History of KEMS
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History of KEMS
KING EDWARD MUSICAL SOCIETY (KEMS) of Macclesfield officially started in September 1957 so we celebrated our Diamond Jubilee during our 2016/17 season.

KEMS originated from two musical events that took place at The King’s School in 1956 and 1957. On Saturday 24th March 1956, the King’s School Choir supplemented by parents (King’s School Choral Society) and the Brocklehurst-Whiston (a local company) orchestra performed Handel’s Messiah in the Parish Church (St Michael’s) in Macclesfield.  The performance was directed and organised by the then Director of Music at King’s School, Patrick Salisbury.

An inaugural meeting to arrange the first season’s concerts then took place on 18th June 1957 under the chairmanship of Charles Beswick.  The orchestra was formed from members of the new society, King’s School Instrumental Tutors, members of The King’s School and the Brocklehurst-Whiston Orchestra.  

The Society’s debut concert was a Christmas Concert directed by Patrick Salisbury in which Ralph Chadwick led the orchestra. The Macclesfield Times reported that ‘in both choral and orchestral works the Society appeared thoroughly reassured throughout.’ Patrick Salisbury left the Society in 1960 to be succeeded first by Simon Johnson and then by Neil Chaffey, the next Director of Music at King’s School.  In 1961 the Society took part in the celebrations to mark the 700th anniversary of Macclesfield Borough receiving its Royal Charter.  We participated in a BBC Songs of Praise in October 1964.  KEMS celebrated its 10th Anniversary in St George’s Church, Macclesfield with a performance of Verdi’s Requiem on 16th March 1968.

After Neil Chaffey left the Society, the musical direction changed hands to Brian Goodwin for a short while, before Colin Touchin (orchestra) and John Railton (choir) took over for the 1985-86 season. This was the first time that the Society had had two musical directors.  John took the KEMS choir to the Llangollen Eisteddfod in 1986 and the choir was placed 5th out of 15 choirs, even ranking higher than some of the Welsh Choirs that were participating.  Colin Touchin wrote a piece for baritone, choir and orchestra entitled Hilarion for the Society to perform as part of its 30th birthday celebrations.
Under Colin's and John's direction, KEMS also gave the North West premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem in St Michael’s church in Macclesfield and in St John's in Buxton in March 1986. November 1987 was the first occasion when the orchestra gave a concert on its own, independently of the choir.

John Railton left the choir at the end of the 1988 season and Colin's final concert with the Society was in March 1989. Martin Hindmarsh (choir) and Stephen Threlfall (orchestra) then took over the musical direction.

In 1991-92 the musical direction changed hands again to the former leader of the Hallé Orchestra, Martin Milner, (orchestra) and Simon Mercer (choir). It was under Martin’s directorship that the tradition of a separate orchestral concert became an established part of the KEMS season.  In 1996-97, KEMS celebrated its 40th Anniversary. It was an ambitious season that included performances of Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s B minor Mass, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius and a semi-staged performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Trial by Jury. Stephen Threlfall, now Director of Music at Chetham’s School of Music, took on the direction of the orchestra in 1998, and Simon Bowler took over the choir in 1999 and choir and orchestra in 2000-01.

In May 2000, the Orchestral and Choral Workshop was the first event when the members met their new musical directors for the 2001-02 season: Peter Gunstone (choir) and Anthony Houghton (orchestra).  Peter's first season with the Society included a special concert to commemorate the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002.

In 2005, Peter was succeeded as Choir Director by lan Chesworth who remained our choral director until 2022. In the same year, the orchestra performed at the Buxton Fringe Festival for the first time. In the 2005-06 season, the orchestra was proud to give the World Premiere of Silk Impressions by Adam Gorb - a piece that reflects aspects of legends, places and industry in the Macclesfield area.

KEMS celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2006-07 with a truly ambitious series of concerts with an international flavour.  The highlight of the jubilee year for all who participated or attended in the audience was a performance, with the Tatton Singers, of Verdi's Requiem at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester on 22nd April 2007.

In the period since then the KEMS membership has continued to grow and expand its repertoire to encompass all genres of music.  KEMS Concert Band was founded in 2005 and now has over 40 members, ranging from teenagers to those in their 70s.  The band performs six or seven times a year in formal and informal concerts in stately homes, bandstands and shopping centres and famously in a quarry.  The band has already toured to Belgium, France and England and intends to do this on a bi-annual basis. The Band was thrilled to be accepted onto the Adopt a Composer scheme run by Making Music in partnership with Sound and Music in association with BBC Radio 3, funded by PRS for Music Foundation and the Philip and Dorothy Green Music Trust, working with our composer, Christopher Schlechte-Bond.

The choir and orchestra continue to extend their repertoire so ensuring that our concerts appeal to all. Our 60th Anniversary season 2016-17 included Beethoven’s Mass in C - a major collaboration between the choir and orchestra; Carols in the Stable Yard at Tatton Park (Band and members of the Choir); and a brilliant performance by the violinist Benedict Holland of Elgar’s Violin Concerto. The orchestra gave a second orchestral concert on 13th May in Congleton and to end the season, on 20th May, the Choir accompanied by a jazz group performed Will Todd’s Mass in Blue.

In recent years, KEMS has spawned yet another musical group: Macclesfield Contemporary Ensemble (originally named KEMS Minimalists).  Its foundation followed a successful workshop performance of In C, a minimalist composition for an indefinite number of performers by Terry Riley; now, the group meets regularly to explore small scale experimental modern works.  In February 2017, the group performed in Sound Scape by Lorna Green and Julia Harding at Manchester Art Gallery.

In November 2019, KEMS was rebranded as Macclesfield Singers, Macclesfield Symphony Orchestra, Macclesfield Concert Band and Macclesfield Contemporary Ensemble.

Throughout the Covid period all KEMS sections continued to do some form of rehearsing via zoom and eventually in spaces with significant gaps between members. As a society we were determined to keep KEMS going for the future even if it we were just making music for our own members pleasure. In November 2021 the Macclesfield Singers and Symphony Orchestra were thrilled to do a joint concert again and included Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ to uplift our performers and audience spirits.

In 2022, Ian Chesworth was succeeded as Macclesfield Singers Musical Director by Mark McCombs whom continues to lead the Singers in new directions and opens their eyes to different composers. As all sections of KEMS come out of the ‘covid challenge’ for music making we continue to attract new members wanting to perform and make music together.

KEMS truly is an organisation for the community. Over more than 60 years we have staged or participated in more than 500 performances – we are looking forward to celebrating our 70th season in 2026/27. There have been many musical highlights for performers and audiences alike – and we know that there will be many more to come in the years ahead.