Haslingfield Choir was founded by Margaret Houghton in 1971. Margaret, who was born in southeast London, had studied piano and viola at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
She and her husband Paul, who sings tenor in the choir, married in 1960. In 1969 they moved to Haslingfield, a village about 4 miles from Cambridge. According to Elma Forbes, one of the founder members of the choir, it was started after a “pie and peas” supper with a group of about twenty interested singers from the village, later augmented by singers from beyond the village. The inaugural concert of the Haslingfield Choir and Orchestra - a performance of Acis and Galatea by Handel, took place on February 1st, 1971, and was swiftly followed by Handel's most celebrated oratorio, The Messiah, in December of the same year.
This was to be the pattern for the next 40 years – two concerts a year, one at Christmas and another in the spring, with all but three conducted by Margaret. In 2010 she was awarded an MBE in the birthday honours list in 2010, for services to choral music in Cambridge, although by then she was too ill with the cancer that was to cause her death, to collect the honour herself. The choir has remained roughly the same in size over the forty one years of its life (around forty-five to fifty members) though sadly, with all too few tenors and basses, as is so common among community choirs.
The choir's repertoire is something of which it can be justly proud. Handel's Messiah is obviously one work which is loved by choirs and audiences alike and has been performed six times in Haslingfield, but there have also been performances of nine other oratorios by Handel as well as his opera Acis and Galatea and all four of his Coronation anthems. Margaret was a great lover of Haydn and his great work The Creation and several Haydn masses were firm favourites. Bach is well represented in the repertoire by several cantatas and the Christmas Oratorio. Mozart's Requiem has been performed three time as have three of his masses. Later works include Fauré's and Brahms' Requiems, which have both been performed three times. As well as this core repertoire of choral music, Margaret was prepared to explore less well known works by composers such as Carrissimi, Honneger, Charpentier, Reinberger, Hummel and Michael Haydn.
Through contacts at various Cambridge colleges, notably King's, St John's, Trinity, and Clare among others, Margaret was able to tempt excellent Choral Scholars to sing as soloists at Haslingfield concerts. A number of them later made names for themselves in the wider musical world, such as David Wilson-Johnson (1973), Charles Daniels (1981), Jeremy Hugh Williams (I990), Jonathan Peter Kenny(1993), Lawrence Zazzo (1994) (a now celebrated American counter-tenor who spent a year singing in the choir at King's College), Angharad Gruffyd Jones (1997), Clare Wilkinson, (1998), Andrew Kennedy (1998), Ed Lyon (1998), Elin Manahan Thomas (2000) (who sang at the wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle) and Allan Clayton (2003) (who has since played many leading tenor roles at Glyndebourne, Aldeburgh and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden).
Haslingfield orchestra was, and still is, drawn from a pool of Cambridge musicians, many of them instrumental teachers from in and around Cambridge.
In 1982 Chris Jones, who until then had accompanied the choir at rehearsals, moved to the ranks of the altos to sing. We were very fortunate when Maurice Hodges, an extremely talented Cambridge pianist, took over her role as accompanist at rehearsals, a role he still plays today. He regularly plays bassoon in the orchestra and has also performed in a solo piano role in various concerts, notably in Beethoven's Choral Fantasy in what was to be Margaret's final concert in December 2009 before her death in June 2010.
In October of that year the choir gave a memorial concert for her, conducted by Martin Ennis, Director of Music at Girton College, who had played harpsichord in some of the choir's earliest concerts. After Margaret's death we were fortunate when Professor Bob Reeve, who had recently retired from the staff at Anglia Ruskin University, offered to run the Choir until a long term replacement for Margaret could be found. In December 2010, he directed a programme of carols and readings for Advent, and in March the following spring a “Community partnership project” - “In Honour of Mr. Purcell”- which involved the Choir and Orchestra, children from Haslingfield School, singers from Anglia Ruskin University and dancers from the Sylvia Armit School of Dance.
In December 2011 we gave our first concert under the direction of Graham Walker. Graham had been a Chorister and Choral scholar at St. John's College in Cambridge, and after gaining a first class degree in mathematics, had studied cello at The Royal Academy of Music. He returned to Cambridge and his old college, St. John's, where he started a mixed voice choir which complements the famous chapel choir. Graham's first concert with Haslingfield choir, in December consisted of two works by Handel, and Schutz's Christmas Story. The choir enjoyed five years under his expert leadership (apart from a brief period when Martin Ennis kindly stepped into the breach again to cover for Graham and directed a programme of music by Beethoven, Mozart and Berlioz). Highlights with Graham were Duruflé's Requiem, Menotti's Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, Mozart's Great Mass in C Minor and his final concert, a performance of Bach's St John Passion, on March 25th 2017. We continued to be joined by some wonderful soloists, many of whom have gone on to further success, such as Sam Oladeinde (currently starring in the West End musical “Hamilton”) and Milly Forrest (critically acclaimed for standing in for professional soprano at the Wigmore Hall whilst working as an usher!).
After Graham’s departure, due to his many other musical commitments, the choir committee settled down to the task of finding and appointing a new musical director. There was a pleasing number of people interested in the post and after meeting four of them, we were delighted to invite Paul Jackson to take over the running of the choir. Paul is a conductor, pianist and musicologist. He is Director of Music and Performance at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, where he directs the Anglia University Orchestra and Chorus, the contemporary music group Anglia Sinfonia, and Anglia Opera. He has frequently worked with Maurice Hodges at Anglia. He also has the advantage of living in Haslingfield. His first concert, in December 2017, was an exciting performance of Britten's St Nicolas, preceded by Vivaldi's Gloria. At Easter the choir presented a performance of Rossini's delightful Petite Messe Solenelle for choir, with Rossini's unique accompaniment of two pianos and harmonium.
An advantage of Paul's connection with Anglia Ruskin is that he is able to draw on the resources of Anglia students to augment the Haslingfield Choir numbers when necessary, and to give them experience of working in the community.
The choir has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1971, but it is also in many aspects remarkably unchanged. It continues to enjoy a reputation for its welcoming attitude to new members and its enjoyment of what it does, as well as its pride in consistently good performances. Musically, the combination of Paul and Maurice means that it is in very good hands. It is now well placed to reach out to new members and audiences as it approaches its fiftieth birthday.
"I enjoy the company of other people at rehearsals, the skill and friendliness of our conductor Paul and accompanist Maurice, and the opportunity to sing such a wide range of musical works and to present the finished product to an enthusiastic audience."