The History of the Light Music Society


Why a Light Music Society?

The Light Music Society was founded in 1957 with Eric Coates as its first President. Later Presidents included Anthony Collins, Sir Arthur Bliss and Ernest Tomlinson. The current President is composer and arranger, Peter Hope.

The first Light Music Society Magazines were edited by Billy Mayerl, of Marigold fame. This was the hey-day of light music with many light orchestras broadcasting throughout the day, week in week out. So why was a society thought necessary? In Billy Mayerl’s own words, “the sober fact is that Light Music is in danger, not from direct assault, but because the lover of Light Music has no one to speak for him. There are many societies for serious music and many for jazz but, until now, none for Light Music. The Light Music Society’s declared objects are to foster the interests of Light Music throughout the world, and to obtain increased facilities for those interested in this form of culture by means of broadcasting, recording and general performance.”

The LMS was based in London and held regular meetings, concerts and social events. Many influential composers, arrangers and broadcasters were active in the society and worked hard to ensure that their range of music was represented on the air.

The Orchestra of the Light Music Society

In 1968 the society launched its own professional orchestra at a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. It broadcast regularly in the early 1970s and also made two LP recordings of light music for EMI. Tracks from these have been re-issued and are still occasionally broadcast. However, in spite of the continued efforts of LMS members, lack of support for light music in the broadcasting world led to the reduction of the society’s activities. In 1973 a small caretaker committee was appointed with Ernest Tomlinson confirmed as chairman. The society could not cease completely because it still had income from royalties of the LP Britain’s Choice. Over the next decade the chairman and committee sought for a worthy musical cause to become the beneficiary of these royalties.

The Library of Light Orchestral Music

The library was created with the combined objectives of preserving orchestral material – much of it in danger of being destroyed for all time – and furthering interest in this range of music. Ernest Tomlinson had begun his collection of this music when he discovered that publishers and the BBC were throwing away such music. The collection had grown considerably and was constantly being added to. At a meeting in 1984 the Light Music Society was confirmed as the backing organisation for the new library, and Ernest Tomlinson was re-appointed as Chairman and administrator of the library. Membership at this time was a token affair, although the committee were fully supportive of the work.

The British Light Music CDs

In the early 1990s several record companies suddenly decided to produce CDs of light orchestral music. It was soon found that many of the music publishers no longer had all the required printed music available. The Library of Light Orchestral Music was approached to supply much of the orchestral material needed for several CDs in the Marco Polo British Light Music series, and also for some Naxos, Hyperion and ASV releases. Ernest Tomlinson became a consultant to the Marco Polo label and went on to conduct two CDs of his own works, one of Haydn Wood’s music, one of the music of his friend and colleague, Ronald Binge, and a collection of light orchestral miniatures chosen by himself. Not to be outdone by the other recording companies, EMI re-issued the recordings made by the Orchestra of the Light Music Society in the late 1960s. Thus the name of the Light Music Society came before the public again. Music played on Classic FM and, occasionally, the BBC alerted music lovers to the existence of the society and its library. Enquiries to join the society began to arrive.

The Re-birth of the Light Music Society

Following the increased interest in light music by a new generation of music lovers a meeting was arranged at the Royal College of Music, London, in 1996. Attended by some of the remaining members of the society as well as younger enthusiasts wishing to join, the society was fully reactivated. Since then the LMS has become an active and important ambassador for the cause of light orchestral music. Magazines were once again sent to members and meetings and events arranged. The importance of the collection of music in the Library of Light Orchestral Music was felt to be a key element in the continuation of the society. Hundreds of orchestras and ensembles, both professional and amateur, in the UK and abroad, have been grateful for the music from our library. Even the BBC has had to use our services from time to time!

A new Chairman

As the membership of the LMS grew so too did the enthusiasm and support for the library. Ernest Tomlinson, chairman of the LMS since 1966, thankfully realised that he could at last resign, and leave the work in the hands of a new chairman and fully supportive committee. At the 2009 AGM Gavin Sutherland was voted in as the new chairman. The society immediately proposed that Tomlinson be appointed as President. He received an MBE from Her Majesty the Queen in 2012 for services to music.  

The LMS today

The aims of the society remain the same as when it was founded. We have just celebrated our 60th anniversary, but the music that we represent is still an endangered species and we are working hard to promote and preserve it. Members’ support is vital. The library is now run by Hilary Ashton, secretary of the LMS, assisted by volunteer Helen Andrews and magazine editor and assistant librarian, Dan Adams. The upkeep of the library is funded by members’ subscriptions, donations and the administration charge for the use of music in the library. In between preparing orchestral sets for send-out to orchestras they continue to catalogue and sort the music. They also produce the quarterly LMS magazine and organise the annual meeting of the society, as well as the annual concerts or playing events.