Campaign For The Traditional Cathedral Choir

Clarion Call

Acting Editor: Peter Giles. Acting Assistant Editor: Grayston Burgess. Technical Editor: Anne Dover
Associate Editor: Ann Savours Shirley

February 2015


Though most people seem to be enjoying Clarion Call, we do occasionally get comments that reveal two main opinions about what it should be:
(a) A publication that not only promotes and extols the cause of the traditional English cathedral choir of men and boys, considers all factors affecting its survival, reports what is actually happening in and to the cathedral choir world, but also contains other interesting related articles and anecdotes.
(b) A publication that avoids anything too contentious, that contents itself with interesting articles about all-male choirs where they have survived so far, includes other interesting related articles and anecdotes, and generally sees everything in light sweet and happy.

The editor strives to take both of these opinions into consideration. To get the balance right is difficult, but in the last analysis, this organisation’s essential raison d’etre and message has to be the main criterion in its one regular publication. The clarion must not become a soothing cello.

Every so often, it is well to state that we are not a one-issue movement. The inclusion in this number of an article almost completely about the clergy and their vocal and musical training - or otherwise - bears that out.

Our usual Roving Reporter feature has not been included this time. Inevitably, most of these roving reports tend to be gloomy or pessimistic, despite all attempts to find happier news about what’s happening to our unique tradition "in quires and places where they sing". Obviously, there is continuing excellence from a number of truly superlative traditional choirs, like that of St John’s College, Cambridge, to pull one name out of the hat.

The general trend across the country, especially in parish churches, makes John Catterall’s talk at our Broughton Event all the more inspiring. His text is printed in this issue. With the full support of the Incumbent, Catterall reveals a totally dedicated programme that few parish churches could match, whatever variety of choir they now have. Up there in Lancashire, Broughton has a huge and successful traditional choir of men and boys worthy of the envy of every musical church in the land. We commend what goes on there to parish church directors of music everywhere.


Autumn Event and AGM, Saturday 27th September 2014 St John’s Parish Church, Broughton, in the Diocese of Blackburn

After coffee, we were welcomed most warmly by the Vicar, the Reverend Shaun Baldwin.

The AGM followed, and after it came a splendid buffet lunch, provided and served by members of the church in the Parish Hall. Here we were able to circulate and chat before re­convening in church for a guided tour which was extremely well presented, informative and enjoyed by all.

Because only a few traditional parish church choirs have survived, we eagerly awaited the talk about the choir given by John Catterall, MBE, choir master at the church for 49 years. We were not to be disappointed. It was most illuminating and provided a model for all traditional parish church choirs. Following this, David Scott­Thomas, the Assistant Organist, very capably demonstrated the large 4­manual very effective electronic organ.
After tea and cake, we were privileged to attend the choir rehearsal, after which the choir sang Evensong. The music included Give us the wings of faith by Ernest Bullock, Sumsion in A, and Cantique de Jean Racine by Faure. The preacher was the Archdeacon of Lancaster, the Venerable Michael Everitt. This service was quite splendid and truly uplifting in every respect. At the close, our newly­appointed Chairman, Dr Peter Giles, presented a cheque to the Vicar for the choir funds on behalf of CTCC.

In the evening, because several members were staying till Sunday, they were joined in a local hotel by some of the choirmen, plus the choirmaster, organist and vicar. Everyone enjoyed drinks and informal chat. On the Sunday morning, Choral Matins included Stanford’s Te Deum and Jubilate in B flat and Haydn’s The Heavens are telling.
Everything was sung very finely.

Autumn Event and AGM, Saturday 27th September 2014 St John’s Parish Church, Broughton, in the Diocese of Blackburn Autumn Event and AGM, Saturday 27th September 2014 St John’s Parish Church, Broughton, in the Diocese of Blackburn

Our thanks are due to the Reverend Shaun Baldwin, Mr John Catterall, Mr Scott-Thomas, the choir, the people who provided the excellent catering – in fact everyone at St John’s who went out of their way to ensure that we had a memorable visit. They could not have done more to make us feel so welcome and it was a joy for all of us present to see the choir in such good heart. Also thanks are due to our committee member Miss Lynda Collins who, as Acting Events Officer, organised the event so successfully. This was a hugely enjoyable occasion that I would not want to have missed. David Watson.


