The Deal and Walmer Handelian Society was established in 1946 by three co-founders: Dr James S Hall, the well-known Handelian scholar and Lifeboat surgeon, his wife Cynthia, and Ernest Stride who was Keyboard Professor at the Royal Marines School of Music in Deal.
Whilst the original object of the Society was to perform Handel’s works, its repertoire has expanded over the years to include the works of other composers. The Society has undertaken several trips abroad during its history, notably to Handel’s birthplace, Halle, for the 1959 bicentenary celebrations of Handel’s death. That occasion also included a memorable trip to Leipzig, in what was then the East German Republic, where Ernest Stride played J.S.Bach’s organ in the Thomaskirche. 1970 saw the Society’s visit to Amsterdam to perform Israel in Egypt with the Dutch Handel Society, and in the 1980s several visits were made both to St Omer and Vlissingen, Deal’s two twin towns across the Channel.
Relationship with the Royal Marines
During the 1960s the Society established a close relationship with the Royal Marines, and was conducted on a number of occasions by their various Principal Directors of Music, with the musicians of the Marines’ School of Music making up the orchestra. This connection enabled the choir to tackle many works that would normally have been out of their reach, such as the Verdi Requiem, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius and Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony. The sad departure of the Royal Marines from Deal in 1996 bought an end to this association.
The many distinguished soloists that have appeared with the Society over the years have included soprano Heather Harper, and pioneer counter-tenor Alfred Deller.
Dr James Hall conducted the choir from its inception to his death in 1974, followed by Dr John Pond, who sadly retired due to ill health, but remained as Chairman until his death. In 2003 Peter Litman joined the Society as Conductor and was later succeeded by Robert Tapsfield who had been rehearsal pianist since 2005. Robert reverted to that role when Stefan Catto became conductor in 2015.
Several works from the standard choral repertoire have been performed under both conductors, notably Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Haydn’s The Creation and, a different departure, a St Cecilia’s Day Concert with both Purcell’s and Handel’s Odes to music’s patron saint. A more recent notable landmark was a performance of Messiah in conjunction with Sandwich Choral Society under the baton of renowned choral conductor Sir David Willcocks, at that time nearly 90.
The Society is affiliated to the Choral Society's umbrella body 'Making Music'.