Meet the Conductor of Ross Choral Society

For further information on Ross-on-Wye Choral Society email Robin Symonds at

Ross Choral SocietyIt may be all in a day’s work for him, but there’s no mistaking the dedication and energy that Russell Burton, our Conductor, puts into training our local choir in their weekly rehearsals.

So one of the Soprano members (Sop) asked him:

Sop: What age were you when you first got hooked on choral singing?

I was 7. At a time when many children sang in church choirs, a friend at school asked me to come along. Practices were on a Friday night and a treat from my Dad when he walked us home was a bag of chips. There in Kendal Parish Church I had a wonderfully inspiring organist and choirmaster who introduced me to great choral music. I worked out that if I wanted to be a choral director, I had to learn the organ – so I practised late at night in the parish church!

Though in his words, Russell “just scraped” into Birmingham School of Music (now called the Conservatoire), as pianist and trumpeter, he graduated with Distinction in Orchestral Conducting as well as several organ and piano diplomas. His diverse career as a professional musician has included school teaching, becoming Director of Music in an Independent school when he was just 30. Moving on from his school post, Russell says,

I went on to pursue my real love, cathedral music, by becoming a Lay Clerk in 2002 at Gloucester, where I also taught singing to choristers. After 13 years I decided I wanted a change and so came here [St Philip and St James, Leckhampton] and had to revive my organ-playing.

Sop: Why did you come all the way from your home in Cheltenham to take our Thursday night practices? What do you enjoy about conducting Ross Choral Society?

R It gives me the chance to do a very different kind of music with a very different group. I’m meeting a whole different set of people – it’s quite therapeutic!

Rather than rehearsing the changing repertoire week by week for Sunday services, it’s the systematic build-up of learning, preparing for concert performance. And I get to conduct orchestras! I won’t pretend it’s not stressful at times – but stress is part of fulfilment for a musician! And to see results, work coming to fruition after 10 weeks of hard slog is very fulfilling.

Sop: Tell us about this term’s December programme. We’ve got a real contrast in the December 3rd concert, between Mendelssohn’s “Hymn of Praise” and Will Todd’s contemporary “Mass in Blue”.

R Yes, that’s a piece by a Jazz composer who was educated in Durham. It features a sassy Soprano solo and we have a crack ensemble from the Jazz department of the Birmingham Conservatoire as accompaniment.  A demanding piece, out of the normal choral repertoire – very different – guaranteed to raise the roof! And then there’s our Christmas Carols and tea the following Saturday. It’s the Choir going into the town, giving Ross people the chance to enjoy the familiar music that’s a part of our natural rhythmic yearly cycle. I try to ensure a Christmas programme that spans history in the music it draws on.