Music director: Stephen Hall OBE
Patron: Dame Clare Moriarty DCB
“If anyone needed further proof that singing can bring people together and transform our lives, look no further than the Civil Service Choir! Their enthusiasm and sheer enjoyment of performing is infectious, in addition to their commitment and diligence in entertaining their audience with truly heartening performances.”
Ben Parry – Artistic Director of National Youth Choirs of Great Britain & Assistant Director of Music, King’s College, Cambridge
The Civil Service Choir is no ordinary workplace choir. It is the largest and most thriving choir in the Civil Service, with over 150 members drawn from government departments and agencies in Westminster, and with a reputation for remarkable performances.
We perform a wide range of accompanied and unaccompanied repertoire in ambitious programmes in concerts and for events (see performances).
In June 2019 we sang in a Service of Thanksgiving in Westminster Abbey for the life and work of Jeremy, Lord Heywood of Whitehall GCB CVO. We are honoured to give concerts in the prestigious and magnificent baroque concert venue of St John’s Smith Square; in the beautiful Victorian church of St Stephen’s, Rochester Row; in the Guards’ Chapel, Wellington Barracks; and at events in various Government Departments in Westminster. We undertook our first tour in October 2018 during which we sang at the Menin Gate Last Post Ceremony in Ypres and gave a concert at the church of St Walburga in Bruges, Belgium. Hear a selection of our concert performances.
We performed in St John’s Smith Square on the tenth occasion in January 2020 performing parts 1 and 6 of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. In November 2019 we were there performing Bob Chilcott’s A Little Jazz Mass and Will Todd’s Songs of Love and his arrangement of Amazing Grace in the London Jazz Festival. Will Todd attended the concert and talked about his pieces. We also performed in the same venue earlier in the year, with Ola Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass in July and Schubert’s two settings of the Stabat Mater as part of the Holy Week Festival in April. Other concerts there have included Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor, Beethoven’s Mass in C, and Poulenc’s Stabat Mater. We have also given concerts at St Martin-in-the-Fields, St Sepulchre-without-Newgate and St Katharine Cree as part of the Brandenburg London Choral Festival, most recently performing Vivaldi’s Gloria in St Martin’s in September 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic meant four planned concerts at St John’s Smith Square were cancelled, including our second appearance in the London Jazz Festival. Face to face activities effectively ceased between March 2020 and September 2021. However four virtual recording projects were undertaken and there were some virtual rehearsals. Three live church services were possible with a limited choir performing within government guidelines – at one point restricting us to just six singers. Weekly face to face rehearsals resumed in October 2021 but activities have continued to be affected by restrictions and changes in work patterns.
What people have said about our performances:
- “What a terrific choir!”
- “I love this wonderful choir” – composer Will Todd
- “Thanks for a fabulous performance of Songs of Love this evening. What a lovely concert – great to hear you all” – composer Will Todd
- “Just brilliant”
- “Absolutely stunningly good. Bravo”
- “One of the largest and certainly most adventurous and successful work place choirs” – London Jazz Festival
- “Hugely talented people committed to bringing musical joy to others”
- “Fantastic sound and everyone was so enthusiastic”
- “The choir were amazing”
- “An outstanding choir, an outstanding orchestra”
- “A unique and inspiring event”
- “A tremendous gig. Orchestra terrific!”
- “Really moving. When are you performing again?”
- “Amazing as ever”
- “The choir performed brilliantly”
- “The choir and orchestra were outstanding”
- “You sounded incredible”
- “Simply phenomenal”
- “It was absolutely magnificent, exhilarating and unexpectedly emotional”
- “A fantastic and stunning achievement”
- “It was amazing. I loved it”
- “An amazing event. Absolutely brilliant”
- “People in the audience wiping tears from their eyes”
- “A magnificent concert”
- “A truly outstanding set of performances”
- “A spine-tinglingly beautiful concert”
- “It was as if I had gone to heaven”
- “A brilliant concert”
- “It was stunning”
- “You were amazing”
- “That was fantastic”
- “I can’t believe how good that was”
See lots of photographs of the choir on our Facebook page. In February 2018 we featured in a BBC Radio 4 documentary about the Civil Service and Brexit.
We are very proud to have such a fantastic choir as part of the Civil Service family.
The choir was officially recognised as The Civil Service Choir in May 2019. However, it was founded in September 2009 as Etcetera, originally as a staff choir covering three government departments in Westminster: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra); Transport (DfT); and Communities and Local Government – now the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). It is from these Departments, and a purposeful loss of a space, that it derived its name: Environment Transport Communities to ETC to Et[ ]cetera and subsequently Etcetera – The Civil Service Choir.
With its inclusive name (“et cetera” means “and so forth”), the choir grew to have a membership from over 30 government departments and other bodies in Westminster, with in particular strong representation from the Department for Education (DfE), Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and the Home Office. We also have a number of former Civil Servants as members. Dame Clare Moriarty, former Permanent Secretary, became our first patron in 2017.
We can however trace our lineage through several predecessor choirs: Victoria Singers (1997-2000), Marsham Singers (1972-97), St Christopher Singers (1964 to 1972) and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government Choral Society (1957-72). There was a Civil Service Choir in the 1920s and we are planning to do some research to find out more.
The choir’s debut concert in November 2009 was with 25 singers having started with only 4 people at the first rehearsal two months earlier.
The choir is conducted and managed by founder music director Stephen Hall OBE, who works in Defra. After several years of being on the other side of the baton in choirs, founding the choir was his first regular experience of directing one. He has since benefitted from formal choral conducting training through the Association of British Choral Directors and the English Choral Experience. In 2013, Stephen received Defra’s Engholm Trophy for founding and developing the choir. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s 2018 Birthday Honours for voluntary and charitable service. Read an interview about what motivated Stephen to found the choir and what motivates him in now.
Other musical support
We are also regularly joined by members of the Whitehall Orchestra and other musicians to form our own bespoke orchestral consorts. Our larger-scale performances regularly feature soloists including from the Royal Academy of Music.
Raising money for charities
Where practicable our concerts have free admission. Instead of charging entry we have collections at the end of our performances – an important aspect of our ethos. So far we have raised £39,700 for charities.
Our principal charity is the Cardinal Hume Centre, based on Horseferry Road. The Centre does incredible work to alleviate poverty and homelessness, and transforms people’s lives right on our doorstep.
We have recently started supporting the Charity for Civil Servants, which provides welfare and other support.
We have also supported The Lifeboat Fund – helping the RNLI to save lives at sea – which is the oldest Civil Service charity, celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2016.
Through First World War Acts of Remembrance concerts at the Guards’ Chapel we have raised over £2,000 for armed forces charities.
We are funded by direct membership subscriptions and very generously by the SPARTA Recreational Association to which members in Department for Transport and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities subscribe.
The choir is managed by an elected committee drawn from its membership and other choir members take on tasks to help with its administration.
The choir was awarded the Defra Vandepeer Trophy in 2015 in recognition of its success and contribution to the Department.