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“The amateur music society has been my life”

The amateur orchestra and choir was founded in 1975.
The amateur orchestra and choir was founded in 1975. / SUR
  • Collegium Musicum is a flourishing amateur international music society that reflects the cosmopolitan nature of the Costa del Sol

  • Annemarie Philipps has been the musical director of Collegium Musicum since January 1992

Collegium Musicum, an amateur choir and orchestra that was formed in 1975, will be giving a series of concerts on the coast during the last week of May. Their popular concerts are held twice yearly, but most people may fail to recognise the amount of hard work and dedication that goes into presenting these shows.

During the early days, rehearsals were held in the living room of the group’s musical director, although today it has grown beyond all expectations. A flourishing international music society that reflects the cosmopolitan nature of the Costa del Sol, Collegium Musicum now has more than 100 singers and instrumentalists of some 20 nationalities.

Their success however, is down to the perseverance and sheer hard graft of one woman; although she is quick to recognise the professionalism of everyone involved with the project.

Annemarie Philipps, originally from Bremen in Germany, has been the musical director of the orchestra since January 1992, although she has been a member since 1978.

Annemarie, who has lived in Spain for 40 years, comes from a musical background, although she never attended music college until rather later in her life.

She had spent many holidays on the Costa del Sol and so when she came to live in Spain, she decided to settle in Marbella - a decision prompted partly by the fact there was a German school in the town.

She soon discovered the City Orchestra of Malaga, later to become the Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra, which she joined as a viola player, but her time with them was short-lived.

Interesting discovery

It was around this period that the classical music lover heard about Collegium Musicum, which, at the time, was a small group of about a dozen singers and a handful of instrumentalists.

Annemarie’s introduction to the amateur music society was a rather unusual experience. Unbeknown to her, she was about to discover a long-lost relative. This happened during her first Christmas in Spain, when she attended one of the society’s concerts in Marbella.

“When we arrived at the church where the concert was being held, we were met by a very distinguished looking lady who was handing out the musical programme. She spoke with a very heavy German accent and she asked if I had any experience of singing. When I told her that I had sung in the choir in Bremen, she became very excited,” Annemarie told SUR in English.

The woman informed Annemarie that she too was from Bremen and that her cousin was the organist of the cathedral in Bremen. The organist also happened to be the cousin of Annemarie’s father, and the two women quickly realised to their surprise that they were related.

The relative, also called Annemarie, was the musical director of Collegium Musicum at that time, and the two engaged in a friendship that would last until she died in 1992.

“It was a wonderful time and my aunt, as I called her, was a dedicated musical director. She lived long enough to see me take over as the director and conductor of the orchestra, and she was very happy about that,” Annemarie says nostalgically.

Annemarie has now been in charge for more than 25 years and she still gets great satisfaction from organising the 100-strong group. However, the preparation of the musical scores and the organisation of rehearsals are not easy, as the 68-year-old conductor points out.

“Collegium Musicum has been my life, but there is such a lot of work to do. We have to first work out what we need in the repertoire, and then we need to arrange musical scores, musicians, solo singers and the choir, so it keeps us on our toes.”

She also has to prepare all the musical arrangements for the choir, which is usually around 75 pages per singer, but Annemarie points out that she couldn’t do this without the help of Delyth Bressington, her musical arranger and pianist.

Delyth studied music at the University of Wales and she spent many years teaching music in secondary schools in Cardiff, before moving to the Costa del Sol in 2003.

She got involved with the amateur music society almost immediately and today she is considered the backbone of the group. Delyth specialises in arranging the music to suit the needs of the group.

“The task of organising and arranging a group of this size is extremely difficult because there are so many different nationalities. Many of these people have never sung before, and they don’t read music, so they cannot really follow a conductor,” Delyth explains.

Instead, the choir has to learn the score by ear and this is where Delyth demonstrates her true merit, according to Annemarie.

“Delyth is in tune with everyone and during rehearsals she knows what she can bring out of each member; she can almost read our minds,” the conductor says.

The two formed a musical bond that has earned them the name of ‘The Dream Team’ and they have enjoyed a lasting relationship because they easily connect with each other, both on stage and off. However, as they both astutely point out, one needs a sense of humour in order to succeed.

“We are always organised, albeit organised chaos on some occasions, but more than anything, one needs to be able to smile. If you don’t have a sense of humour you can forget the whole thing; it has to be fun for it to work,” Annemarie says with conviction.

The first of Collegium Musicum’s series of summer concerts will be held at the IPV Palace Hotel & Spa in Fuengirola this Sunday 21 May. The concert, which will feature the Camerata Singers from Sotogrande, begins at 8pm and tickets cost €12.

Further concerts will be held in Marbella and Sotogrande.