John Catterall, MBE

Records show that music has been very much a part of worship here at Broughton since the early 19th century, although it was not until the early 20th century that a choir such as we have now was taking shape. This
was roughly at the same time as the chancel was added to the nave in 1912.

Until the mid­1960s, the choir included boys, ladies and men. From approximately 1967, it became boys and men only. This wasn’t a deliberate policy. It just happened as more and more boys came through the door.

Currently, there are thirty­six boys on the books, and some twenty­five gentlemen (including our student choirmen who sing with us during their vacations).

I [Catterall] am now retired, but was Director of Music at Kirkham Grammar School, an Independent School ten miles up the M55 towards Blackpool.
David Scott­Thomas. He teaches music and drama at Blackpool and Fylde College.
Organ Scholar:
(depending on availability).

There are two sung services here each Sunday. The monthly pattern for the 11 o’clock service consists of two (or three) Eucharists, one Matins & one family service. At 6.30 there are three Evensongs and one Eucharist. The choir sings at both principal services.

We are of course a parish church, but one with a musical tradition; so at services we try to keep that tricky balance with regard to choir/congregational participation.
At the Eucharist, the choir sings the psalm and a setting of the Kyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei. The Gloria (for which we use Noel Rawsthorne’s Liverpool Service) and Creed are congregational.
I would add at this point that the boys are fully involved in all aspects of the worship and are included on the parish lesson reading rotas. One of the gentlemen of the choir coaches the boys and they are very keen to participate in this way.
Matins is usually fully congregational, though with occasional settings of the Te Deum and Jubilate. Evensong includes settings of the canticles on two Sundays; on another Sunday the canticles are chanted (some of the congregation want this). There is an anthem every Sunday.
Bearing in mind that there is only one practice a week this is quite a substantial musical programme, particularly for the boys. We do have to use practice time efficiently.

This begins at 6.30pm with the Probationers, who are by themselves until
7.00. It’s very much a ‘potty training’ half­hour, involving:
Getting used to being in a church Getting used to the psalter and hymn book Using the voice Basic rudiments First steps in chanting
At 7.00 the rest of the boys arrive. The ‘Probs’ have half an hour with them, and leave at 7.30. At this time the gentlemen arrive and sing with the boys for an hour. At 8.30 the boys go home and the men have half an hour by themselves, after which the choirmaster is shattered!

The boys in the choir are recruited in the main from three local schools; two church schools and one county school. In each of these schools the Head is very supportive. October is our usual recruiting month, and this is when I visit each of the schools and conduct a music session with the boys in years 3 and 4. We sing together, and with the enthusiasm generated there are soon offers to sing alone! We then watch a DVD of ‘A year in the Choir’. The DVD has sequences of boys arriving at church, before a service in the vestry, short bursts of singing, choir trips, choir sporting activities, Christmas events such as carol singing, and so on.
I have to admit there is more sport and leisure than music on view…but it’s a hard sell! Letters to parents of promising boys are forwarded via the school, inviting them to bring their sons to audition. The audition itself is very straightforward, relaxed but informative. It comprises singing a hymn, usually ‘Away in a manger’; ear tests, a reading test, followed by a ‘fun practice’ for the potential customers with the younger boys already in the choir. Successful boys go on the Waiting List and are permitted to come to one practice a month until a vacancy occurs.

