Rugby Philharmonic Choir


Recent Events

  Banquet of Song marks One Hundred and Fifty years

July 2017

Rugby Philharmonic Choir Summer 2017 Concert

When you are celebrating, you can do anything.  What, even offer Faure’s Requiem and the Pirates of Penzance in the same Concert?  Yes, and other items too, but only if you are the Rugby Philharmonic Choir and have worked your socks off to do something challenging and memorable for a 150th anniversary.
You might have thought that a hot evening on 8th July and a plethora of Concerts in the Festival Season would thin audience numbers.  When the choir filed onto the stage of the Temple Speech Room, a Gala occasion greeted them: full house.  After being congratulated by Dr Jonathan Smith, the opening number, ‘How lovely are thy dwellings fair’, came from the heart.    Brahms was composing this at the moment Director of Music , Mr Edwin Edwards,  lifted his baton, in
1867. And Director of Music, 2017, Mervyn Bethell, lifted his baton to a full stage, the Phil Choir, ninety members strong, fronted by a delightfully willing orchestra, led by Andrea Brogarde.  James Williams was at the organ and Jo Foote at the piano.  Mervyn himself played a lyric by Grieg, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, also written in 1867.
Faure’s Requiem, with its sublime melodies and subtle nuances, summoned memories of those departed who had played a big part in the life of the Phil, especially Doreen Long, to whom the Concert was dedicated.  Serving the Phil was Doreen’s life and, at young ninety-three, she retired as secretary, having sung herself as soloist and choir member.
How friends of the Choir would have appreciated the sublime music, the exhilarating rhythms of Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor, and the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves by Verdi.   It was a sumptuous banquet, topped by Gilbert and Sullivan soufflé to follow.  G & S fans might point out that the plot twists and theatricality of Pirates is more a diet of dark chocolate, here made palatable by the eloquent wit of narrator, Rex Pogson.
Soloists, Howard Walker, Mike Hansford, Jack Dolan, Phil Middleton, Emma Griffiths and Yvonne Rollins enjoyed themselves in lively interaction with each other and the choir.  The lower voices in the choir had removed their jackets and sang with the lightness and freedom attained earlier by upper voices.  It was happy and festive and all done with admirable control despite the heat.
How were they in 1867? we wondered, as we applauded one hundred and fifty years of quality singing.  It was a thrill to salute the dedicated work of gifted musicians and to recognise the talent in young performers.  We shall now want to discover the history of the Choir in Rugby Art Gallery and Museum’s current exhibition.  And the future?  We look forward to the next concert on Saturday 16th December.

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Come and Sing  with John Rutter

Saturday 29th April 2017

John Rutter

A glorious day was enjoyed by all who attended our ‘Come and Sing’ event. John Rutter is a fabulous talent and entertainer who kept us singing enthusiastically from start to finish.

This sucessful event was organised as part of the  choir’s 150th Anniversary.
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Christmas Celebrations

Saturday 10th December 2016

RPC Christmas_16 Poster1Rugby Philharmonic Choir celebrated Christmas Saturday night. Who remembered it was raining, having having come into a festive Temple Speech Room and a feast of glorious music.
A generous banquet it was. Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, summoning urgently with syncopated rhythms, was followed by the more expansive fantasia on Christmas Carols by Vaughan Williams. Musical Director Mervyn Bethell balanced the elements of Organ, orchestra, soloist and choir to produce the effect of a sea at full tide. Over a glass of something in the interval, the audience plumped for their desert island choice, Britten or Vaughan Williams.
More riches were to come as the Watchmen’s voices opened the second half, Bach edited by Rutter. A highlight was Emma Griffiths’ strong O Holy Night, holding the melody powerfully against the choir’s harmony. Michael Leicester, bass, in The Three Kings was another fine performance, as was James Williams at the Organ. Calypsos, carols and songs had Jo Foote and Mervyn Bethell moving swiftly to accompany or elicit from the choir some subtle effects. Most choirs do loud, but rarely achieved is soft.
If any heart dropped at seeing jingle bells on the programme, the singing was crisp as new fallen snow. Yes this choir has experience, the sum of 149 years. Next year is the gala year. ‘Come and Sing’ in April will be led by composer  John Rutter. In July music from 1867 will mark a wonderful span of years. Why not come and sing with the Phil in its special year?

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RPC Summer Concert - 2nd July 2016An Evening of American Music

Saturday 3rd July 2016

Whose brilliant idea was it to transport the audience to America, after an extraordinary week of showers and shocks over here?

As the choir filed onto a stage that was framed by glorious sunflowers, the sun itself broke through to celebrate the opening weekend of the Rugby Festival of Culture 2016. The familiar melodies of Bernstein’s West Side Story rang out and we began to feel that we did like to be in America. And there was not a Chump in site.

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Familiar melodies, yes, but offered with freshness and pleasing variety. Chosen from the period when America had discovered its own musical voice, we were treated to the best of Leonard Bernstein, Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Aaron Copland. Richly blended harmonies from over 60 voices contrasted with the more intimate mood created by guests Voci Vivo, who sang duets and solos from favourites Oklahoma, Carousel, Kiss Me Kate and the legendary Show Boat. Challenging pulsing rhythms testified to the legacy of jazz in songs by the choir and in two riveting performances on the piano by the Robson twins, Kevin and John. As the melody passed from bass to treble in the Overture from Candide, the audience wanted to tap or nod, exhilarated. Much of this was due to the dedicated work of director Mervyn Bethell and accompanist Jo Foote, swans on the water, moving piano, keyboard, microphones and music stands and then playing wonderfully. In the second half, a choral celebration of Sondheim showed the skill and tenacity of the choir. Another rehearsal or two and eyes might have been lifted from scores to help sing out and balance the sound from the scintillating performances on piano and keyboard. Concentration was riveting. These songs were musically dense, demanding and delightful. The choir more than delivered. As we emerged to cross the road, the sky had completely cleared. It was indeed a beautiful evening.


