News and appreciation of our long-standing chairman who recently retired from the position              

An appreciation of our retiring Chairman, David Roberts.

David took the prime initiative way back in 1976 to form a committee to keep the Danesborough Chorus going after its founder, Ted Smith, moved on to new pastures. Since then, under David's leadership and the expertise of our long-term musical director, Ian Smith, the Chorus has gone from strength to strength.

David has organised and planned everything from concert management to staging construction, instrument hire to publicity design and printing. With characteristic quiet efficiency, he has done this for 36 years helped by a variety of committee members who have persuaded him (with trepidation as to how we will cope...) to pass on many of the tasks so that he and his wife, Gerry, (also a member of the Chorus) have more time in retirement to spend travelling and to visit their children and grandchildren. David is co-opted back on to the committee to help with the transitions, and guide and advise as we move ahead.

We all owe David an enormous debt for his time and his leadership, something which will shortly be recognised more fully by the Choir. In the meantime, we are very pleased to see David recognised formally by the award of an Honorary Degree by the Open University for his contribution to music making locally. Below is an edited transcript of the speech made at the recent presentation:

Pro-Vice-Chancellor, colleagues, graduates, guests:

Perhaps surprisingly this award, for outstanding achievement in the world of music, is being presented to a former member of The Open University’s Chemistry Department, but David Roberts’ qualifications are entirely exceptional.

David is an amateur musician – a singer – and the Chairman of the Danesborough Chorus in Milton Keynes, one of the country’s leading choral societies. He has held that post since 1976, when Milton Keynes was less aptly described as a coherent community than as the country’s largest building site. It lacked most of the facilities and institutions that typically build communities. David’s role in developing the choir was critical and it provided the area with a musical focus that embraced over a hundred people as performers and many thousands more as its audience. Its repertoire has always been eclectic – an important reason, along with its quality, for the popularity of the choir in the musical life of this developing city.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of David’s work, and the work of those like him, to the music culture of our country. It is amateur musicians who generate the seed corn from which that culture and its commercial infrastructures grow. It has long been acknowledged that the strength of all music cultures, and even of musical education structures, depends on the idea that people from various walks of life see music as important to the extent that they want to be involved in it and promote it. Without the amateurs and those who organise them, our university music departments and our conservatoires would be empty, our symphony orchestras and opera houses would be unable to recruit performers, and even the popular music industry would be impoverished. It is the amateur music networks that create interest, build audiences, give birth to and nurture talent, and act as the lobbying force for music in our country.

But this does not happen accidentally. It needs people to generate activity, bring groups and communities together, keep them together and join them to audiences. David has done this over decades. His inspirational leadership and drive has not been confined to a single place: for more than twenty years he played a significant role in the Eastern region of the National Federation of Music Societies, the mutually supportive body that draws together musical amateurs from the length and breadth of the land.

Communal music-making such as choral singing and bands by definition require cooperation among participants. This is more than a metaphor; music really does bring people together in a civilised and consensual way. The Victorians recognised this, and that is why so many of our great civic edifices were built with musical performance partly in mind. David Roberts’ work is a living example of how that idea endures.

The current President of David’s choir is Jacqui Dankworth, the jazz singer, but it was her father, the iconic jazz saxophonist Sir John Dankworth (also, by the way, an honorary graduate of this university) who said that ‘David has been the lynch pin that has kept the fine tradition of English choral singing alive and well in Milton Keynes.’

Pro-Vice-Chancellor, by the authority of Senate, I present to you for the honorary degree of Master of the University, David Roberts.

Here are some pictures taken during the presentation and David's reply - which is given below.

Response by Dr David Roberts to presentation of honorary degree of Master of the University at Portsmouth on 27th October:

Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Herbert, distinguished guests, fellow graduates, and friends of the University:

I would like to begin by expressing my great appreciation to the Senate of the OpenUniversity for awarding me this honorary degree and also to those friends and former OU colleagues who most kindly put forward my nomination. It is an honour that I especially treasure since I count myself fortunate to have spent virtually the whole of my professional life working at the Open University.

However I recognize that my degree is an honorary one. Those of you who are graduating today have earned yours through sheer hard work. Having spent more than 37 years producing OU courses and teaching at residential schools, I am fully aware of the determination and perseverance necessary to gain an Open University degree and so I offer you all my warmest congratulations.  

I have been a keen choral singer for nigh on sixty years. My introduction to the joys of choral singing began at the tender age of 10 when I went to the local grammar school in Shrewsbury where I was born and grew up. It had the tradition of requiring all pupils who could carry a tune to be in the choir, which resulted in half of the 500 pupils in the school taking part. We performed a wide range of works from the choral repertoire which laid the foundation for my lifelong love of choral music.

Throughout my adult life, choral singing has provided me with much pleasure and satisfaction. I have particularly vivid memories of singing at the Aldeburgh Festival under the baton of the composer Benjamin Britten and of performing many times in the Royal Festival Hall and the Royal Albert Hall as a member of the London Choral Society under eminent conductors such as Sir Charles Groves and Sir Simon Rattle. But I have also found my role as Danesborough Chorus chairman over the past 36 years extremely rewarding and I am immensely proud of the success achieved by the choir during that time.

Sadly, the opportunity for choral singing in schools is much reduced nowadays and so recruitment of younger people to choral societies such as ours is much more difficult. Consequently, over the years, the age profile has shifted inexorably towards the more senior end of the spectrum. However, in recent years there has been a revival of interest in choral singing among adults with, for example, the widespread establishment of community choirs, the appearance of large numbers of non-traditional singing groups, and the recent stunning success of the military wives choir.  

But as well as the professionals and accomplished amateurs who are needed to train the singers and develop their necessary musical skills, groups such as these can only flourish with the help of willing volunteers to help with their organization. So to conclude I would like first to thank all my fellow singers who have contributed to the running of my choir over these many years; this honorary degree is as much a tribute to them as to me personally. And secondly, I wish to encourage all of you, whatever your interest or hobbies and whatever your skills, to consider getting involved with a local group in a voluntary capacity: if you did you would find that in return you will benefit from a far greater sense of personal satisfaction than you ever imagined.