London Boy Singers Association archive

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises minutes, correspondence and related papers including some programmes, engagement lists, reports, financial papers, and attendance records. There are files of papers accumulated by the chairman, which also include annual accounts, press reviews and Finchley Children's Music Group bulletins.

The collection includes some correspondence with Benjamin Britten, and also papers relating to a Song Contest for Boy Singers held by the London Boy Singers Association on 28th November 1964 at Conway Hall, London, the adjudicators being Imogen Holst, George Malcolm and Peter Pears.

Administrative / Biographical History

The London Boy Singers Association was founded in 1961 to supply the need for a concert boys' choir in England. It was partly due to Britten's enthusiasm and encouragement that the choir was formed and, as President, he maintained an active interest in the development of the singers. The choir was administered by a Board of Governors, with Eric W. White as chairman. Members of the Board included (at various times) Lennox Berkeley, Anthony Gishford (who was also Treasurer), Stephen Reiss, George Malcolm, George Rizza, Ruth Andrewes, Elizabeth Boisseau and James Lawrie. Jonathan Steele was appointed conductor, and then later artistic director, succeeding John Andrewes, and Rosamund Strode was the secretary. Rosamund Strode managed the accounts of the Association, and they were audited by Leslie Periton. The choir was briefly known as Finchley Boys' Choir as it was formed from the Finchley Childrens Music Group under John Andrewes. There were some major changes of administration, the first of which, in 1962, included the resignation of John Andrewes as choral manager - he was later replaced by Michael Wylde. The affairs of the association came to an end in July 1966 when the Director parted company with the Board of Governors and President, signalling the end of Benjamin Britten's involvement with the project, although the choir continued as the London Boy Singers, directed by Jonathan Steele, into the 1970s.

The choir's repertoire included plain song and folk song, English madrigals, early nineteenth-century song, Victorian ballads, opera and new music. The London Boy Singers often supplied soloists to concert managers, recording companies and opera houses, and exceptional members of the choir were often used in English Opera Group productions.

The choir consisted of about 60 boys between the ages of 8 and 17 years and from many parts of London. The boys were selected by private audition and interview but the applicants did not need to be ready-made soloists - however an exceptional musical aptitude was expected. The boys were given a systematic and professional training, aimed at performing rather than academic skills. Each boy attended a weekly evening lesson of voice production and musical preparation and a full-choir rehearsal on Saturday mornings. A fee was charged towards the expenses of the training. The teaching system used was based on the methods and style of George Malcolm (choir master at Westminster Cathedral) and of Continental boys' choirs of international standing, such as the Vienna Boys' Choir.

The London Boy Singers performed the premieres of Britten's King Herod and The Cock and The Twelve Apostles on 16th June 1962 at the Aldeburgh Festival. Britten dedicated the former of these works to the choir.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for consultation. Please email enquiries@brittenpears.org to arrange an appointment to visit the reading room or for further queries.

Other Finding Aids

The collection is catalogued. The complete catalogue can be accessed on the Britten-Pears Foundation's online archive catalogue - accessed from the Search the catalogues page on the BPF website.

Custodial History

The two distinct sections of the archive were created separately, the first (listed as 'Secretary's files') was kept at the Britten-Pears Library, Aldeburgh by Rosmaund Strode (Secretary to the Association) in her time as administrative assistant to Benjamin Britten at the Red House in the 1960s-1970s, while the second ('Chairman's files') was sent to the Britten-Pears Library by Eric W. White of the Arts Council (Chairman of the Association), when the Arts Council moved from 4 St James Square in March 1968. The two sections have been boxed together as one archive but kept separate in this listing to reflect their provenance.

Related Material

The following additional items are found in the Britten-Pears Foundation collections:

A sound recording of the London Boy Singers in rehearsal with Jonathan Steele in Oct/Nov 1963 (ref. BPLRR01684).

Photographs of the London Boy Singers.

Files of correspondence between Benjamin Britten and the Association.

Files of letters regarding the Association between Britten and various correspondents, including Eric W. White, Rosamund Strode and the Elmgrant Trust.

Bibliography

For further information on the choir the reader is referred to the following articles which are available in the Britten-Pears Foundation reading room:

'New style choir boy' published in The Times on 14 October 1963.

'Boys' Voices' by George Malcolm (member of the Board of Governors of the Association) in the 1962 Aldeburgh Festival Programme Book, pp. 14-16.

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