The story - so far...

In early 1970, the then Bletchley College of Education, (training students to become teachers), asked the Open University to nominate someone for their Board of Governors. The man they asked was John Ferguson who was Dean of Arts at the time. He didn't get off to a good start because all the Governor's meetings clashed with major university meetings. However, he got to know the College Staff and suggested to the Principal that there might be some role he could perform. The suggestion from the Principle was that John could help the musical lecturer by conducting a Madrigal group...and so began Milton Keynes Madrigal Singers, most probably in October 1970 .

John conducted the choir until April 1979 when he moved to Birmingham (and started a new group there). During that time the choir performed many concerts, almost all of the music sung was madrigals with a sprinkling of spirituals and the occasional solo item. John arrived at each rehearsal with a bulging suitcase (possibly two), crammed full of sheet music. It was his habit to hand out music and simply play the first chord. It was sight reading thereafter until it came round a second time and became more familiar. We would sing without a break for an hour and a half to two hours, getting through an enormous amount of work.

As can be seen by examining some copies of our vast collection - now in excess of 400 pieces of music - they originate from places like Ibadan in Nigeria, (John formed a Madrigal group at a college) and Appalachia (he spent some time in America). He probably started up a group there too!

Madrigal singers, associated with John, from all over the world, meet uo every two years and have a weekend of singing. Although John is no longer with us in person, he is still with us in spirit as we continue with this tradition.

The written records of the choir are missing for the three year period after John and Elnora (Mrs Ferguson) moved although Ken Breedon stepped in and took baton for all or part of this time.

Audrey Kirkbride was certainly the conductor in January 1982 and continued until 1988. During that time it was felt that we should have a change of name and so we became the Canzonetta Singers, named after a favourite motet.

Audrey was determined to arouse the competitive spirit within the choir and entered us in Milton Keynes Festival of the Arts in February 1982. We were voted best choir in the Madrigal Section and also Four Part Choirs, gaining certificates of Honours for singing 'Canzonetta' (91 marks) and 'Sweet Day' (90 marks). The following month we attended a Masterclass at the Wavendon Stables under Avril Dankworth. I recall that she was surprised at the standard of our singing of Sweet Day. We repeated our success the following year gaining first place in the same two groups, getting a distinction for singing 'Since I first saw your face'. March 1994 saw us with another first place in the Madrigal Group, singing 'Matona lovely maiden', dropping the third place in the four part choir with our rendition of 'Waly Waly' (Merit) and 'Let it be' (Distinction). Sadly we have not entered any more competitions since that time.

After Audrey and her husband Vic moved up North, her place was taken, reluctantly, by Philip Lingard who really preferred to sing than conduct. Philip did a splendid job for three years and was succeeded by another reluctant hero, Les White. Les took us through thick and thin from 1992 until 1998 when our present conductor, Sharon Hardacre took over.

Throughout these recent years we have been grateful for the help given to the choir by Mary McKinnel who, as deputy conductor, helped out on numerous occasions.

The choir has had fluctuating numbers over the years. My records begin in 1982 when we had 17 members on the books. In 1989 there were 21 and 15 in February 1990. Things got so bad in 1993 that an EGM was held to discuss the future of the choir. At the time of writing we have 20 members on the books.

The Ladies first wore green tabards in December 1987, although now everyone wears a smart fancy waistcoat. (Ken Plackett. 19/01/2000)

When Sharon took over the mantle of musical director she added a new dimension to our performances through the use of high quality accompaniment medium which she creates diligently from full orchestral scores. This has enabled us to undertake larger works such as the Verdi Requiem and Carmina Burana by Carl Orf. Our repertoir has grown accordingly which has enabled our small group of people to sing larger works without having to hire or engage full orchestras.

We have also moved away from our uniform of waistcoats in keeping with current fashion and wear simple black and white with scarlet ties and scarves.

Sharon is passionate about quality and accuracy and making singing an enjoyable experience. Although many members read music, it is not essential as Sharon takes each part though their pieces note by note.

The future? - we are always looking for new members. Even if you are not sure whether you are a Soprano or Alto, (or Bass or Tenot) but like to sing, why not come along and give us a try. We would like to see you.

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