A brief history
Stondon Massey is a small scattered Essex village found between Ongar and Brentwood, the nearest larger villages being Blackmore and Doddinghurst. Its place in musical history is assured, for William Byrd, 'Father of English Music', had a house in Stondon for his last thirty years, and may even be buried in the churchyard of the tiny Church ...
In 1968, the Rev. Percy Pearse, Rector of Doddinghurst, asked Frank Webb if he could arrange some music for a concert. Frank, a Registrar by profession and also a knowledgeable early music enthusiast, formed a group of seven local singers to perform some music by William Byrd and Palestrina in the church at Stondon Massey. The date of 4th July, an anniversary of Byrd's death in 1623, was a happy choice for the concert, which was surprisingly well received and encouraged Frank to prepare a Christmas concert (Mouton, Bouzignac, Charpentier, Arcadelt, Sweelinck) with his as yet un-named group. For the next concert in April 1969 we had a name - The Stondon Singers - and the fourth of July marked the second of what has become a tradition of Byrd memorial concerts at Stondon Massey. Greatly daring, the Christmas concert of 1970 included some modern music - a Brahms motet! And by the following year we were well enough established to survive Frank's retirement and continue under new leadership.
A highlight of the 1979 season was an invitation to spend a weekend at the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies in Snape and the invitation was repeated the following year. By then choir membership had grown to 22, continuing since at about two dozen.
Successes in competitive music festivals in Southend, Stratford and Leytonstone helped to put the Singers' name on a wider map. It was around this time that we acquired our reputation as 'probably the best small singing group in Brentwood'.
Despite missing a couple of chances to sing abroad, we have travelled pretty widely within the UK. There was a memorable weekend of services in Ely, another weekend in Stamford, Lincs., and we have sung in Brentwood and Chelmsford Cathedrals, Norwich, St. Albans, Waltham Abbey, Chichester, Southwark and St.Paul's. Our most recent excursions have been to Ipswich and the Belchamps, a group of villages on the Essex-Suffolk border, where we sang in two small but charming churches to alertly enthusiastic congregations/audiences.
We have been fortunate with our conductors. Our third was Bruce Pennick, a well-known and trusted figure in local musical circles, who later became our President. Others who stayed with us for several years include Alan Gardner (1980-85), Raymond Johnson (1986-90), Simon Berridge (1992-96) and Justin Doyle who joined us initially for two years, returning in 2001 for a further six years. Justin and our previous conductor Christopher Tinker know each other well, which provided a pleasant sense of continuity. Our current conductor is Hilary Punnett.
While our musical heartland continues to be around the sixteenth century, we have moved forward in many directions, even to the point of attempting a commissioned work hot from the press, so to speak!
Major works performed include Bach's St. John Passion, Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers, Tallis’ Spem in Alium, Carissimi's Jonah and Fauré's Requiem. Mostly we sing unaccompanied, although we (and our audience) greatly enjoy occasional instrumental accompaniment, finances permitting!