Robin Nelson, 73, is conductor of Swindon Choral Society, which is preparing for its Spring into Summer concert on Saturday at St Mark’s Church. Shortly afterwards, 48 members of the choir will begin a tour of Europe, including a performance of one of Robin’s own compositions at the Menin Gate World War One memorial to the missing of Ypres in Belgium. Robin, a retired music teacher, lives in Avebury.

ROBIN Nelson’s love of music dates back to his childhood in West Kirby on the Wirral.

“I see the small sitting room and the upright piano, and my brother, five years older than me, rattling through Bach and Mozart, and bringing me up musically – through the old 78s initially and then the EPs and the LPs.

“I was introduced to music that was beyond me, really. At the age of ten I was listening to Brandenburg Concertos by Bach, string quartets by Beethoven, Mozart overtures, Magic Flute, etcetera etcetera.

“I kind of stored it up in my brain as something that was definitely having an effect on me.

“The earliest memories, really, are of being a choirboy in the local church choir, of my brother being musically very active and having fellow musicians coming to the house and playing wind quintets – because he was a good flautist. He eventually got into the National Youth Orchestra, where he was first flute.”

Robin remembers playing piano duets with his brother, who went on to become a mathematician, and with his mother.

“We would frequently collapse into hysterical giggles playing together, laughing at each other’s mistakes and all the rest of it.”

A choral scholarship to Cambridge was followed by teacher training and a long career as a music teacher in a variety of schools. In 1982, Robin and his wife and family came to Wiltshire when he accepted the job of head of music at Marlborough College. Retiring at 60, he was immediately contacted by Swindon Choral Society and asked to take on his current role.

Robin has been composing music since the age of about 11, and has many published pieces.

His better known works for the choir include Brunel’s Kingdom, which was performed at Steam and was a large project with soloists, adult and child choristers and a large orchestra.

More recently he wrote Atlantic Odyssey, a piece about the Arctic Tern, whose seasonal travels take it from pole to pole.

The society, which has about 110 singers, gave its first known performance in 1929. Today it gives on average four major choral performances across the Swindon area every year.

The Christmas concert often involves a link-up with children’s choirs. Robin said: “One of my missions in running the choir is to try and involve young performers whenever I can, as soloists or as visiting small groups and choirs.”

This is not his only innovation.

“I initiated the idea of touring with the choir some years ago. We went to Italy and then two years ago we went to Budapest as a centre for a Hungarian tour. That was a lot of fun and now, partly thanks to a tigerish woman in the choir, Kath Danswan, who loves hatching individual plots, we’re going to Lille as a base - but curiously quite a bit of the tour actually takes place in Belgium.

“We’re going to Bruges, we’re going to Ghent, we’re going Ypres and we’re going to the Menin Gate.”

Potential new choristers are always welcome.

“Currently we have a little policy which is working rather well. At the end of a period of rehearsal we obviously have a performance, usually a week off and then start again on the next project. On the website and in the concert programmes, I believe, it is advertised that there is to be an open rehearsal. This is very often either the first or the second rehearsal.

“So you get four or five people turn up and the chairman says, ‘We’d like to welcome the people who are new today – would they stand?’ and we all welcome them with a round of applause.

“They’re given free coffee!

“The idea is that they see how it feels, and I have to say – which is good news – that out of four people at one rehearsal, maybe three will be there the following week and the following week and the following week, and they join on that basis.”

Members are drawn from all walks of life. Robin conjured a composite as an example.

“She sang at university or she sang at school, she got married or she travelled abroad or had a very demanding job or demanding children. No singing and then, suddenly in that person’s mid-forties or something, ‘Oh my god, I’d like to sing again. I wonder whether there’s a local choir I could find out about.’ “That’s how it sometimes happens.

“The other thing, of course, which is rather fun although I think it’s happening rather less now because the person is less obviously a new sensation, is the young man Gareth Malone. He has done a great job on national television, going into unlikely places to make music – say with a school where there’s not been a choir for a while.

“I’ve had people come along and say they’ve watched the Gareth Malone programme and thought, ‘Well, if those firemen can do it or those nurses can sing away, maybe there’s hope for me yet.’”

The sheer power of music is something in which Robin has an unfaltering belief. “Escape is not quite the right word, but music has that healing quality. The great composers believed this. Beethoven, particularly, who I’m doing a study on at the moment, he believed that music had this power to pull you away from dark thoughts and the messy business of life.

“He went profoundly deaf, his mother and father died when he was young, he had a nephew, Karl, that he fussed about so much that the boy tried to commit suicide because he found Beethoven’s attentions too much. Beethoven was unlucky in love and so on and so on and so on, and he wrote this famous testament in which he said: ‘I came to the point of committing suicide and I pulled back from it for two reasons. One, my love of my fellow man, and two, my art.’ “There’s that feeling that music throughout all the tribulations of life can get you through nasty moments. It’s a strange thought, but I think it’s true.”

The choral society’s website is