About our Founder & Surrey Music MD

"Anyone who knows him would call him charismatic, driven, visionary – even slightly bonkers"

Get to Know Cliff

Cliff van Tonder
Cliff van TonderFounder & MD

When the larger-than-life character swept into leafy Surrey from Cape Town in South Africa, the gentle people of Cobham didn’t know quite what had hit them: a whirlwind,  a frenzy of passion, bubbling with excitement and a flash of white teeth, full of plans and ideas not only to provide an affordable, inclusive, non-audition community choir, but also to give something back to his community.

With so much energy it was no surprise that, when Cliff realised the start of his dream in 2005 with the formation of  Elmbridge Choir, it was an overnight success. Cliff gave people the chance to enjoy singing together, regardless of background or musical experience, in a friendly and supportive environment. The choir proved so popular that four years later Elmbridge Ladies Choir was born, increasing Surrey Music’s membership – and Cliff’s fan base - by 90 adoring (and adorable) ladies!

From Queen and Abba to West End showstoppers and 60s kitsch to contemporary pop and rock ballads, the choirs’ upbeat and uplifting performances are sheer entertainment under Cliff’s vibrant and theatrical direction! A Musical Director in a tiara and a feather boa? What’s not to love?!


It’s typical of Cliff’s generosity and, let’s be honest, his love of the limelight, that when he married his husband Brendon in 2015, he invited the 200+ members of his choir ‘family’ to the wedding, a flamboyant and colourful occasion complete with a bevy of 24 gorgeous rainbow-clad groomsmaids plucked from the choirs, performing a routine to “The Shoop Shoop song (It’s In His Kiss)”.

However, despite the antics there is a very sincere side to Cliff. Underlying his huge sense of fun is a deep commitment to acceptance and inclusivity. He knows from personal experience that, sadly, ignorance and homophobia exist in Surrey and aims to do whatever he can to support the LGBTQ+ community. Surrey Music is proud to be a sponsor of the first ever Pride in Surrey event taking place on August 10th, and Cliff was delighted to accept the invitation to be Patron of Pride in Surrey

Now residing in Peacehaven, E Sussex, Cliff continues the weekly journey back to Surrey to take rehearsals with Elmbridge Choir, and to lead the two or three concerts performed each year. There seems to be no stopping him; forming Surrey Rainbow Choir is a continuation of his journey and a hugely important step for the ever-evolving Surrey Music. Cliff’s energy, determination and vision are widely recognised in the local community and further afield and in January 2019 Cliff was awarded the British Citizen Award for services to the Arts at a formal presentation in the Palace of Westminster. A well-deserved accolade of which Cliff is immensely proud.

Awards & Recognition

Client 1
Volunteer Award
Client 1
Client 1

Our fully accessible rehearsal venue

Holy Trinity Church, High Street, Guildford, GU1 3RR