I always feel that boys in particular respond well when they can see a pecking order. They are used to this in school or in teams (A,B or C), and captains and vice­captains, and so on. Here at Broughton the choir is headed by a HeadChorister and Deputy Head Chorister, and then divided into six teams, each with its own leader.
Everyone, even the newest boy, has a role to play. The Head Choristers are responsible for pre­service arrangements on Sundays (like preparing the Vicar’s hymn list, altar candles, and lining up the choir prior to the pre­service notices from the Choirmaster). Incidentally the Head Choristers are expected to speak in public at our Parents Evening and to speak to audiences at concerts. We expect a lot and they invariably rise to the challenge. The Team Leaders, along with their team, are on duty once every six weeks, and are thus responsible for setting out music, hymn boards, chairs, tidying up after the practice and services – this is where every boy becomes involved and has a job. Team Leaders are also responsible for the ‘Standards’ for each of their teams, and for dealing with ‘Watching Tests’ of which, more later. Such a structure not only ensures the smooth weekly running of the choir, but it instils in boys the realisation that as choristers they have a job to do. If they fail to do the job properly, it affects a lot of people. They become an effective team, with responsibilities to one another and to the Church as a whole.

It is what I would describe as the original RSCM Training Scheme:
Here at Broughton, boys work through three grades, their progress being
measured by their work on test cards. They begin on their Probationer Card, which takes about nine months, move onto their Junior Singing Boy Card, followed by their Senior Singing Boy Card.
Each card consists of three columns:
1. Punctuality and vestry disciplines. General helpfulness as well as general effort and enthusiasm are assessed by the Team Leaders.
2. Musical matters: rudiments, psalm singing, sight­reading, et cetera, all tested by the Choirmaster.
3. This involves the choristers displaying learning skills at practices and is assessed by the Choirmaster.

Success is of course marked by the usual different coloured ribbons. I think the scheme we use here works well. It develops skills and generates a real enthusiasm amongst the youngsters, but boys are boys and need keeping on their toes! In my view, a little competition does no harm! Every week, each boy is marked on his effort, achievement and general conduct; and his mark is recorded on the choir board at the end of the week’s Sunday services. He can receive a maximum of four marks. The marks are assessed by the Team Leaders (Team Leaders are themselves assessed by the Head Choristers and the latter by the Choirmaster). The assessments are checked and signed by a member of the music staff before they are recorded. And they are published! Boys with 4s (the top mark) have their names read out at Choir Practice and receive a chocolate at the end of practice! Each month we have the Top Twenty when the twenty boys with the best standards receive an even higher quality chocolate!

None of the men are professional musicians: they come from all walks of life. We have schoolmasters, engineers, a judge, accountants, a hairdresser, students and retirees. A good proportion of the men began as choristers in this choir.

Once or twice each year we take the opportunity to sing ‘away’. Boys are selected for ‘Away Sings’. We usually take about twenty. We are so fortunate to have on our doorstep the mighty Liverpool Cathedral, and most years we sing the Sunday services there in October when the cathedral choir is on Tour. Cartmel Priory, in the southern Lake District, is another popular ‘away sing’ on a summer Saturday afternoon. I might add that it’s popular with both choristers and their families! In addition, our boy choristers can expect to have at least one opportunity each year to attend a residential week. These I consider to be invaluable for youngsters. They not only develop musical skills but social skills also – and the boys relish being away from home together with their friends.

