The Johannesburg Bach Choir


The Johannesburg Bach Choir is greatly indebted to its past Chairman Dave Kinghorn for continuing the history of the Choir from the year 2001 onwards and for allowing it to be published on this website. The copyright of this document clearly remains with Dave.

Appendix 1


Digging in the Archives (2013/14)


I had to refer extensively to the archives when updating the history and also when preparing the programme notes for the choir’s 50th anniversary concert. As a result of this browsing and other fact finding, a lot of additional information started to emerge. Rather than tinkering with Ken Fuller’s excellent history which is already on the website, I felt that it would be worthwhile to add various hitherto unpublished photographs and reminiscences of some of the people who have taken part in the founding and keeping the choir going over the past 50 years. Also I felt it was worth illustrating how the layout style of the programmes has changed over time.


The choir has been very fortunate that several past members kept detailed records of early concerts, in the form of programmes, press releases and reviews by the critics. Whilst the critics were sometimes not that complimentary, on balance they were usually fair and were encouraging to the choir. Ken Fuller in his initial history gave brief excerpts from these reviews. Over time individual critics disappeared, but latterly the newspapers themselves stopped printing reviews of concerts. This can only be ascribed to a falling off in public demand for classical music from the late 1980s and especially from 1994 onwards. However, there is still a small core of singers and audiences that enjoy this style of music. The fundamental problem is funding and budgets for large scale concerts with orchestra and soloists run from R100,000 upwards.


The very first concert was reviewed by Dora Sowden of the Rand Daily Mail. She was soon to be joined by John Davies of The Star. Then, after a concert in Pretoria, came one from the Pretoria News. In 1968 came the first Afrikaans review in Die Transvaler followed soon after by Die Vaderland. The last press reviews were of the concert in May 1999 that had caused some consternation amongst the choir itself. (Certain members felt that this concert of 20th century music was not the style of the choir and would be financial disaster. Fortunately the doubters proved to be wrong.) There is a laconic comment next to the programme and poster for the next concert: “No critics invited – none attended. The full house gave a standing ovation.” It was in the next year or so that newspapers dropped their music critics, confirming their view that “classical Eurocentric music” was no longer of real interest in the New South Africa.


 What follows now is to show the changing face of programme production over the years, with other “behind the scenes” comments grouped around our musical directors.


The programme for Tony Fell’s first concert on 2 September 1965 was a simple foolscap sheet.


Only one name on the list of “those taking part” is still singing in the choir after 50 years and this is Henry Blagden. Not only is it a remarkable achievement in its own right but in addition he has been the choir’s librarian since 1981.




Two couples singing in the first concert must also be mentioned

1.      Bernard and Rita Hefftner. Bernard was the first person to maintain a comprehensive record of concerts and these form the backbone of the archives.

2.      Ken and Inge Fuller. The choir owes Ken a huge debt for managing the choir until his retirement in 1994. Happily they still regularly attend our concerts.


 The choir sang three concerts of the same works in October/November 1965 and two names feature in “those taking part” – Mike Martinson and David Kinghorn. Both are still singing in the choir in 2014.


The programme was printed on both sides and was not a simple typed document like the first concert. This format was used again for the November 1966 concert.


However the June 1966 was a little different as shown below











There were two concerts in May 1967 held in the cathedrals in Pretoria and Johannesburg. Seemingly in the interest of costs, these programmes were simple typewritten documents.


Things changed from 1968 onwards as by this time Tony Fell had become the managing director of Hortors who were printers in Johannesburg.










                                                A picture of the choir in

   The Star, Nov 1969



The style of design on the left was used from 1968 until April 1972. The programme on the right is for the concert in October 1972.







Covers for Tony Fell’s two final concerts in 1973 and 1974 are shown below



















Also he introduced the letterhead logo of


The Johannesburg BACH CHOIR


Tony Fell left Johannesburg for England where he had a distinguished career.



This photograph of our founding Musical Director and Patron, Tony Fell, formed part of his obituary that appeared in the London Daily Telegraph on 14 December 2011. It is worth making a digression to quote from his obituary as it gives some interesting insights into the nature of the man.




“Robert Anthony Fell was born in Liverpool on December 27 1931, an only child whose father managed the Liverpool Philharmonic and later the Scottish National orchestras. After King’s College, Cambridge, and National Service with the Royal Artillery, Fell worked briefly at Ibbs & Tillett, then the pre-eminent concert agency in London.

