Music Director of Chipperfield Choral Society retires after 32 years

Ian Hope, friend of Chipperfield Choral Society, writes about the farewall concert for their Musical Director (MD) of 32 years, Delia Meehan.

For those of us of a certain age, the name Delia will always have a connection with a legendary cookery writer. But for anyone connected with music in Hertfordshire during the last 40 years, the name Delia has a different connection – to Delia Meehan; musician, teacher, conductor and animateur, who on 1 April 2023 conducted her final performance of Handel’s 'Messiah' after 32 years as MD of Chipperfield Choral Society. At a time when choral singing in the U.K. is seemingly in decline, a sold-out Barbirolli Hall at the St. Clement Danes School – and an equally large number of amateur singers – showed continued enthusiasm for leisure-time music making in this corner of Hertfordshire.

The question is: how does Delia do it? Delia has an extraordinary ability to make every single member of the choir feel special; she knows everyone personally – and she seems to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of not only members of the choir, but their families too. New members are personally welcomed to the choir, creating a sense of belonging.

'Delia has an extraordinary ability to make every single member of the choir feel special.'

Handel’s 'Messiah' was a perfect choice for Delia’s final concert. The massed ranks of the chorus had been meticulously prepared, sounding suitably sprightly in 'For Unto Us a Child Is Born', and even managing to tackle the fearsome counterpoint of 'Let Us Break Their Bonds' with confidence and panache. The last two bars of the final 'Amen' chorus had an unusually long rallentando – the final long drawn-out timpani strokes demonstrating perhaps that, even after 32 years, Delia was loath to depart. 

Delia was ably supported by an orchestra which consisted mainly of friends and former students. The four vocal soloists - Elizabeth Watts (soprano), Rosemary Clifford (mezzo), Tom Robson (tenor) and Alex Ashworth (bass) – provided wonderful moments of drama and some exceptional musicality. A particular highlight was an outstanding rendition of 'I Know That My Redeemer Liveth' by Elizabeth Watts, full of conviction and subtly coloured with effortlessly delivered ornamentation. 

Delia leaves the Chipperfield Choral Society in rude health. It’s not every concert that offers free bubbly and cake to everyone at the end – but this provided a perfect opportunity for everyone to thank Delia for her exceptional contribution to music for the past 32 years.

Find out more about the Chipperfield Choral Society on their website.