The earliest date we have for a performance by a choral society in Dover is 11 March 1846, when the Dover Amateur Choral Society performed selections from Handel, Haydn and Mozart under the baton of Signor G. B. Piccaluga at Dover’s Apollonian Hall. According to that week’s Dover Telegraph the audience was “more than 376”.
There are also references from the 1880s to choral performances in Dover Town Hall by the Dover Harmonic Society accompanied by the orchestra of Dover Amateur Musical Society, often assisted by orchestral contingents from military bands stationed in the barracks of this garrison town.
The first choir to achieve continuing success was formed after a public meeting in 1892, held to discuss a proposal to “organise a New Society for the practice and performance of High-Class Choral Music.” Within 11 weeks Dover Choral Union, conducted by H.J. Taylor, had performed its first concert, featuring Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer and other works.
H.J. Taylor, who was also borough organist, continued as the choir’s mainspring for some 30 years. His memorial concert in 1936 featured many of his own works, including the Dover Triumph Song (All Hail to Thee, Dauntless Dover!), originally composed for the 1908 Pageant, and now sung every summer at the Dover Festival Prom Concert.
During the Second World War, Dover Choral Union ceased functioning and re-emerged in 1947 as Dover Choral Society. By 1950, its financial and musical policies had become dependent on the borough entertainments committee.
Society members, under their new conductor, Wilfrid Holland, formerly head of music at Dover College, decided to follow an independent financial path based on self-financing and sponsorship. Wilfrid left in 1960 to pursue a long and successful career in Australia, where he died recently.
Over the next 50 or so years, Dover Choral Society enjoyed just six conductors and musical directors: Ross Andersen (1960-1968); Geoffrey Beadle (1968-1988); Michael Foad (1988-2005), Michael Lewis (2005-2012), Stephen Yarrow (2012-2019) and Dr. Jon Williams, our current musical director.
This loyalty and longevity of the society’s musical directors extends to its members. One alto celebrated her 116th performance, having joined in 1952, while a legendary bass was still singing with us at the age of 92. It is not unusual to measure length of membership in decades rather than years. Dover Choral Society does, however, also have younger singers, and new members are always welcome. For membership details see the Contact Us page.