In 1956 the poor level of pay in classical music drove him to ICI, which in turn posted him to South Africa where he worked for the conglomerate’s publicity machine. He also set up and conducted the Johannesburg Bach Choir and directed the music for a staging of The Beggar’s Opera in 1962. Despairing of the political situation, he became director of the company publishing Drum, an outspoken political magazine for Africans.”


To quote again from his obituary

“Tony Fell married, in 1993, his third wife, Janis Susskind, widow of the conductor Walter Susskind . She survives him, as do a son and a daughter of his first marriage, to Katinka Mullins, and two daughters of his second marriage, to Patricia Blackwell.”

It is worth noting that his first wife Katinka sang in the first few concerts.

Tony Fell was headhunted by Boosey and Hawkes, the music publishers, and returned to London in 1974 as managing director where he was to remain for 22 years. During this time “he turned the fortunes of the company around by streamlining its management procedures and encouraging greater creativity, notably signing such composers as Elliot Carter, Steve Reich and Leonard Bernstein.”


Digression on choir parties and soloists who went on to achieve fame


Whilst doing research on what had happened to all our conductors, I received an email from Patricia Blackwell, Tony Fell’s second wife, which reminded me of two other facets of the choir:

We used to have really wild parties after every concert and I can remember as the sun was about to appear staggering around collecting empties and chatting about the thrills of each performance. I wonder, if there are speeches, whether you will remember Elizabeth Connell, who started her magnificent career singing the soprano solos when she was about 20 years old. She sadly died of cancer in 2012 – still in very fine voice. So lots of luck for a fine evening and wonderful concert….


Dealing first with parties, it is worth reviewing the cycle of post-performance parties. I think I was too junior a member of the choir to have been invited to the early Tony Fell parties. However, I do recall some very jolly parties in both of the upstairs bars in the Johannesburg City Hall during Ken Fuller’s chairmanship. At this stage it had become a tradition to award the conductor with an engraved beer tankard. Once we moved away from the City Hall, parties fell away. Instead the choir started serving teas at the churches where we performed when the choir would mingle with the audience. Tim Roberts introduced the idea of a year-end party at his house shortly after he took over as musical director. Finally at our 50th anniversary concert in June, we had a rousing choir party in the foyer of the Aula at the Deutsche Schule, which will hopefully restart an old tradition.


Patricia Blackwell’s reference to Elizabeth Connell rekindled a lasting memory for me of arriving late for the final rehearsal in the Wits Great Hall in 1968 and hearing a magnificent and very powerful soprano solo voice forcing its way into the deserted foyer through closed doors. This was Elizabeth Connell singing Bach’s soprano solo cantata (BWV 51) Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen with Guiseppe Vitali playing the trumpet impeccably. The real point here is how the Bach Choir has provided a platform to help launch major talent. Elizabeth went on to become an international star specializing in Janácek’s operas.


We had a real treat for our 50th anniversary concert by having Dawid Kimberg who had sung the baritone soloist part in Fauré’s Requiem when a member of the Chanticlear Singers immediately prior to leaving to study in the UK in 1995. He has just made his debut in a leading role at Covent Garden. We were privileged to hear Dawid sing a fiendishly difficult aria from Handel’s Rinaldo at our recent concert.








1974-1979: John Mitchell


The beginning of Ken Fuller’s history Part 2 makes an interesting point about Tony Fell’s management style and the effect it had on the choir when it came to Fell’s handing over to John Mitchell. “Fell made most of the decisions for the choir himself and carried them out as well…” This was in contrast to “Mitchell, a professional musician working full time for PACT in Pretoria… who was content to leave the running of the choir to a management committee.” This structure is still in force today.


John Mitchell conducted the 10th Anniversary concert the programme cover of which is shown below, together with a photograph of the choir which came from the papers of the late Prof. Donald Williams (front row with beard slightly to the left of John Mitchell’s right hand) – see more about Don’s paper in a comment about posters in 1977.

















Tony Olds (balding and left of Don Williams) was to become choirmaster to help ease Mitchell’s workload. Later, at the beginning of 1978, Olds was transferred to work in Nelspruit and was replaced by Robin Walton.


Mitchell introduced the choir to a great many new works as can be seen from the covers of his various programmes.
































