Our Choir was founded on August 1st 1998 by James Rushman and myself Chris Allen. James was already the Organist and Choir Director at St James the Great Church in Littlehampton when I joined the Choir in the Easter of that year.
James and I decided that year to put on our first Concert with Maisie Morris, Lyn Rendle, Janet Martin, Dilys Fisher, Betty Rodgers from the Church Choir together with guest singers from the ‘Revusicals. It was our first ‘Last Night of the Prom’ Style Concert in the October where we were joined by the Hanover Band. This was followed by our first Winter Wonderland Christmas Concert in the Hall at St James, where Eva Costa first made her appearance as a guest soloist.
We hold the past very dear as we do all members of our Choir both past and present. We are today still using the printed Christmas song sheets which were typed out for us by Janet Martin who also printed our first tickets and programmes. These song sheets will get continual use as one of our many fond memories of Janet.
In 1999 we repeated the success of the previous year’s concerts by holding another Prom and Christmas Concert. We even took the Prom Concert with Orchestra on tour to Rose Green, Bognor Regis. The Prom Concert included many songs from the Musical’s. Joe Costa and I were the only men in the 18 strong Choir, having a great deal of fun performing songs from South Pacific and others with Sally Griffiths (now Redgrave) and members of Eva & Joe's other choir who joined us along with Pam, Marie Stoneham and Bridget Power.
In those two years we raised money for St James’ Church Sound System £1300, Choir Robes £1300 and a small donation towards the new Chapel. From these early beginnings all other types of Concerts and events followed. In October 2000 my mother died and money raised at her funeral at St James’ was used to open our first Choir bank account, which was then under the umbrella of the church PCC. We were able to buy new Hymn books for the Church. Also in that year I persuaded James to play in a 12 hour ‘Orgonathon’ for ‘Children In Need’. On the night of our Remembrance Concert, which started at 7.30pm, James continued to play all through the night until 7.30am and didn’t rest until he had played at the Sunday Morning Service. In that year we performed 5 major Concerts and Carols in Littlehampton town centre. So as you can see, nothing much has changed with our fund raising events. The only difference is that we now have over 75 regular members of the Choir. The main thing is that we enjoy it in the hope that others do too.
By 2002 we were performing in 19 Concerts at St James and in the town. At Christmas Eve that year we performed not only at the Norfolk Arms (as we had done in 2001) but we were invited to sing at Bailiffs Court to their Guests before dinner, dressed in Dickensian outfits. Quite a feat, singing at Bailiffs Court 7-8pm then up to Arundel for 9-10pm then back to sing for Midnight Mass at St James by 11pm. In that year, we had also taken part in the Littlehampton Bonfire Procession on an illuminated float with the theme of a Victorian Christmas Card (on a lorry under an octagonal Gazebo) Singing with the wind blowing a hooley at the end. Other floats followed in the Carnival and the Bonfire in which we have picked up many trophies. The Choir not only likes to sing but dress up in costumes as well!!
The Choir continued to grow and in the spring of 2004 we held our first AGM on 21st April. This was due to James leaving St James Church to take up a position at St Mary the Virgin Church in Felpham. We wanted to retain ‘James’ in the title of the Choir because of the connection with the Church at St James and we decided to add his middle name ‘Edwin’ to form ‘The Edwin James Festival Choir’ (not forgetting our fantastic Orchestra).
We also wrote our Mission Statement: ‘ The Choir's aim is to promote the Art Form 'Music is Life' involving local people in the Choir and Orchestra, bringing a wide range of Music to the Arun area by local people for local people' .
A committee was formed and David Barker, who was a member of St James’ Church, was our first Chairman. David and Susan Dyball were at that time our ‘Honorary Patrons’ and Doris Fitzgerald, one of our longest serving supporters became one of our earliest Patrons. (David Barker, David and Susan Dyball are currently Choir patrons). The Choir continues to be run in accordance with the terms of its Constitution by a committee, which are elected at each AGM. It consists of Honorary President, Chairperson, Vice Chairperson (optional), Treasurer, Secretary and seven other Committee members (six if a Vice Chairperson is appointed) which are instructed to meet at least twice a year, although in practice typically meet on five occasions,
We have had the fortune to have taken our Choir twice to Canada in 2007 and 2012, singing with the Addison Women’s Choir from Cambridge and also the Chantry Singers from Port Elgin. Trips to sing in France and Germany have also taken place as well as many towns and cities along the south coast.
The social side is also very important like it is to any family or group. We have many fun evenings and in 2009 we had our first long weekend away to Looe in Cornwall and sang at the Eden Project. Since then, the break away has become a regular feature as is our yearly participation in Quizmas run by B.E.A.D.Y.S in support of St Wilfrid’s Hospice.
Our thanks to everyone including our Patrons who have become part of our Choir over the years. Our Choir is a family of friends who love to come together to sing and that will never change, regardless of how large the Choir might become. James and I have a trunk load of memories and a life full of your love. Long may we sing and continue to keep the Fun in Fund Raising.