Sarah Leonard - Chairman
About the AESS
The AESS is passionate about encouraging the communication
of English words in speech and song in young singers and actors.
We run five competitions annually for young people between the ages of 13 - 35.
There are three classical singing competitions, which uniquely have a speech element in them, one actors competition and one composers competition. All finals are open to our membership and the public. All first prize-winners are invited to participate in The Prize Winners Concert held annually as part of the London Song Festival.
We also hold a number of Masterclasses.
We support an AESS English Song class in many Competitive Music Festivals throughout the country.
For our members, we run an annual Unsung Heroes Day to celebrate less well known and neglected English language composers, with participation from our membership.
Our AGM and dinner include professional entertainment and a guest speaker.
All members can enter their students into the competitions at
a reduced rate.
Become a member of the AESS and help support our work.
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!
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 very generously continues to sponsor this competition to the present day.
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 of the 1st and 2nd prizes 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 to the present day and an anonymous donor added a £200 prize for the best speech element funded until 2017. The Speech Prize of £100 is now generously offered by Lynda Morgan.
From 2010 - 2021 Courtney Kenny offered long-term sponsorship for an intermediate competition ‘The Courtney Kenny Award’ for 18-23 year-olds for both singers and pianists. Since his death the competition has been renamed The Dorothy Richardson English Song Prize and is funded from a generous legacy left to the AESS.
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 "Publications" page of AESS website.
From 2014 - 2017 the AESS held 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 first prize was sponsored by Timothy West and Prunella Scales from 2017 - 2022. From 2023 the Concert Artistes’ Association ( CAA) will sponsor the prize.
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, Susan Bullock, Dame Sarah Connolly and James Bowman.