The well-known Handelian scholar (and Lifeboat surgeon) Dr James S. Hall, his wife Cynthia Hall and Ernest Stride, then Keyboard Professor at the Royal Marines School of Music in Deal, were the joint founders of the Deal and Walmer Handelian Society in 1946. This followed a performance of Handel’s Solomon in Canterbury Cathedral, after which the three founders emerged saying that they could form a local choir that would do as well. The first President of the Society was Sir Gerald Wollaston, Garter King of Arms, who also designed the members’ lapel badge.
The original object of the Society was to perform Handel’s works in local churches with organ accompaniment and soloists drawn from the ranks of the choir; naturally, over the years the repertoire has been expanded to include the works of other composers. Dr Hall conducted the choir from its inception, rehearsing at his home and performing at a number of venues around the Deal area; primarily at the Royal Marines’ Garrison Church, where Ernest Stride was the organist.
During its history, the Society has undertaken several trips abroad, 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. In the same year, the choir made an educational recording of English folk songs. 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.
In the 1960s the Society had established a close relationship with the Royal Marines, and was conducted on a number of occasions by their various Principal Directors of Music, notably Lt.-Cols. Sir Vivian Dunn and Paul Neville, with the musicians of the Marines’ School of Music making up the orchestra. This association naturally ceased with the regrettable departure of the Marines from Deal in 1996, but the Society has maintained the connection in its Presidents, with Lt.-Col. Graham Hoskins as the present incumbent. 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 many distinguished soloists that have appeared with the Society over the years have included soprano Heather Harper and pioneer counter-tenor the late Alfred Deller.
Dr John Pond had joined the Society in 1972, and on James Hall’s death in 1974 took over as Conductor and Chairman. Sadly, ill health forced his retirement from the former post, but he remained as the latter until his recent death. IIn 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. Another notable landmark of the recent past 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, which is affiliated to the choral societies’ umbrella body “Making Music”, aims to give two to three concerts a year in the Deal area, and rehearses weekly in Community Church, Victoria Road, Deal (formerly Deal Victoria Baptist Church) on Monday evenings from 7.30 – 9.00 p.m. All voices are welcome without audition.