons for the centre. As I’m passionate about my music, I suggested one day that I might start up a choir at Time and Talents and with Ian’s enthusiastic participation, we got it off the ground in November 1998. I trained at the Royal Academy of Music and had learnt to conduct as part of my courses but had to apply that anew to this new group.

What do you all sing then?

Since then, we’ve sung all sorts of music from jazz, show songs and carols to full scale classical choral works. We welcome anyone who can sing in tune, attend the sessions and enjoys singing! You don’t even need to read music! And we don’t hold auditions. You can just turn up at the next rehearsal and join in for the next performance. We are a really mixed bunch so everyone helps each other, the experienced ones helping those with less experience and so forth. It’s all quite friendly and supportive.

We’ve also done gigs at loads of different places. Most recently we helped unveil the Salter Statues by singing open air at the ceremony. We held a ‘turn-up-and-sing’ event performing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat last year. We sang at the Scandinavian Christmas Market in Albion Street where we were joined by that fine tenor Simon Hughes MP. We’ve sung round the Norwegian Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square and featured on French TV as a result! We have sung in the Thames Tunnel Shaft at the Brunel Museum and in 2011 were invited to perform at the Udderbelly Festival at the Southbank Centre. The range of venues just shows the diversity of music and styles we enjoy!

So where do you rehearse?

BRCS Choir RehearsalEach week during term time we still rehearse 20:00-21:45 at Time and Talents in Rotherhithe. When we get close to a main performance we also sometimes rehearse on Thursday evenings. Our main concerts are mostly in either St Mary’s Rotherhithe or at St James’ Bermondsey where we have more space to add orchestral players. Both churches give us a magnificent setting and a warm welcome. Thanks to generous support from a local businessman Prem Goyal and other organisations, we can offer our concerts free so we are able to share our music making with everyone who wants to come along.

So Sue what else do you get up to?

RBCS Choir - Sue Heath-DowneyI’m a passionate performer and give regular recitals on the organ. I teach the organ to three students of Bacon’s College and I also conduct the Southwark Pensioners’ Choir each week. I really enjoy recitals but over the years I’ve done music journalism and stage management as well as now being the Director of Music at St Paul’s Deptford, a fine Baroque church with a great acoustic. You can find out more about my career here.

I’m immensely privileged to have a great bunch of people working with me in the Choir. When I had a serious illness and was out of action for over 18 months, the members stepped up and found a temporary Director managing to keep the concerts going even when I was in hospital. On one occasion, I was taken into hospital just before we performed Carmina Burana and the choir arranged for me to be brought from Guys Hospital to conduct seated on a stool and then be returned without the staff even knowing I’d been gone!

RBCS sings in Thames Tunnel Shaft - May 13If you are interested in joining the choir or would like to find out more, please email rbcs.choir@gmail.com or simply come along to a rehearsal and see what the Choral Society is like for yourself! They charge a seasonal subscription per term of £40.00 (£20.00 concessions) per member. Like the Choir on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

If you want to hear the Choir perform, their next concert is of Mendelssohn’s Elijah at 19:30 on 28 March at St James Bermondsey (details in poster above). The following concert will be a Jazz Mass with drums, bass and piano in July. More details on their website.

If you wish to contact Sue, contact her via litsa@breingan.co.uk or take a look at her profile at http://www.rbcs-choir.org.uk/sue-heath-downey