Officers & Presidents

Presidents –
Sir Thomas Allen
Michael Chance CBE
Sir Nicholas Hytner
Graham Johnson OBE
Dame Cleo Laine
Dame Patricia Routledge
Professor Robert Saxton
Dame Harriet Walter

    Chairman – Sarah Leonard.
    Vice Chairman – Stephen Varcoe.
    Secretary – Carol English.
    Treasurer – Colin Drage.
    Membership Secretary – Patricia Williams.
    Committee Members
    Jonathan Courage,  Jean Hornbuckle,  Stephen Miles, Carolyn Richards, Jane Roberson.
            • Hon. Chaplain – The Reverend Prebendary William S. Scott CVO.

The History of the AESS

The Association of English Singers and Speakers was formed in 1913 by the leading laryngologist of his time, Dr W.A. Aikin, to further study the scientific principles of phonology as expounded in his book, ‘The Voice’. This was an all-male society of well-known singers and teachers who met at regular intervals to dine and discuss questions of vocal and professional interest. Two of the original members were Harry Plunket Greene, a singer famed for his English oratorio interpretations, and William Shakespeare, a leading singing teacher at the Royal Academy of Music.

During the 1920s the Society compiled and initiated publication of ‘Fifty Modern English Songs’ , the first time a collection of songs by contemporary British composers had been published. (The volume is available, as part of ‘A Heritage of Twentieth Century British Song’, published by Boosey & Hawkes). Sir Percy Buck and Sir Henry Wood, among others, served as Presidents, and after the war the AESS opened its doors to include the speech and drama professions. In 1969 women were at last admitted to membership!

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The AESS Today

1989 saw the AESS Constitution revised. Its purpose redefined as being ‘to encourage communication of English words in speech and song with clarity, understanding and imagination’. The AESS has now achieved charitable status.

In 1982 the then chairman, Catherine Lambert, inaugurated the AESS National English Song Prize and this is still an annual event. It was the first vocal competition to combine a ‘themed’ recital of English Song, with verse speaking together with spoken introductions. From 1999 – 2002 the competition was generously sponsored by the Concordia Foundation, founded by the international Soprano, Gillian Humphreys. Early in 2003 the distinguished actress and singer, now Dame Patricia Routledge, one of our honorary presidents, graciously enquired if she could be of any assistance. Miss Routledge initially agreed to be the sponsor of the Song Prize until 2012 but has very kindly agreed to continue to sponsor the Song Prize until 2021.

In 2003 the AESS began the National Junior English Song Competition in conjunction with the British and International Federation of Festivals. The prizes for this were funded from a masterclass given at the Wigmore Hall by the distinguished American baritone, Thomas Hampson. In 2005, Mr Hampson gave another masterclass at the Royal Academy of Music and this funded a restructured Junior Recital Competition run solely by the AESS. The first final of this prize was held in London in October 2006. In 2007 the name of the competition was changed to ‘The Catherine Lambert Junior Recital Prize’ as Catherine generously offered sponsorship until 2011. At the same time Coral Gould offered to fund an annual third prize for the competition. In 2011 Catherine Lambert extended her sponsorship and an anonymous donor added a £200 prize for the best speech element funded until 2017.

In 2010 Courtney Kenny offered long-term sponsorship for an intermediate competition ‘The Courtney Kenny Award’ for 18-23 year-olds.

Some time ago, at the instigation of John Bishop, the owner of Thames Publishing and under the editorship of Michael Pilkington and Garry Humphreys, the AESS began a prospective ten volume series entitled ‘A Century of English Song’. The first seven volumes, published by Thames, have been completed and are available through Music Sales. In 2016 the three remaining volumes were published by Good Music and all the details are on the AESS website.

In 2014 the AESS started the Toni Fell Musical Theatre Prize in association with The Toni V Fell Musical Charitable Trust.

In 2017 the AESS started a competition for actors, and the 1st prize is sponsored by Timothy West and Prunella Scales.

The AESS regularly organizes concerts for it’s members under the title of Unsung Heroes, giving members and their students an opportunity to perform and listen to less well known Songs in English.

Artists who have recently given their time to promote the educational aims of the Association have included, Joy Mammen, Julia McKenzie, Mary Hammond, Howard Wong, John Lofthouse, Katerina Karneus, Sir Thomas Allen, Andrew Motion, Anne Harvey, Graham Trew, David Williams, Gabriel Woolf, Rosamund Shelley, Jonathan Miller, Sarah Walker, Richard Jackson, Graham Johnson, Stephen Varcoe, Robert Ponsonby, Norman Lebrecht, Adele Leigh, Lord Smith, Richard Suart, Catherine Bott and James Bowman.