Our choir has come a long way since its founding in 1999. Read more about the story of the early years below, with links to some early pictures and videos on our Youtube channel...
Manchester Community Choir has been active for well over 20 years now. The earlier ideas for forming a community choir for Manchester arose from a singing class sponsored by the Workers Educational Association (WEA) in the late 1990s. and held at the Greenhays Adult Education centre in Rusholme. Sessions were held on Monday and Tuesday nights, and Faith Watson was the course leader.
These groups were about meeting to sing together – like MCC there were no auditions and no need to read music but unlike MCC there wasn’t even an audience! Just singing for the pleasure of it, with no performance singing in public
At some point some members of the group wanted a chance to perform in public for an audience. We have a copy of a letter circulated by Nicky Durs, Fliss Anderson, Hilary Friend, Sue Pollitt and Ian Hague, inviting all members to an informal planning session, to be held at 8.00pm during the tea break at a Monday night sessions in Greenhays on Monday 28th September 1998. It suggested that a new group would be formed for people who wanted a ’performance’ choir and the group would meet to rehearse once a month, and aim for about 4 performances a year. The annual subscription would be £20 (or £10 unwaged) – those were the days!
Here is the first announcement of the proposed community choir!
The idea for the new group clearly met with success because on 5th November 1998 a letter was sent off to The Coop Bank, signed by Hilary Friend, the newly elected treasurer with a cheque for £50 to open the new group’s bank account. 23 years later we still bank with the Coop, but very few cheques are seen now!
So by the end of 1998 the choir officially existed - with a Treasurer and a bank account! And so in 1999 rehearsals began at the Union Chapel in Fallowfield (our home for the next 15 years) with Faith Watson and Jules Gibb in joint leadership roles.
And only a year later the choir was sufficiently well-established to host year 2000 National Street Music Festival (as it was then known) with the slogan Joined Up Singing (Changes Lives!).
The picture above is the flyer announcing Manchester's first ever festival and here is a recording of the mass sing at St Anne's Square, Manchester performing Joined Up Singing on 15th July 2000. The Manchester Evening News came along to report on the activities - this cutting shows Faith Watson conductng the MCC busking session in St Anne's Square:
Things moved very rapidly for the new choir – In the autumn of 2001 our first newsletter was sent out to members (photocopied, enveloped and posted of course) and early in 2002 we were invited to perform at the Holocaust Memorial Day celebration in the Bridgewater Hall. The occasion was recorded and you can see us here at the memorial concert performing Labi Siffre’s So Strong
Later in the year we took part in the closing ceremony of the Manchester Commonwealth Games, in front of 28,000 people at what is now the Etihad stadium – our biggest ever audience! No video appears to have survived from this event but the rehearsal schedule indicates that we had a long evening rehearsal and two full days, with no one allowed to leave the site. Hard work, but worth it, even with torrential rain on the big day! One minor detail the audience may not have realised was that we were not actually performing live - for the only time in the choir's history we had pre-recorded our track at a studio in Salford, as the organisers were not prepared to take any risks with any live act.
After all that excitement 2002 still had one more surprise with the decision of our first MDs to step down from the job. Carol Donaldson was selected to replace them.
The choir's first web site was launched in 2003 - designed using Microsoft's star product of the day, FrontPage. It moved to a new site written using WordPressaround 2011 and finally in 2023 to to a bespoke music site created by Making Music and used by choirs and music groups all over the country.
2004 saw the launch of a major campaign against racism at the Town Hall. We were invited to take part and our two songs at this iconic venue were recorded on video, with Carol in fine form. Watch us performing Linda Hirschorn's Million Nightingales followed by I Feel Like Going On.
Carol led the choir's activities for five very successful years - highlights included our second hosting of the Street Choir Festival (note the change of name!) in 2007 and the recording of a second CD in the spring of 2008, and lots of new events to participate and venues to perform in. A particular favourite venue was (and remains) the Victoria Baths in Rusholme. Here are two of the pictures taken at Victoria Baths by Alison Kershaw that adorned the cover of our second CD - in the pool...
and on the gallery...
At the end of 2008 Carol decided to step down and Liz Powers took the helm. As each new MD has brought their own distinctive style of leadership and inspiration to the choir's activities so our focus and attainment has subtly shifted, but the underlying principles remain the same. Liz was to be our longest serving MD to date, remaining with us for the next 11 years.
MCC has twice played host to visiting choirs from overseas. In 2012 it was Cor Mio from Norway, for whom we arranged a joint concert at the St Peters Chaplaincy centre at Manchester University, along with some other local groups. Each choir shared a song from their repertoire or culture, so this photo shows MCC and Cor Mio performing together.
On the 9th of October 2016 the Icelandic choir Kor Rey Darfjardarkirkju passed through Manchester on their annual overseas tour - we had a joint show at Didsbury Baptist Church and they taught us Monica Aslund's song Kom while we taught them one of earliest favourites - Seyahumber . The concert was fund raiser for Shelter, with numerous generous donations from audience members - over £1000 was raised.
In 2017 we had our first performance outside of England with the first of several visits to the Eisteddfod at Llangollen. We also enjoyed a pair of exchange visits with the Gasworks Community Choir from Bristol. The Eisteddfod is an international gathering, and in 2019 our friends from Iceland, Kor Rey were there so we teated the Welsh audience to a joint song together on the stage.
When MCC was first established, back in 1999, we had no particular legal status - we didn't really exist other than as a group of people singing! But life became increasingly difficult as running a bank account, getting insurance cover and organising public events all require a legal entity. So we applied to the Charity Commission and were duly registered as an Unincorporated Charity in the summer of 2019.
Liz's final year with us, in 2019, was as busy as ever, with the unveiling of the statue of Emily Pankhurst in St Peter's Square a particular highlight.
This picture shows Liz and the choir on the stage as we sang Jules Gibb's classic song Nana Was A Suffragette for this occasion.
We like to celebrate anniversaries in the choir history - here is Liz leading us in Helen Yeoman's Chanson at the choir's 20th anniversary celebration in early 2019, at our new home at the Didsbury Baptist Church.
In 2019 we also played host once again to the Street Choirs (as it had become!) Festival. This was the biggest ever SCF, with well over 1400 singers attending from 44 choirs. Most people agreed it was the best SCF anyone could remember, and certainly the best organised! The Mayor of Greater Manchester (Andy Burnham) gave the welcoming speech at the Mass Sing in Exchange Square, and later took to the stage with our outgoing and incoming MDs - this was Liz's final event with the choir, and from autumn 2019 we were very honoured to have Rose Hodgson take over.
As is traditional the host choir closed the Saturday night concert at Street Choirs, and we are fortunate to have a video of MCC's amazing 2019 concert closer - Liz's last appearance with us. Here is the video of Chanson and You're the Voice from July 2019.
Rose had a unique introduction to MCC life, as half way through her first year the covid-19 epidemic and lockdown brought all activities to an abrupt halt. We ended up rehearsing in some unusual venues, in an effort to maximise ventilation - the Christie Hospital multistorey car park, and the open cafe at Alexandra Park! However we survived those difficult times and have returned to our 'home' in Didsbury Baptist Church. We now approach our next anniversary - Silver, to celebrate 25 years of MCC in 2024!
We look forward to a bright future ahead!