Our Story So Far...
Penrith Singers was founded in 1979 by music teacher and advisor, David Wells, when he was choirmaster of St Andrew’s Church in Penrith. The Singers’ first performance – Monteverdi’s Beatus Vir and a Handel anthem – took place in the church after Sunday evening service and a (very) modest subscription of £1 was set for the 27 members.
David led the choir until 1984, when he left Cumbria and Colin Marston became musical director. Colin was Head of Music at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Penrith for 17 years and the organist at St Andrew’s Church – a role he continues to hold today. He expanded and developed the choir and its repertoire and ensured its reputation attracted loyal audiences and high-quality soloists, accompanists and orchestral players.
By 1987, membership of Penrith Singers had grown to 45 – a large enough force to sing Bach’s challenging St Matthew Passion for the first time. A bursary programme for young singers, now the ‘Paul Jenkins Bursary’, was launched in 1994 with recipients encouraged to showcase their talents as soloists.
In 2000, Penrith Singers celebrated its 21st anniversary and the turn of the millennium with a triumphant performance of Elgar’s masterpiece, The Dream of Gerontius, involving 80-plus Singers, a large orchestra and soloists headed by Jeffrey Lawton as Gerontius.
Later that year, Penrith Singers performed in the Eden Millennium Concert at Brougham and were back at Brougham in 2003 for a BBC ‘Songs of Praise’ from St Wilfrid Chapel. The many other high points of Colin’s remarkable 31-year tenure included the choir’s Silver Jubilee Concert in summer 2004 and its 2013 performance of Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle with soloists including Cumbrian soprano Rachel Little and accompaniment by David Jones (piano) and Ian Hare (harmonium).
Colin handed over the musical director’s baton in 2015 to Edward Taylor, Assistant Organist and Youth Choir Director at Carlisle Cathedral, with Heather Tomlinson continuing in her role as deputy musical director. Under Edward’s dynamic leadership, the choir has embraced exciting – and sometimes challenging – programming such as the French Connection Concert in 2016, at which composer David Briggs was present to hear his Messe pour Notre-Dame.
Penrith Singers performed Bach’s St John Passion in 2017, with tenor Stephen Anthony Brown as the Evangelist – a role he had sung with the choir in 2004 – and in November 2018, the choir presented an ambitious and moving concert, Spirit of the Nation, to mark the centenary of the end of World War One.
Penrith Singers draws members from a wide radius and is proud to be at the heart of the community. As well as staging two major concerts each year in St Andrew’s Church, the choir has performed in many other churches to support their hosts’ fundraising, hosted ‘Come and Sing’ events, sung carols in the town and taken part in the carol service at St Andrew’s. It ran its first fundraising singing walk in 2018 in Martindale and another in the Lowther Castle area in 2019, proceeds of which were donated towards local charities.
The choir celebrated its 40th anniversary with a special concert in May 2019, featuring favourite anthems, choruses and songs spanning five centuries, in five languages and with five conductors: Edward Taylor, David Wells, Colin Marston, Heather Tomlinson and Jonathan Millican. Here’s to the next 40+ years of Penrith Singers!