This photograph of John Mitchell appeared in publicity for the B minor Mass. The late Margaret Nabarro said the choir “gave a good solid performance …. and credit can go to the choir for the finesse of the performance….although there were some scratchy moments…”

















 The archive contains what I had always thought was a one-off experimental poster, for the November 1977 concert which is in A4 size and shown on the right. You can imagine my amazement when I was recently handed two other posters and two choir photographs by an earlier chairman of the SABC Choir, James Ridley. James had been given the task of going through the papers of the late Professor Don Williams. Don had sung in the Bach choir until 1980 when he joined the resurrected SABC Choir under Richard Cock. What is ironic was that Don played the recorder in our choir’s performance of the Monteverdi Vespers in 2011. The first poster is a glossy A3 size poster for the English Church Music concert in April 1975. The second is a matte A2 size poster for the November 1973 concert which was conducted by Tony Fell. I can only guess that the use of posters must have stopped in the late 1970’s only to be restarted in 1996. The use of computer technology has certainly made production of posters and programmes simpler and much more cost effective.


 The usual second concert for the year was conducted by Robin Walton














1979    John Mitchell gave a second performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor in May 1979, using the same programme cover design, but with different soloists.


1980    The only concert John Mitchell was to conduct this year was when the Bach Choir joined a choral festival at St Alban’s cathedral in Pretoria in June.










1981    As part of the opening festivities of the State Theatre in Pretoria, the Bach Choir joined forces with the PACT choir and orchestra to give a performance of Handel’s Messiah with John Mitchell conducting the Johannesburg Bach Choir (with Weiss Doubell as chorus master) and PACT Choir.
















Ken Fuller’s original history states that John Mitchell went down to Pietermaritzburg to the university. Recent investigation suggests that he joined the Natal Philharmonic Society on a three year contract. The Society had been founded in 1846 and was funded latterly largely by the municipality. This funding was withdrawn in the mid to late 1980s and the Society was immediately disbanded since there was no constitution setting up the society with limited liability. Mitchell’s contract still had a few years to run and as a result of the cutting budgets he could only be partially paid out from the small remaining funds. This left Mitchell busking to try to make ends meet. Mitchell returned to the UK and is living in London.


1979-1981: Maurice Handford

The SABC Choir had been disbanded in 1978 after Anton Hartmann had retired. Maurice Handford was appointed the new conductor in 1979 and he wanted to do one large scale choral work a year during his time as the conductor. The Bach Choir and St Stithians Singers filled this gap.





Handford’s first concert was in 1979 when Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius was performed to much acclaim. The initial rehearsals were by individual choirs with the final polishing done by Roger Davies prior to Handford’s arrival.





Handford must have enjoyed working with the choirs as we sang Verdi’s Requiem in 1980 (with Robin Walton as concertmaster). This was followed by Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in 1981 (with John James and Weiss Doubell as Bach Choir concert masters).




















1979-1981: Robin Walton


Robin Walton conducted his first concert with the choir when he was choirmaster in 1978. In all, with the activities involving other conductors, he conducted three concerts














                   1978                                        1980                                           1981


Robin Walton has retired to Pietermaritzburg, where he is involved with the Pietermaritzburg Amateur Musical Society.


Digression on the management of amateur choirs


Managing People


As part of the “browsing the archives” process, I set about trying to get in contact with all our past conductors and my contact with Robin resulted in a reminder of the significance of management styles when running amateur choirs and the role played by the chairman and the committee.


That the choir has functioned for fifty years says a great deal about how the choir has managed to adapt in a changing environment. Apart from conductors and their own personalities, the choir’s survival says a great deal about the people involved in the day to day running of the choir.


The committee is structured around a chairman, treasurer, secretary, and representatives from each voice part. The following is a list of chairmen and treasurers to date


                                    Chairmen                                                         Treasurers

1974-1994              Ken Fuller                   1974-1986                   Jill Ackerley

1994-2004              David Kinghorn          1986-1994                   David Kinghorn

2004 (acting)          Leigh Evans                1994-2008                   Stephen Whiteley

2004 -2005                         Sydney Derman          2008-present               Lucy Wiseman

2005-2008              Kathy Whiteley

2008-2011              Sydney Derman

2011-present           Reiner Fossati


As already noted in Ken Fuller’s history, Tony Fell initially ran the choir almost single-handedly. However when John Mitchell took over the committee was established in 1974. There are occasions when the committee has to make some difficult decisions which are then communicated by the chairman. When the chairman is writing the history as well, the way in which these are phrased in diplomatic terms, is not an easy task. I was reminded of this when recently speaking to Robin Walton, who would have preferred the wording that he and the chairman “had parted by mutual consent”.


