top of page

A Word from our Musical Director

Ben Gunner reflects on 45 years of the Royal Free Singers:

Spring 1973 and the early days


I had always been involved in choral singing and perhaps it was inevitable that I wrote to parents in March 1973 inviting them to come and sing. About 15 of us met in the school geography room.  There was no piano and keyboards hadn’t been invented. There were no auditions and anyone was welcome, no matter their singing ability, just as they still are today. We sang community songs and folk songs in unison - All Through the Night and Men of Harlech and plenty of others.

By 1975 we had 24 members and in 1976 we entered Slough Arts Festival and Maidenhead Music Festival performing The Lover’s Complaint (Holst), Just as the Tide was Flowing (Vaughan Williams) and Sweet Maiden (Lassus). In Slough, we won first prize in the adult mixed choir category (actually we were the only entrant!).


Small beginnings to a Windsor institution

The Royal Free Singers has certainly grown from a modest start to the large community choir it now is. There were several landmarks for us. After several years of taking part in low-key concerts, suddenly in 1981, eight years after the RFS was formed, we gave a concert in Windsor Parish Church with an orchestra. It included the Messe de Minuit by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) and was something of a breakthrough. 

In 1982 we took a huge step when we performed Mendelssohn’s Elijah in Windsor Parish Church. Ian Watson, one of the great keyboard players at the time accompanied us on the organ. I remember he made the organ sound like an orchestra, such was his prodigious talent. The choir felt a great sense of achievement after this concert and our confidence and self-belief seemed to grow in leaps and bounds from then on.  We reached another level again in 1985 when we combined with the Princess Margaret Royal Free School Choir to perform Haydn’s Creation with a large orchestra in Eton School Hall. Princess Margaret was in the audience and Simon Keenlyside, now Sir Simon Keenlyside CBE, was the bass soloist. He was at the beginning of his glittering career.


​The next 30 years 1988 - 2018

The RFS are at their best performing large choral works that require large orchestral forces. This repertoire quickly became standard for the RFS during the following thirty years:-

  • Bach's St John and St Matthew Passions

  • Beethoven’s Mass in C

  • Brahms' Requiem

  • Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, The Apostles, The Kingdom, The Music Makers and Spirit of England

  • Handel's Messiah, Israel in Egypt and Dixit Dominus

  • Haydn's Creation and The Seasons

  • Monteverdi's Vespers 

  • Mozart's C Minor Mass and Requiem 

  • Karl Orff's Carmina Burana 

  • Poulenc's Gloria

  • Puccini's Messa di Gloria 

  • Rossini's Petite Messe Solenelle 

  • Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony

  • Verdi's Requiem

We have also explored music from our own time and different styles:-

  • Our patron Jonathan Willcocks' A Great and Glorious Victory 

  • David Fanshaw’s African Sanctus

  • Will Todd’s Mass in Blue

  • Bob Chillcott’s Little Jazz Mass

  • Giles Swayne's Missa Tiburtina 

  • Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms

  • Zoltan Kodaly’s Missa Brevis

  • Joseph Jongen’s Mass

  • Jean Langlais’ Messe Solennelle

  • Richard Blackford's Mirror of Perfection

  • Flor Peeters' Missa Festiva 

bottom of page