The necessity for a larger chorus probably coincided with early performances of Handel’s Messiah (first given at Three Choirs in Gloucester in 1757), and the then growing oratorio repertoire by Handel, his contemporaries and successors (Mendelssohn and Haydn in particular). In 1850, the advertisements for the Gloucester Festival proudly boasted a “ Chorus” comprising “nearly three hundred performers, selected with care from the Choral Societies and Choirs of Exeter Hall, Bristol, Norwich, Windsor, Worcester, Hereford, etc.” Such visiting singers continued to swell the ranks of the Festival Chorus until the late nineteenth century, many of them travelling a circuit of the major music festivals each year.
Today, the Festival Chorus is made up of auditioned amateur singers from the three cities of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester who supplement the 3 cathedral choirs. The chorus is convened some months prior to the Festival, and is typically made up of half ‘home’ singers, and half ‘away’. Most choral societies will spend a term learning music for one concert: the Festival chorus has marginally more than that to learn music for up to six concerts. It is an immensely hard-working group, and consistently performs to a very high standard.