Recorded Vocal Art Society


established in 1953 for lovers of opera and song

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“Attention, Vocal Collectors! You are invited to attend a meeting which will be held on Wednesday, 9th September, at the Opera Tavern, Drury Lane, at 7.30 pm, for the purpose of forming a club devoted to the Reproduction of Recorded Vocal Art---Past and Present. There has been a long-felt need for a club of this kind, so come along, collectors, and give us your support.”

The publishers of this invitation must surely have been anxious about the scale of the response that they would get. Yet there must have been sufficient numbers at that preliminary gathering to make it worthwhile going ahead with the venture and the first meeting at which records were played took place only two weeks later, on 24th September, 1953 at the same Opera Tavern in Catherine Street, opposite the Drury Lane Theatre.

After an unstable period during which the British Institute of Recorded Sound and Holborn Central Library were added to the list of venues, the Society met at the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Road for three seasons, then at the Royal Scottish Corporation in Fetter Lane for eight. A great debt is owed to Gordon and Deborah Bromly for their steadfast work for the Society during those lean years. Deborah was Secretary for 20 years from 1966 and Gordon Chairman for 25 years before resigning in 1987. He was not finished even then, as he took on the thankless post of Treasurer for the next eight years.

In 1967-68 the name of the current Chairman John T. Hughes first appears on the Society’s printed programme, with a talk entitled “Lesser-known Singers of the LP Era”.

When Gordon Bromly stood down as Chairman in 1987 the minutes of the Annual General Meeting record him saying that “he was happy he was not deserting a sinking ship”. Indeed not: Gordon, who sadly died in December 2002, had played an invaluable part in setting up the Society for its most prosperous years.

The range of distinguished outside speakers to visit the Society in recent years and the areas of the singing and recording business from which they come confirm our standing. Professional singers Nelly Miricioiu, Gwen Catley, Alberto Remedios, Norman White and William McAlpine, singing teacher Gerald Martin Moore, Music Director of Opera Rara Patric Schmid, radio broadcasters Robin Gregory from BBC Radio 2 and Doug Fox from WMNR Connecticut, opera impresario David Skewes, plus Tim Day of the National Sound Archive and Ruth Edge, at the time EMI’s archivist, form an impressive list.

On March 14th 2000, for the first, and so far only time, a meeting of the R.V.A.S. took place without a single record being played. The speaker was Dame Janet Baker. It was a measure of how far the Society had come and the esteem in which it was now held that she agreed to address us on the theme “The Singer and the Art of Communication”, which was clearly central to her whole artistic being. A summary of her talk is provided as an appendix.

Nevertheless, many would say that the strength of the Society and its ability to put on an annual programme extending now to 22 events derive from the membership itself. In our midst we have, in Alan Bilgora, one of the world’s leading experts on the tenor voice and its manifestations on record. He has given an annual programme, largely focusing on tenors of the 78 era but seasoned with other voices.

Members of the committee also include Eileen Miller, our Programme Secretary, Richard Copeman, our Treasurer, Eliot Levin, Chief Executive of Symposium Records, Dr. Paul Lewis, our Honorary Secretary for several years, and Larry Lustig, Editor of The Record Collector.

Other honoured speakers from former years included John Steane, who gave a talk annually until his death, Alan Blyth, Richard Bebb and John Freestone. Just some of the newer generations of distinguished guests have included singers such as Teresa Cahill, Eiddwen Harrhy, Ann Murray, Sarah Walker, Thomas Allen, Sheila Armstrong, Yvonne Minton and Neil Howlett, the conductor David Lloyd Jones and opera director John Copley. We continue to have programmes from distinguished senior collectors such as Michael Henstock, Joe Winstanley, Stefan Johansson and Michael Aspinall.

We are now in the midst of our sixty-first season. The future of the Society looks secure. Why not come along and enjoy?!