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Rosenethe Singers: over 50 years of making music


In 1964, the Scottish Amateur Music Association (SAMA) held its Annual Conference in Dunblane Hydro.  Arthur Oldham, the creator of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus and the then Director of Music at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Edinburgh, approached George McVicar, the Secretary of SAMA, and requested that he form a small choir and teach them the notes of a programme of part songs.  It was Arthur's intention to use this group of singers to instruct budding conductors in the techniques of choral conducting.  George, who was Music Adviser in Stirling County, formed this group of approximately 14 singers from music staff and pupils from local schools.

After the weekend conference, which had been a great success, Arthur Oldham suggested that the choir remain as a chamber choir.  He was so impressed with the quality of the singers that he offered them places in the newly formed Edinburgh Festival Chorus without audition! George arranged a rehearsal venue and the choir was duly formed.  

At this point, the choir had no formal name and discussions were held as to what might be suitable.  There was already a Stirling & District Chorus, so a similar name was not really practical.  George Farmer suggested the name ‘Rosneath’, at the time one of the sports houses at St Modan’s High School.  Following discussion with the choir, the name ‘Rosenethe Singers’ was adopted as ‘a nice sounding name’.   The spelling was modified to differentiate from the place Rosneath in Argyll.

The choir remained a chamber choir with a repertoire of part songs and motets accompanied by piano.  The choir performed in local venues and, such was their reputation, the BBC invited them to make a recording in Glasgow for broadcast. 

In the late 1960s, the Rosenethe Orchestra was formed, again from local music staff and pupils, to perform orchestral items as well as accompanying the choir in performances.  The combined choir and orchestra became known as the Rosenethe Ensemble.  The choir continued to flourish and expand slightly in numbers.  By the early 1970s, membership was by invitation and the choir was no longer formed solely from council staff or pupils.  There was no subscription and no committee; George decided on suitable repertoire for a chamber choir and orchestra and where public performances would take place.  Recitals were given mostly by invitation from churches, music clubs and other groups in Central Scotland, but on occasion other venues such as the MacRobert, at Stirling University, and the Albert Hall were used.

One particularly memorable concert took place in the Museum Hall in Bridge of Allan.  The choir gave the first performance of a beautiful setting of well-known Tennyson poems by W.W. Kitchen, at that time music critic of the Stirling Observer.  This work had been composed decades before, but never performed.  It was a most moving occasion.

Following his retiral from the Council in 1979, George McVicar became involved with Trinity College, London, and worked as a musical examiner.  This work necessitated him travelling a lot.  In consequence, there was some discussion as to the future of the Ensemble.  An inaugural meeting, attended by George as an observer, was held in Bridge of Allan from which a plan emerged to form a Committee, draft a Constitution and begin planning for the future.

At this time, former choir members George Stewart and George Farmer shared the conducting responsibilities until a new conductor, George Wilson, was appointed.  Initially the repertoire and pattern of concerts continued as before.  In time, the choir grew and undertook performances of larger-scale works such as J.S.Bach’s St John Passion with professional soloists.  This increasingly led to the use of a professional orchestra, and ultimately the Rosenethe Orchestra ceased to exist.  The choir developed a loyal and enthusiastic audience, many of whom have been supporters for many years and remain supporters to this day.

In 1994, Matthew Beetschen succeeded George Wilson as conductor and continued the development of the Rosenethe Singers.  Notable highlights in recent years include a performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem in Dunblane Cathedral with choir members from Berlin, and Sergei Rachmaninov’s Vespers.  The latter provided a timely reminder of the choir’s early repertoire of challenging music suitable for a chamber choir. 

Most recently, in March 2017, the Rosenethe Singers gave a very successful performance of J.S. Bach's St. John Passion under the baton of its new Musical Director, Kevin Duggan, at his inaugural concert.

One founder member says, ‘As a very young member of the choir I was privy to a wonderful training in choral singing.  George demanded high standards of everyone and consequently good habits for choral singing were embedded at an early age as well as becoming familiar with a vast choral repertoire.  We had fun in among all the hard work and not surprisingly received many a ticking off for giggling!  Friendships were formed and have lasted through the last 50 years and we still make beautiful music!’

Thanks to Pat Middleton, Bill Anderson and George Farmer for details of the early years of the choir.