A couple of weeks ago, I headed across the bridge to South Wales to hear ‘Brass and Voices’ – a collaboration of the Cory Band and four Male Voice Choirs. I’m told there were 180 singers performing on the night, their impressive, unified sound filling every corner of St David’s Hall in Cardiff.

This got me thinking about choirs and their relative sizes. I’ve recently undertaken some research into the triennial Handel Festivals which took place in the Crystal Palace between 1857 and 1926. For the inaugural event in 1857, the full chorus comprised over 1,100 amateur singers from London plus 200 professional singers and 850 choristers from cathedral choirs across the country – that’s over 2,000 singers who took to the stage, alongside 385 musicians in the orchestra. Quite a musical force which entertained a total of nearly 50,000 audience members across four performances, including the rehearsal. It seems that everything in Victorian times was measured by the enormity of its size and scale! By the third festival in 1862, the numbers increased again to 2,765 singers, 457 musicians (plus the mighty festival organ) to entertain audiences totalling over 80,000. Even by today’s standards this seems a mighty event. So I had a look at some of the world records involved in the size of choirs and it would appear that the Welsh held the record for the largest contingent of singers for some years, with a performance of Gwahoddiad (among other great hymns) at the old Cardiff Arms Park stadium back in 1993. 8,000 singers performing with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Owain Alwel Hughes conducting. A pretty impressive lifting of the stadium’s roof through choral singing.

Of course, records are there to be broken and a quick look at the Guinness World Records gives an idea of the sheer size and variety of record attempts for the largest choir ever amassed. The numbers are pretty impressive: 21,262 performers in a gospel choir in the Philippines, 4,500 in a UK rock choir which hit the top 40 charts… but nothing compares to the whopping 121,440 people who performed in unison for over five minutes in Perungalathur, Chennai, India, on 30 January 2011. Sadly there are no clips online to view this monumental performance but I’m sure the Victorians would have been impressed!

Debbie, Notes from Last Night

About Debbie: A lifelong lover of music of all types, Debbie Nichol is currently studying an MA in Music, focussing on music performance and repertoire, and music reception and social histories. By trade she’s a freelance marketing specialist and when not studying or working, spends time singing with a chamber choir and in a barbershop quartet, and writing a music blog: http://www.notesfromlastnight.co.uk