At Broughton we are fortunate to have the numbers to make running a training week a viable proposition, and for the past forty years, the week after Easter, the boys have travelled to the Isle of Man for their annual Holiday Course. They stay in a promenade hotel in Douglas, and basically sing for two hours each morning, play each afternoon, and lead Evensong each night in one of the Island churches. I say, lead Evensong, because not only are the boys responsible for the musical aspects of the service, but they lead the prayers and read the lessons.
Involvement in a Residential Course like this is a wonderful tool in developing not only musical skills, but also a youngster’s understanding of his role in worship, by involvement not just in the music, but in prayers and readings in daily services, and of course in respect of Team Building. Most years, we also try, to include a tour in France on our schedule. This is quite different to the IOM week. It is both a concert tour and a holiday, and choir parents can come along too! We stay in a boarding school. The boys are mostly in splendid single­room accommodation, and the food is very French and wholesome.
It is a wonderful week. Everybody joins in the spirit of things. Non­singing members of the party can be found giving out fliers advertising concerts each morning whilst the choir rehearses for an hour. Following the practice, there’s time for everyone to wander round the lovely open­air markets and visit pavement cafés. In the afternoon there is great fun on the magnificent Brittany beaches, with cricket, football and swimming; and each evening there is a concert which commences at 9.00 o’ clock. When the boys have gone to bed, it’s just relaxation for the rest of the party. We even have a resident barman who shops each day for supplies and looks after our wants. Audiences are usually pretty impressive on these tours. A choir of men and boys (something which the Catholic Church in France has lost) is a huge draw. Recently, at our final concert, close on a thousand people were packed in the Abbey Church of St Gildas de Rhys…and it’s interesting to note that in France, whole families attend the church concerts. The children don’t need games or drawing books to keep them occupied. They sit and listen, and if our video footage is anything to go by, they are absolutely wrapped up in the event. The boys are encouraged to try their language skills. At the conclusion of each concert, the audience mingles with the singers and often quiz the boys about the programme, about their home church, about their ribbons, and during the concert, the Head Choristers are always called upon to address the audience…in French of course! I don’t need to tell you how such a week builds a real esprit de corps among not just our singers, men and boys, but among the whole of the choir family. I’ve not mentioned the value of very definitely non­musical events we run for our boys. We have an Easter Monday ‘Dads and Lads’ football match, organised by one of our sporting choirmen. We have Choir Sports, organised by two other choirmen. We also have a Quick Cricket Match (We call it the Kit­Kat Trophy Match) on a summer evening. The parents come with their picnic baskets and the boys enjoy a BBQ, and if on the winning side get Kit Kats!

With the exception of the salaries of the Choirmaster and the Organist, and payments made to the boys, the choir is self­financing. It pays for all music, hymn books, psalters, robes, as well as subsidising course fees for the boys, the money coming from Christmas activities, a Coffee Morning, and generous donations from parishioners.

Without this all our efforts are doomed. We try to ensure that our parents are fully notified of arrangements. We produce what is known as the ‘Big Letter’ at the beginning of each Term. We involve parents in Choir Events. In March, the parents run the Choir Coffee Morning. They have had preliminary meetings with our Choir Administrator (Sam Walmsley) and together they produce a spectacular event. This year’s Coffee Morning raised over £3,000.00. Not only does this help us to subsidise course fees for our choristers, but it builds up a wonderful team of parental support. Parents to help with things like the Choir Shop (sweatshirts, ties, starch for ruffs, robe­carriers). We have Fun Evenings for Parents, a Bowls Evening and a Car Treasure Hunt; and as mentioned earlier, parents can join the party when we have overseas trips. By involving the parents, we gain their support and automatically the support of their sons.

One very important event in the year is the Awards Evening. It takes the form of a Hot Pot Supper and includes the Choirmaster’s Report on the year; the Head Chorister is also expected to speak; cups are presented to boys – to the Chorister of the Year (The Hubert Crook Cup), to the boy with the top attendance, to the boy with Top Standards and so on. The boys receive their annual pay – based on the princely sum of nine pence per service. A top boy in Broughton Choir receives about £16.00, paid annually. The top twelve boys can of course earn a little more with wedding fees.
We end the evening with an outside entertainer, often a magician, who, usually to the delight of the boys, either – on their recommendation – saws me in half, or sticks daggers through my head!
I sometimes wonder what we achieve from all the effort that goes into maintaining our traditional musical heritage here at Broughton. Is all the effort worthwhile?
(1) Our young boy choristers have the experience of singing some of the church’s finest choral music. I estimate that our senior boys currently have a good working knowledge of at least sixty choral pieces. How many boys are encouraged to participate in choirs in schools these days? We all know the answer to that, and it’s tragic. It is just generally assumed that boys are not interested in matters musical, artistic, spiritual, and there are fewer and fewer opportunities for boys to participate in such pursuits. They have that opportunity here.
(2) A good proportion of the boys continue singing in the choir after voice­change. A strong boys’ choir means there’s a good chance that there will also be a strong men’s section. Here at Broughton, including student members, no fewer than twenty­three are either former trebles or parents of former trebles. The skills learnt by the boys ensure that there’s a ready supply of competent singers in the alto, tenor and bass stalls…and probably in choral societies and other such choirs also.
(3) Having a boy in the choir encourages a parent to attend morning and evening services, and our congregations include a good number of young parents. When one reads of ageing congregations, what a wonderful opportunity it is at Broughton for the clergy of the parish to embrace a new generation in their pews.
(4) But most important of all, given the presence of so many talented and dedicated young musicians, Broughton Parish Church is able so much more effectively to spread the good news of the Christian Gospel to the people of the parish. Ladies and gentlemen, it is worth the effort!