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An Evening With Elgar & Brahms

Spring Concert 2016Saturday 16th April 2016

Music which is ‘in turn gentle and spirited’:  a programme note, from Rugby Philharmonic’s concert at Temple Speech Room on 16 April, which perfectly sums up a delightful evening’s entertainment.  Mervyn Bethell, under whose direction since 2009 the choir has developed so well in range and quality of sound, said that Elgar’s Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands the culmination of the concert, was on a long list of favourites which came out of the choir’s survey:  and from that had come the idea of a positive, optimistic ‘gentle and spirited’ concert of Elgar (and his much-admired Brahms) for this spring-time concert.

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From the first note of Brahms’ Song of Destiny to the exciting climax of Elgar’s The Marksman (repeated to acclaim as an encore) the choir was in fine form. With over eighty voices, there is always power in reserve, but this was also an evening demanding plenty of lyricism, delicacy and control (the beautiful ‘How Lovely are Thy dwellings’ from Brahms’ German Requiem, Elgar’s Miniatures, and his Lullaby, for example), and these moments came over with both discipline and emotion. The Bavarian Highlands was terrific. The evening was enhanced by a fine small orchestra, combining under the appropriate name of ‘Friends of the Philharmonic Choir’. As well as lovely accompaniment of some choral pieces, they performed two well-loved orchestral pieces, Elgar’s Chanson de Matin and Chanson de Nuit; and their leader, Andrea Brogaard, was the soloist in his Salut d’Amour which, early in the programme, set the message, spirit and quality of the concert. There’s a real sense of friendship and shared purpose in Rugby Philharmonic: the choir’s reception of Mervyn Bethell as conductor and accompanist, and of Jo Foote as repetiteur illustrated what was clear in many ways. They are interested in yet more recruits, and in yet more audience: ful l houses come to TSR for well-known works, but although this was a good audience, there was still room for more on this occasion, and, with the choir in this form, the town of Rugby can confidently come to a Philharmomic evening of any theme and programme, knowing they will enjoy a really fine musical evening.



RPC Christmas Concert 2015Prelude to Christmas

Saturday 12th December 2015

We were promised a treat by Rugby Philharmonic Choir if we came to their concert, and a treat it was.
From a wet December night, we came into the light of a festive Temple Speech Room. As soon as the choir began to sing, our hearts began to lift. Outside in the drizzle, an ambulance wailed its way to St. Cross, but ‘Comfort ye my people’ from Handel’s Messiah rang out appropriately to reassure and gain our full attention.
If you have not heard the Rugby Philharmonic Choir, then the experience of hearing their combined voices, the characteristic Phil sound, is that of being lifted steadily off the ground, as if by British Airways.

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At full volume, in Worthy is the Lamb and the Hallelujah Chorus, the roof of the building began to open. Magnificent power was there, but also quality of tone and precision, thanks to the skilled lead of Mervyn Bethell, musical director, and the hard work of the choir. In the Messiah Choruses, the bright, crispness of upper voices was well matched by the men’s bass resonance, especially as the melody passed playfully from one to the other : Good will, Good will in the joyful Glory to God. The orchestra led by Andrea Brogarde played beautifully and with James Williams, organist, accompanied the four soloists, Barbara Rodway, soprano, Chloe Pardoe, mezzo soprano, Chris Griksaitis, tenor, and John Fletcher, bass. In the refreshingly varied programme of seasonal music, in the second half, Chris Griksaitis played and sang his Merry Christmas. Reflective singing by Chloe Pardoe grew poignant as the song released her voice to fill the hall. Barbara Rodway excelled with ‘O Holy Night’. We went home grateful that the Rugby Phil had let in so much light. Review by Diana Walls



An evening of music by Gershwin, Cole Porter and Ivor Novello.

Saturday 4th July 2015

RPC Summer Concert 2015Nobody noticed how warm it was when the Rugby Philharmonic Choir delighted a packed Temple Speech room with the music of Gershwin, Ivor Novello and Cole Porter.
To open, the choir, led by Musical Director, Mervyn Bethell, filled the hall with cool draughts of Summertime and fruity rhythm of Porgy and Bess. There was plenty of variety and contrast. Soloists, Fiona McCreath (soprano) and John Fletcher (bass) sat on elegant high bar stools, stepping down for the lyric freshness of ‘I can give you the starlight’ or complaining, ‘too darn hot’.
There was the big sound of Andrew Davey’s Jazz Not Jazz, beguiling us with ‘Fascinating Rhythm’ and ‘S’Wonderful’ to provide easy listening. There was technical brilliance. Kevin Robson and Harold Robbins brought people to their feet to applaud Four Hands/One Piano’s admirable control of digital daring in ‘Rhapsody in Blue’. Its familiar melody of longing and sweetness was dramatically attained before playfully returning us to the witty ending.
This, together with the fresh lyricism of Fiona McCreath and the full-bodied sound of seventy finely blended voices, sent the audience home refreshed, well pleased by the versatility and performance skills of the choir, artists and director, and not forgetting the faithful work of those behind the scenes who enable the Rugby Phil to go from strength to strength.   Diana Walls

Rugby Philharmonic Choir.  Contact Mervyn Bethell at

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