One of the Forest’s best-known and much admired musicians has stepped down as accompanist with a male voice choir from the other side of the Wye.
The celebration dinner in honour of Rosemarie Lewis held at the Forest Hills Golf Club in Mile End on Friday came just days before she would have reached her 24th anniversary with the Chepstow Male Voice Choir.
The innocuous question: “What are you doing on Monday night?” led to nearly a quarter of a century of memorable music making.
The question came from the then headteacher of Primrose Hill Church of England Primary School in Lydney.
Mrs Lewis explained: “Dave Richards was headteacher of Primrose and he was a member of this choir.
“I was helping with the school choir and he asked me what I was doing on a Monday night.
“I said ‘nothing’ and that’s how I came to join the choir.”
She said that since becoming accompanist in January 1999, she’s had many memorable experiences.
“I’ve played in Holland, France, Spain – which I wouldn’t have done if I wasn’t with this choir.
“I would have been happy playing around the Forest.
“They’re a good gang to be with.”
Mrs Lewis first started playing piano just before her fifth birthday and now has more than 70 years’ experience at the keyboard.
As well as playing for the choir, she has an association with Cinderford Training Band which is conducted by husband Clive..
Mrs Lewis spent 22 years with the Cinderford-based Dean Singers and 15 years with the Elizabeth Corney School of Dance in Lydney.
She also has a long association with Primrose Hill School and is well known as a church musician.
Chepstow Male Voice Choir chairman David Benson paid tribute to Mrs Lewis on behalf of all the choristers at the dinner on Friday night. (January 27).
He said: “To say Rose has been in popular demand to play for choirs, brass and silver bands, weddings, funerals and churches would be an understatement.
“She has also helped nurture many young musicians working up their grade examinations.
“She has supported music and choirs in local schools and, in particular, Primrose Hill Primary School with which she is still very much involved.
“Her musical skills have supported so many people in the Forest of Dean and beyond for a very long time.”
Mrs Lewis was one of two accompanists recruited by the choir in the year of the total eclipse.
The other was Hazel Rigby and the duo “formed a great team and never ceased to impress, particularly for their willingness to accompany and develop the many soloists the choir then supported.”
In 2002 she teamed up with Eileen Chesworth for a very productive decade.
Following Eileen’s death in 2012, Mrs Lewis formed a new musical partnership and friendship with current accompanist Kirsten Sondergaard-Watson.
Mr Benson said that during her career she has played all sorts of keyboards “from church organs and grand pianos to indifferent uprights in various stages of tuning and condition.”
Electric pianos proved a challenge with the plug being kicked out at a concert in Chipping Sodbury and twice aboard the paddle steamer Waverley.
One of her most memorable moments came in 2009 when the choir supported Nigel Kennedy recording Riverman at the Rockfield studios near Monmouth.
Mr Benson said: “The Bosendorfer grand piano which Freddie Mercury and Queen had used for recording Bohemian Rhapsody was sitting there, resplendent in the studio.
“Rose had her music with her and took the opportunity to accompany (musical director) Karl Daymond and the choir singing THE song – and she has a photo to prove it.”
He also reminded the choristers of the scene at Beachley Barracks during a storm in the first rehearsals after lockdown.
“The storm clouds swirled around us, the pegs were flying and sheet music was being caught in the slips by the more agile choristers. But the rehearsal went on with Rose and Kirsten steadfast at the keyboard.”
Mr Benson also paid tribute to Mrs Lewis’s husband Clive.
He said: “They have been an exceptional musical partnership and Clive has been a wonderful support to Rose and this choir.
“Their duets and performances have greatly enhanced our concerts and their generosity of spirit has been enormous.
“All of this in addition to the work they have done training brass band musicians in the Forest of Dean.”
He added: “Rose, we already miss you greatly.
“You have been utterly reliable, a brilliant musician, a great friend to many and the constant thread that has bound this choir together over a very long time.
“We love you dearly and we owe you a huge vote of thanks.”
He then presented her with a golden rose “for the Rose of the Forest”.
The choir sang three songs for her before the evening continued with more musical entertainment.