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Aylesbury Festival Choir
The Choir - A Brief History - 'A Choir Member Speaks' - Carol Singing At Christmas - Photo Gallery
A Brief History

The story of the choir begins in the early 1950s, when David Aylett organised an ad hoc group of singers, mainly from local churches, to go carol-singing to raise money for the ‘Save the Children Fund’. The next year being World Refugee Year, the group organised a formal concert with full orchestra and the international soprano Isobel Baillie as soloist, raising the equivalent of £1,000 for the fund. Following the success of this, the choir was permanently founded in 1958 as the December Festival Choir, and began to give formal performances of the standard choral repertoire of oratorios and masses, as well as concert versions of operas and other lighter works. The Choir was renamed the Aylesbury Festival Choir in January 2001 to reflect our close association with the town.

David conducted the choir for 26 years. He was succeeded by Helen Blakeman and, in 1995, by Piers Maxim, our first professional conductor and now our President. Under Piers’ expert direction the Choir continued to develop and flourish, expanding the repertoire to include 20th Century works. Justin Doyle succeeded Piers in May 2001, and was in turn succeeded by Madeleine Venner (Lovell) in March 2006. James Davey joined us in January 2009, at the time also being conductor of Chantage, the BBC Choir of the Year 2006. Piers, Justin, Madeleine and James have all gone on to illustrious roles in the music world.

For our November 2008 concert, which showcased the première of With Voice Divine, a major new work written by David Aylett specially for the Choir’s Golden Anniversary, we were very pleased to welcome back guest conductor William Carlsake, who has led us less formally on many enjoyable occasions.

Since January 2017, we have been delighted to welcome Nick Austin as our new Music Director. Nick, who is also conductor of Stanmore Choral Society and Thames Voyces, has been an immediate hit with the choir members, keeping us up to scratch with our singing whilst making us laugh with a fund of anecdotes.

The Choir continues to be supported by high calibre soloists and musicians. That our concerts are known for their high standards of performance and presentation is testament to the vision, commitment and enthusiasm of many people whose varied talents, expertise and hard work behind the scenes have enabled the Choir to flourish throughout its long history.


To get an insight into what it is
like to sing in our choir,
read a choir member's
interview in
'A Choir Member Speaks'

choir members
A Choir Member Speaks - Ann's Interview  

Q: How many years have you been a member of Aylesbury Festival Choir?
A: I joined the December Festival Choir, as it then was, in January 1982 after the school choir I was teaching had taken part in the Carol Concert at the Civic Centre.

Q: Why did you choose Aylesbury Festival Choir?
A: David Aylett, our founder, would invite local schools to participate in the concert each year. I enjoyed the occasion so much that I decided I would love to sing.

Q: Can you describe the benefit you find in choral singing?
A: Singing has often been the most wonderful therapy during times of sadness or stress. It is a source of physical and mental well-being and is always an uplifting experience.

Q: What are your most memorable moments, from rehearsals or concerts?
A: We have worked with wonderful conductors both amateur and professional. Each has brought their own skills and enthusiasms for the music. The range of music, from Mass In Blue (Todd), Carmina Burana (Orff) and back through the ages has been, and is, inspirational!

Q: How would you describe the atmosphere at Aylesbury Festival Choir rehearsals?
A: Being part of this friendly and hard-working group is both rewarding and extremely pleasurable.

Interview Archive (PDFs):
Viv's Interview   Ann's Interview

Carol Singing At Christmas  

The choir continues its tradition of carol singing in various venues at Christmas including retirement homes and local stores such as Tesco shown below in December 2015.

Singing carols in Tesco December 2015
AFC singing carols in Tesco December 2015

Video below by Gillian Walker taken in Tesco December 2013.

Aylesbury Festival Choir montage
Photo Gallery  

Aylesbury Festival Choir singing Fauré’s Requiem at the November 2015 concert.

After the interval Thame Children’s Choir and Aylesbury Festival Ensemble joined us for Rutter’s Mass of the Children.
Commemorating WW1 at Avondale Care Home - August 2014 (below).  
An AFC flashmob in Friars Square (below).  

James Davey rehearsing the choir in the Methodist Church (below).  
Testing the acoustics at the new Waterside Theatre in 2010 (below).  
Testing the accoustics at Waterside Theatre
Gallery medley