The first recorded mention of the Bromley Music Makers was in 1947 when an AGM was held which approved the club’s name and also its aim of holding regular concerts by members for members; or in other words ‘to make our own music’. There are no formal records of any activities before that date but it is generally accepted that the club grew from friendships formed during the second World War by a handful of like-minded fire watchers in Bromley. On air-raid night duty inside factories, schools, and other large buildings, watching out for fires caused by incendiary bombs (and summoning the fire brigade if necessary), the group of fire watchers occasionally relieved the tedium of the quiet periods by making music on any piano they could find in the buildings.
After the war the group continued to meet, and started to hold informal concerts. These concerts flourished and a committee was formed to organise monthly concerts which, from the beginning, consisted of a mixture of instrumental and vocal items - a successful format which has continued ever since.
In the early years Bromley Music Makers responded regularly to requests to hold concerts to raise money for repairing war damage to local churches. Since the emergence of Bromley Arts Council we have taken part in the various festivals they have organised.
The moving spirit of the group in the beginning - and the person generally regarded as the club’s founder - was Norah Lawless, a Bromley pianist and piano teacher. Norah took a very active part in the club and was its chairman for many years. To start with the club had no regular meeting place, and in 1965 Norah scoured the borough of Bromley to find a suitable place to hold our concerts. A local doctor suggested we ask the NHS to rent us a large room at Stepping Stones, a building in Masons Hill which was used as a patients’ club room in the daytime. For the next 22 years Stepping Stones was the venue for all our concerts, and was much-loved by the members.
Norah Lawless died on New Years Day 1966. As a way of honouring her memory the club has for many years sponsored a cup in her name which is presented to the winner of the open Bach piano class at the annual Bromley competitive music festival. The winner is invited to perform at one of our concerts.
In 1978 the NHS ended our use of Stepping Stones as a venue for Bromley Music Makers’ concerts. Since then our concerts have been held at the Ripley Arts Centre in Sundridge Avenue, Bromley. ‘Ripley’ is a large Victorian villa, complete with a recital room, which had been owned by the Whyte family before being acquired by Bromley Arts Council. From the 1920s onwards the Whyte family’s four musical daughters and their friends had given chamber music recitals in the recital room (now usually known as ‘the music room’). That tradition has been kept alive by the Bromley Music Makers’ concerts and by the many other chamber music concerts held there.
In 1989 the celebrated pianist and chamber musician, Clifford Benson, became our Honorary President. He took an active interest in the club, attending some of our concerts and social events and even performing at one of our concerts during our 60th year in 2005. We were enormously saddened by his death in 2008. In 2009 we were pleased to welcome the popular international violinist (and friend of Clifford Benson), Levon Chilingirian, as our Honorary President.
Over the years our monthly concerts have celebrated many composers’ anniversaries and have often featured the music of a particular country, such as Spain, Russia, America and England. Sometimes our concerts have had a historic theme or have celebrated the music of an individual composer (although in 1985, as an antidote to the wide coverage of music by that year’s anniversary composers, we called one of our concerts The Not the Bach and Handel show)! One successful concert featured works written during or around the time of WW2 and closed with a movement from Messaien’s ‘Quartet for the end of Time’.
A memorable event was our special 60th birthday supper and concert in 2005. A total of 51 members took part in that concert, and the music of all three of our composer members was also included. The most memorable item of the evening featured 16 of our pianists playing in sequence Brahms’ set of waltzes for piano duet.
Although the performers at our concerts are generally amateur musicians (no fees or expenses are paid), some of the people who have performed for us over the years have gone on to enjoy great professional success. These include the clarinettist Emma Johnson (the 1984 BBC Young Musician) who grew up in Bromley and performed at one of our regular concerts while still at school; and the singer Elizabeth Llewellyn who, as a member of the club, performed at our concerts on several occasions in recent years before going on to gain huge critical acclaim on the international opera stage.