A Brief overview of the Choirs History

SOCS has a long history going back to 1944.

75 years of SOCS - A Short History of Sittingbourne Orpheus Choral Society


In 1944, when this choir was formed, our country was still at war. It says a lot for the optimism and spirit of music-loving people in Sittingbourne, that at a time of destruction, rationing, uncertainty

and deprivation, making music was considered to be more important than blackouts, air-raids and bombs, a triumph of hope and determination over adversity and hardship. On December 5th 1944, 70 people enrolled; the membership fee was five shillings per annum.

The First Concert

After many difficulties, such as finding a rehearsal venue that could be hired after blackout, large enough to accommodate the choir and had a working piano (one instrument “gave out” during a practice!), rehearsals began for the first concert. It was performed in Borden School Hall on May 2nd1945. The main work was “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast” by S. Coleridge Taylor. 362 tickets were sold, 104 at 3/6 and 258 at 2/-. The concert was deemed a success and made a financial profit of about £6.


Frederick Tollhurst, the first conductor, finally resigned through ill-health after 18 years. In 1964, Edwin Sloan led the choir for 20 years. From January 1985, Ray Jones was Music Director, during which time membership increased, reaching 130 when he finally retired in December 2005. Michael Downes conducted for two years, and then Andrew Lowen was appointed, taking the choir on a new journey for 10 years until the present conductor, George Salmon, became Music Director in January 2018.


For most of its 75 years, SOCS has been very fortunate in having three excellent long-standing accompanists: Connie Spice, Philippa Gilham and currently Michael Burleigh. In July 1980, young Michael was offered the post at an honorarium of £15 a term. In 2020, he will have completed 40 years of loyal service of the highest standard to the choir.


The choir has always performed at least three main concerts a year, Winter, Spring and Summer, occasionally during the Autumn. This has led to a vast range of varying styles of music, classical and modern. Serious great works such as Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” or Brahms’ Requiem, have been sung in the same year as light opera, folk songs, a huge range of Christmas music and works by modern composers such as John Rutter, Bob Chilcott, Karl Jenkins and the Beatles! Choir members have been challenged to sing in several different languages, including French, German, Latin, Russian and Spanish.


Many of SOCS concerts require soloists, and as well as local talent the choir has had many excellent singers, some of whom were famous, or later in their careers achieved international standard. In 1953, Coronation year, the renowned Isobel Bailie sang the soprano solo in “Elijah”. In 1968, a young baritone called Thomas Allen performed in “The New-born King”. In 1986, 24 year-old Gerald Finlay, studying music in London, sang the baritone part in Haydn’s “Creation” in the choirs’ first performance in Swallows Leisure Centre. He is now a world-famous leading opera singer, performing at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and all over the world.

SOCS members enjoy rehearsals and performances and are determined that the Society should continue to flourish. The first A.G.M. in September 1945 closed with these words from the Chairman: “May I close with an appeal to everyone to carry on with the good work! War- horrible though it was- broke down many barriers. Do not build them up again! Music and Friendship go hand in hand.”

Here’s to the next 75 years of SOCS!

Helen Osborne – Choir Member