Managing Finances


Inevitably the core of effective running of any organisation is controlling the finances. Essentially it is all to do with balancing income and expenditure and creating a safety net through building up reserves


Income is derived from the following sources

·          Membership fees. In the early days there was no membership fee. The surviving records show this was very much the case from 1990.

·          Donations. Initially this took the form of small odd donations but has become very much part of the fund raising scenario, about which more later.

·          Sponsorships. This form of funding was always difficult to get in times of economic downturn but has virtually dried up since 1994 as supporting Eurocentric music is not seen as a priority

·          Concert profits resulting from income exceeding expenses with income largely derived from

-        Ticket sales

-        Programme sales

·          Sales of items. This covers sales of sweatshirts, blouses and music scores

·          Interest on retained earnings. In times of high interest rates this has been an important source oof revenue from retained earnings.


Expenses are incurred through

·          Cost of rehearsals

-        Cost of conductor and repetiteur

-        Hire of rehearsal venue

·          Audit Fees

·          Stationery and Bank charges

·          Cost of concerts

-        Hire of venue

-        Hire of conductor, soloists and orchestra

-        Printing

-        Sundries

·          Other


Those managing the choir must generate sufficient funds so as to cover the day-to-day running expenses as well as to be able outlay enough cash to pay the costs of an expensive concert which might run at a loss. The archives contain audited financial statements going back to February 1991. The graph on the next page shows the costs and profits or losses made from 1990 until the end of 2012. Unfortunately we had a variety of auditors who presented information differently so that some of the data was not available in the form needed.




















graphically and their implications








The important points are

1.      Concerts can be expensive and run at a loss. For example the total cost of the concerts put on in the financial year 2004/05 was R94,683. They produced a loss of R6,038. What saved the day here was that we got a large sponsorship for our 40th Birthday concert from Esteé Lauder.

2.      The choir has to have cash in the bank to cover the concert expenses as well as all the rehearsal costs leading up to it.


Thus to cover the bad times, the choir must build up reserves so as to be able to maintain continuity.


The graph that follows shows the growth of reserves and sources of income since 1990/01.










































This further highlights the problems of 2003 to 2005, where particularly in the latter part of 2004 and mid 2005 the number of choir members started to drop. A consequence was that the membership fees had to be increased significantly. Also the whole idea of expensive concerts had to be shelved and budgets had to be closely monitored.


Thus over its 50 year existence the choir has had to alter its survival strategies. The result is that the choir has had to become very much more business-like in its operation. From its simple origins of a group that wanted to sing Bach cantatas, we now have a constitution, audited financial reports and are a registered Non Profit Organisation.


1982-1983, 1988, 2003, 2004: Weiss Doubell
















On the right is an extract from a combined programme for series of concerts given to celebrate the opening of the Linder Auditorium in November 1882. Dr Künkel played the organ and the choir sang Schutz’s Deutsches Magnificat and some of Bruckner’s Motets. The write up on Weiss Doubell mentions his conducting performances of Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors and Mozart’s Zaubeflöte. Weiss invited a few members of the choir to participate in these productions.






Sadly the Missa Solemnis was to be Weiss’s last concert as the choir’s musical director, although not the last concert conducting the choir. Weiss resigned from the choir after this concert as a result of a dispute as to whether Bach’s Christmas Oratorio should be sung with German or English words.










This was an ambitious project at the Roodepoort Theatre with forty members of the Bach Choir in the chorus. Also in the chorus were members from Côr Meibion Cymru, Randburgmannekoor and the Roodepoort Staatsoperakoor.





The choir was to join Weiss and other choirs later to sing














   2003                                                    2005



1983-1990: Eberhard Künkel

















1984 (20th Anniversary Year)









A photo of the choir taken in the City Hall for inclusion in the 20th Anniversary programme.








The second concert of the year was a performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony conducted by the visiting American Richard Dufallo. The Bach Choir combined with Richard Cock’s SABC Choir.


















Künkel conducted two concerts,

The November concert comprised

Bach                Cantata No 76

Mozart             Bassoon Concert

                        Laudate Dominum

Poulenc           Christmas Motets

Mozart             Missa Brevis K194









and prepared the choir for a performance in October of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony when we combined with Richard Cock’s SABC Choir. The choirs were conducted by Gabor Ötvös.

















Künkel conducted two concerts this year.















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