Brentwood's a tuneful town

PUBLISHED: 10:58 12 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:42 20 February 2013

Brentwood Cathederal

Brentwood Cathederal

Brentwood is alive with the sound of music, with a wonderful array of local ensembles for musicians of all ages. Nicky Adams finds out the scorePhotography by Nigel Baker

FROM tiny tots bowing their first jigs on the violin to seasoned singers belting out Bach, Brentwood is rich in musical talent.

There are certainly plenty of opportunities for the melodiously minded to get together and enjoy making sweet music, and this results in some superb concerts for the whole town to enjoy.

Budding musicians can find their feet with Brentwood's Orchestras for Young Musicians. 'Although our orchestras are made up of young people of varying ages and abilities, our common bond is our love of music and how much we enjoy playing together,' explains Ann Elderton, BOYM's director. 'We aim to enable each and every individual to realise their full potential, as musicians but also as members of society.'

BOYM began in 1990 and since then has grown to include no fewer than five ensembles for orchestral instrumentalists of school age, who perform regularly and to a very high standard at events in and around the town. One fan is the Mayor of Brentwood, Councillor Dudley Payne, who often requests one or more of the BOYM ensembles to provide the musical accompaniment at civic functions. 'We are extremely lucky to have such a dedicated organisation operating within our borough,' says Cllr Payne. 'Brentwood's Orchestras for Young Musicians provides excellent opportunities for local young people to engage with music.'

But news of BOYM's talents has spread beyond the boundaries of the borough of Brentwood. Ensembles have played at the Chelmsford, Leigh on Sea and Southend music festivals, at London's Liverpool Street Station and even at the Royal Albert Hall, all giving a wealth of performing experience to its young members.

It's easy to see how being a young musician with BOYM can launch a lifelong love of playing for pleasure, or even open the door to a career in music. As well as performance experience that is often hard to find, BOYM gives budding local musicians a golden opportunity to benefit from professional orchestral instruction from experienced conductors, such as The Phoenix Youth Orchestra's David McCallum. As a trumpeter with the BBC Concert Orchestra, he gives local musicians of secondary school age a valuable insight into not just the technicalities of playing with an orchestra, but also the skills needed to get along with fellow musicians. Regular rehearsals and workshops introduce the musicians to a wide variety of music, from well-known classical pieces to modern works.

But for musicians not old enough to join the PYO, BOYM also has training orchestras that give youngsters valuable experience. Phoenix Flames is an intermediate orchestra, open to string and woodwind players from Year 7 and is conducted by Liz Hosford, a professional double bass player and skilled pianist and flautist. For wind players aged between nine and 14, there is Phoenix Wind Band, conducted by local music teacher Pam Ambrose. Young string players are welcomed at Brentwood Junior String Orchestra, and under-11s are introduced to the joys of playing together in Beginner Strings. Meanwhile, flautists in full-time education of a Grade 3 standard and above make up Phoenix Flutes, conducted by Judith Underwood, chairman of the Phoenix Youth Orchestra and an experienced local teacher and flautist.

There are also plenty of chances for more mature musicians in Brentwood to contribute to the musical life of the town. The fabulous contemporary Catholic cathedral provides an awe-inspiring venue for a wide programme of musical performances, given by talented locals as well as professionals from further afield. The jewel in the cathedral's crown though is the Brentwood Cathedral Choir, which was founded in 1984 for boys only, but has since expanded to include adult singers, consisting of lay clerks, voluntary gentlemen and former choristers as well as the boy choristers, all of whom are drawn from the borough. A Soprano Consort is a new addition. The choir rehearses three-times-a-week and, as well as singing the major cathedral liturgies and the Sunday choral mass, it sings choral vespers on the third Sunday of each month. The choir has been recorded on many occasions for television and radio and has toured across Europe. Last May the Brentwood Cathedral Choir had the honour of singing in St Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Girls can sing at the cathedral too. The Girls' Choir was formed in 2007 and is made up of 30 girls, aged from eight to 16, all from local schools. Directed by Emma Gibbins, they rehearse weekly and sing the 9.30am and 11.30am masses on a Sunday.

Those who enjoy secular singing are drawn to Brentwood Choral Society, which was founded as 'the town's own choir' during World War II by Dr Edgar Brice, director of music at Brentwood School, in support of a Government initiative to encourage community activities to distract attention away from the hostilities. Now 65 years on, BCS is still going strong and its loyal and talented membership of 30 still meets at the school. Rehearsals are currently in full swing for a performance of Bach's St John Passion on March 21 at Brentwood Cathedral, followed by The Dream of Gerontius at the Essex Musical Association's final annual Festival in Thaxted on May 2 and evensong at Southwark Cathedral
later in the year.

But, apart from the major classical choral works, BCS has also provided singers for weddings and other social occasions. Performances are given in conjunction with Brentwood Cathedral Singers, a mixed-voice choir with a 40-strong membership, and the two choirs plan to merge soon.
'Our singers come from all walks of life and we find that we attract like-minded people who enjoy choral singing and the social activities that go with it,' says David Brice, son of Dr Edgar Brice and current chairman of BCS.

'After all, as our founder conductor would say, music is a hobby you enjoy for life.'


Brentwood Choral Society
Rehearsals are held at Brentwood School and new members are welcome. Call Robin Derbyshire on 01277 651689 for details or visit

Brentwood Cathedral Music
Call 01277 265288 or visit

Brentwood Orchestras for Young Musicians
BOYM aims to provide professional orchestral instruction and performing experience for young people who live in the Brentwood area. For more information visit


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