A dual life - Ian Boughton

Having just joined the Royston Choral Society to get my vocals back in training, I feel I have come full circle in my musical activities. I was a late developer, only taking a real interest in the passion for singing in my mid 20’s when I began formal lessons with the late Malcolm Singer. I’ve always been interested in stage-work and belonged to two amateur dramatic societies but, despite my heritage of being the youngest grandson of English composer Rutland Boughton (1878-1960) I had no ambition on the music profession and instead joined the Civil Service. I remained there until very recently when I took early retirement, but over the years I developed my interest in the music world exploring choral singing, opera and solo singing to, finally, running a music charity.

In the late 1980’s and early 90’s, I was a member of the BBC Symphony Chorus where I gained enormous experience and at a high standard, I became exposed to a wide range of choral works, meeting interesting singers and conductors, mainly performing at the BBC Proms. I particularly remember Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder under Boulez, and Mahler’s “symphony of a thousand” under Tennstedt. We spent exhausting hours at recording sessions and the work that interested me was Ethel Smyth’s Mass in D which hadn’t been performed for decades. After I became selected to be the soloist for a world premiere recording of Borodin’s Requiem (which, incidentally, I was badged as a tenor on the CD label rather than a baritone!).

I decided on further vocal coaching and found a brilliant teacher at Covent Garden who specialised in the ‘bel canto’ style. Although I tried without success to get into an Opera House, I got the chance to perform principal baritone roles in works from Britten to Verdi with semi-professional groups. I also had offers for solo work with a number of choirs around the country – Faure Requiem, Handel Messiah, Haydn Creation, Verdi Requiem, and others, where I shared the platform with singers who are now well-established professionals. The piece that I cherished most, and had plenty of offerings, was Carmina Burana which is very challenging for the baritone soloist. When I sang it in Bedford in 1996, I came in a beat too soon at ‘In Taberna’ forcing the orchestra to adjust in time with me for the ‘Feror ego’. I didn’t forget that and neither did they; I was never invited back!

When I returned to the UK in 2001 following a posting at the British Embassy in Egypt, the music scene had changed. I returned to the stage in a number of Gilbert & Sullivan productions but for most of my spare time I was involved in the charity set up to promote my grandfather’s music. My day job became very demanding, but I did join the Civil Service Choir to keep singing, though the pandemic, of course, prohibited that for a while. In more recent times, I wanted to pursue my other passion - sports cars! Now retired, I don’t have to worry about those motorway commutes any more. I can now enjoy the benefits of being both an MG and MX-5 owner, singing my favourite arias behind the steering wheel with the top down and the wind in my hair; well, if I still had any that is!