The London Adventist Chorale


Choral excellence and witness - that was the dream that drove John Tolman when he gathered the best singers he could find in the London Adventist churches together and gave that first downbeat in 1981. Tolman's leadership of that group, The London Adventist Chorale, and that provided by his successors, Derek Hoyte and Ken Burton, coupled with the commitment of the group's twenty-eight members, led the ensemble to national prominence.

From the beginning, the idea was to reach the widest possible audience by presenting a diverse repertoire encompassing spirituals, classical masterpieces, traditional hymn arrangements, and contemporary gospel music. And for nine years the group enjoyed a modest degree of success.

It was entry into a choral competition in 1991, however, that dramatically expanded their witness. While this first attempt at competition was only moderately successful, they did receive widespread affirmation . . . and a vision of what they could potentially do. The success and recognition that followed has seemed like a dream to its members.

In 1993, they gave a debut performance of Kurt Weill's Cry,The Beloved Country at the British Broadcasting Corporation's Prom with the Matrix Ensemble, BBC Singers, and soloists Cynthia Clarey and Damon Evans. In the 1994/95 Sainsbury choral competition, England's premier choral contest, a nationally televised event aired throughout Europe, they won the coveted title of Sainsbury Choir of the Year and were subsequently named the National Gospel Choir of the Year in 1995.

They then presented the world premiere of Shelton E. Kilby III's Who Has Set Thy Glory at the Royal Albert Hall Prom in 1996, a work commissioned by the chorale as part of their prize as Sainsbury Choir of the Year. Later that year they performed at Westminster Abbey in the presence of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

In 1995 they also participated in a program at the Coliseum in London commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, an event attended by the Prince of Wales, sharing the stage with noted performers John Mills, Englebert Humperdink, and Celine Dion. As the 1990's continued, they gave numerous performances at the Southwark, Bath Choir, Edinburgh Jazz, Magenta Christmas, and other festivals.

The chorale has sung in famous auditoriums such as the Royal Albert (Proms) and Royal Festival Halls, the Barbican, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and St. John's Smith Square, and in several noted cathedrals. They have also performed at the Sorbonne in Paris, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, and the Skydome in Toronto, Canada. LAC has been featured frequently on local, national, and international radio and television broadcasts, including the BBC and ITV. Broadcast highlights for the group included guest appearances with Bryn Terfel and Larnelle Harris.

In addition to the many concerts they have given in the United Kingdom, the chorale has also toured in France, Holland, Spain, Turkey, Zimbabwe, and the United States. A CD released by the group in 1995, Deep River, and subsequent CD's have been widely praised. One of these releases, done with Ruby Philogene, was released through EMI in April 1997. That same year, they joined with the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, in giving the opening Gala Concert for the International Musical Eisteddfod in Wales and also participated in one of the UK's most distinguished musical events, the Three Choirs Festival at Hereford Cathedral.

In the new century, the choir has continued to concertize extensively. A highlight was its participation in Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee in 2002, when it sang a cappella In that Great Gettin' Up Morning and Great Day to an audience of 12,000, an event seen on television in more than 40 countries. Conductor Burton created a special arrangement of the second number for the occasion. Following the performance he was invited to join the Queen and other performers on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

In 2006 and again in 2008, the chorale was named Choir of the Year. In 2007, following a gala performance in Royal Festival Hall, Burton was again honored by being presented to the Queen. Also, in 2007, they were among the featured groups at the reopening of the Royal Festival Hall in a concert titled "An Unexpected Harmony," a mix of Baroque and gospel music. When the conductor on occasion accompanies the choir, it is often singled out as one of the highlights of the program.

In his wildest imaginings, Tolman could not have envisioned the success and breadth of witness that would result from that first downbeat in 1981. The many successes that have flowed from that bold initiative are now a matter of record, an inspiring reality, the natural result of a dream, talent, and a commitment to excellence.


Dan Shultz 2011

Sources: The Messenger, 18 July 2003, cover story; review in Vibrant Harmony by Shirley Ratcliffe, 6 September 2007; and other online sources.