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You are here: > TG is 95 > Imogen Holst and the Sun's Journey

TG, Imogen Holst and The Sun’s Journey

In 2021, a contact form on the TG website was completed by Liza Calisesi Maidens, Director of Choral Activities at the School of Theatre and Music, University of Illinois at Chicago.

She had just completed a doctoral degree in choral conducting at Michigan State University.  Her doctoral research included, in part, the life and choral works of Imogen Holst and her relationship with the National Union of Townswomen’s Guilds. Her dissertation was a comparison paper entitled, "20th-century British Commissions and the Democratization of Music." She examined Folksongs of the Four Seasons, by Ralph Vaughan Williams (commissioned by the National Federation of Women's Institutes in 1950) and The Sun's Journey by Imogen Holst (commissioned by the National Union of Townswomen's Guilds in 1965).

Below is an extract from Liza’s work about the NUTG piece:

In 1965, the National Union of Townswomen’s Guilds commissioned Imogen Holst to compose a choral-orchestral treble work, approximately twenty-five minutes in length, for their National Music Festival. She composed The Sun’s Journey, a fourteen- movement cantata consisting of solo recitations, semi-chorus, and full-chorus and orchestrated for flutes, strings, percussion, and piano.

Helen Anderson, the music advisor for the Townswomen’s Guild, organized the National Music Festival. Prior to the festival, she and Maurice Jacobson travelled throughout England adjudicating the choirs. Anderson would later become the warden at Denman College for the Women’s Institute and found that the quality of musicianship of the Townswomen’s Guild exceeded that of the Women’s Institute, primarily due the larger sizes of the urban guilds.
For two years, over 500 choirs affiliated with the National Union for Townswomen’s Guild from nine regions throughout England rehearsed and auditioned for the premiere (May 24, 1967). The premiere, conducted by Imogen Holst at Kingsway Hall in London, included a select roster of nine choirs from the Townswomen’s Guild, accompanied by the Jacques String Orchestra and broadcast live on “Woman's Hour” (BBC Radio).

In 2021, Liza was looking forward to continuing her research, specifically on the choral works of Imogen Holst, and was interested to know of any living musicians/TG members who participated in The Sun's Journey. This is why she contacted TG. She discovered that one of the soloists at the 1967 premiere, Noelle Baker, died in 2013.
Does anyone know anything about the other soloist, Pauline Stevens, or about any other TG members who took part?

Penny Ryan searched through many old boxes that were stored at TGHQ and eventually found a vinyl record made by the BBC of the NUTG performance of Imogen Holst’s ‘The Sun’s Journey’ in 1967. The archive of Holst’s work is held at Britten Pears Arts in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. In 2022, Britten Pears Arts expressed an interest in acquiring the vinyl recording for their archives and were willing to digitally record it for TG. There were two problems with this: firstly, Britten Pears Arts did not have sufficient allocated budget for the digital recording and secondly, they were worried about how safe it would be to send the record by post. Nothing further happened until 2023 when Britten Pears Arts had allocated sufficient funding. I asked TG Trustee Lesley Howells, who lives in Norfolk, if she might be able to deliver the record in person and at the TG Carol Service in Birmingham, I passed the record onto her. Success! After another couple of months, the vinyl record of ‘The Sun’s Journey’ composed by Imogen Holst and performed by TG choirs in 1967 was digitised. It still took another few weeks and numerous emails and phone calls contacting the BBC for permission to use the digital recording, but an extract from it is now available for us all to listen to: Spring Song and Echo’s Song from The Sun’s Journey – sung by Leamington Lillington Evening TG:


After finding out about this wonderful TG singing history, I think we need to keep TG singing.
So, look out for any singing opportunities that you or your guild could take part in.

Karen Moore, 
National Trustee


Imogen Holst


Vinyl record made of the TG music festival