A Short History 

The Kennington & District United Church Choirs came into being in December 1973, when singers from the three Kennington churches, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Methodist, came together for a united Carol Service to further the cause of Christian unity in the village. Having greatly enjoyed the experience, the Choirs met again the following Easter to sing Stainer’s Crucifixion and just before Christmas parts of Handel’s Messiah. From this fairly small beginning, the numbers began to grow, drawing singers from Abingdon, Radley, Oxford and beyond. The Choirs began to meet on a regular basis, and started to perform oratorios in the spring, lighter non-religious works in the summer, and an annual performance of Messiah in the autumn. 

In 1979, it was decided to widen the range of the repertoire by including non-religious works in the summer concert. First of all it was a performance of Hiawatha by Coleridge-Taylor, and then just before Christmas of that year, the first Gilbert & Sullivan concert appeared with a performance of The Pirates of Penzance. It was such a success that G & S concerts were given twice a year – in the summer and just before Christmas – and this pattern has survived up to today, with light opera by Offenbach and Léhar appearing from time to time to add a touch of variety. 

We have been fortunate to have principals from both the Oxford and the Abingdon Operatic Societies to share the G & S concerts with us; and for our spring and autumn oratorio concerts we have been able to call on the services of some of the best solo singers in the county. Our standards have been extremely high. Accompanists, too, have served us excellently, including Margaret Quartermaine, Sheila Hales, John Oxlade, Barbara Osborne, Terence Carter, Jamal Sutton, Linda Ang Stoodley, Osman Task, Nia Williams, Peter Ward Jones, Malcolm Pearce and, most recently, Denise Evans. The Choirs’ founder and conductor since 1973 has been Trevor Cowlett.  He was awarded the MBE in 2012 for his work with the Choirs.

Concerts are given not only in Kennington, but also in various halls in Oxford, Abingdon, Witney and Woodstock.  In 2010 we gave our first concert in Brill, Bucks.  Our spring and autumn oratorio concerts take place in Exeter College Chapel and Holywell Music Room respectively.  Entrance is always free, and collections are taken for charities of all kinds – local, national and international. Since 1973, the Choirs have raised £520,212.49 and to celebrate raising over half a million pounds about 95 choir members and friends took a private return steamer trip along the River Thames to Abingdon.  Almost everyone has been more than happy to give their services without fee, and the Choirs themselves cover the running costs of the concerts. We are greatly indebted to the Methodist Church in Kennington who not only allow us the use of the building for rehearsals, but also purchased two new pianos in 1985 to be used by the Church and the Choirs.

Over the years, more than 600 people have sung with us, and the choir is very much a family.  Each year we go out into Oxford in December to sing carols in the city centre for the Save the Children fund. The Choirs also sing at church services when required. We have an “open door” policy, whereby anyone who enjoys singing can come in and sing with us – there are no auditions and no subscriptions. Rehearsals are held each Friday evening in the Kennington Methodist Church Hall at 7.45 p.m. (except August). Many new friendships have been made. The preceding pages show the wide range of music that has been sung, giving enjoyment both to the singers and the listeners, and at the same time helping worthy causes who often are in great need of funds. 

The Choirs are always searching for new ways to grow and develop. They are always looking for new singers. Our aim is to produce music of the highest quality in which everyone can join, and to have fun in doing so. Please contact Trevor Cowlett if you would like to know more on info@kenningtonchoir.org.uk.