Saffron Walden Parish ChurchThe late Leonard Burrows was a former chorister of the late­lamented excellent traditional choir at no less than All Saints, Margaret Street, London. He was also one of the first members of the Campaign. As an older man, Len sang alto for some years in that magnificent edifice, Saffron Walden Parish Church, the largest in Essex. At the time it still had its fine traditional all­male choir. Also at the time, repairs were being made to the leaden roof of the quire, which leaked into the church when the wind was at a particular angle, direction and ferocity.

Saffron Walden Parish Church
Len was fond of relating how one Sunday morning, during a long sermon, the Organist and Master of the Choristers was ‘taken short’ as they say. The organ loft there is high up and adjacent to the top of the rood screen (reinstated since the 1916 photograph). The preacher laboured on, showing no sign of coming to an end, but the poor organist rapidly needed to. In desperation, he took a perilous fast route upwards and out through a stiff mediaeval door on to the roof, hoping he was unobserved. He may well have been right ­at least, in the strictest sense. Unfortunately he chose to relieve himself on a particularly problematical section of leading on the quire roof, with unedifying results below.


I recently attended the annual Christmas concert in St. John's Smith Square, London, of ChristChurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford (always the high point for me of some weeks of ‘festive’ December concerts), which was, as always, introduced by Howard Goodall. He made a point of mentioning to the packed audience that we are on the verge of losing the traditional men and boys’ choir and thus this centuries­old tradition of choral music is in danger. Since he said it whilst surrounded on stage by the men and boys of one of our foremost cathedral choirs, I am sure that it had an effect. I have e­mailed him and thanked him for highlighting this fact to an audience that is obviously willing to spend money listening to, and supporting, traditional choirs of men and boys and their music.
Incidentally, it is always quite overwhelming to see and hear this choir's treble soloist who launches the event with ‘Once in Royal David's City‘. On a dais above and behind the assembled choir, this year's soloist was, as always, absolutely faultless and with an awesomely beautiful and controlled voice. How does a boy do it? In a cathedral, the soloist knows that hordes are listening, but he can't usually see most of the audience within the body of a cathedral.
But in St. John's Smith Square, the soloist faces the serried ranks of an audience numbering many hundreds. Everybody there is holding their breath as he performs. If this world weren’t upside down, a performance such as we were treated to at that concert should bring the boy soloist an immediate peerage, and wealth beyond his dreams! Lindsay Eaglesham.

Interior of St John’s Smith Square


There was a memorable occasion on which I was playing for Evensong at Hereford. Roy Massey was in the loft. It was shortly after his appointment but before he'd actually moved to Hereford. Smoke began to pour from the manuals whilst I was playing the psalms. I took a screwdriver from my pocket to begin to undo the jamb underneath the Great, while with one hand I continued to play. "It doesn't usually do this", I said awkwardly to Roy!
Psalmody comments on things, unfailingly and on the spot. A verse from the psalms for that day was 'If he do but touch the hills, they shall smoke'. Robert Green.

The Willis Organ Console in Hereford Cathedral



It’s probably just as well for the Church that I was never a theological student! But it’s useful for me, amongst other things a writer on cathedral and church music, to have gleaned some knowledge of the changes of training for the sacred ministry during the last fifty or so years. Some of these changes are directly or indirectly responsible for the negative attitude of so many of today’s clergy to choirs and good quality church music. Many display what amounts to musical illiteracy. But today I want to focus mainly on untrained spoken voice­production.
I ought to explain the long experience that qualifies me to write on this topic. From 1960 I was alto lay­clerk at Ely Cathedral. Fairly near the cathedral, across Barton Green, was Ely Theological College. From 1964 I was lay vicar­choral at Lichfield Cathedral. Lichfield Theological College was close to the cathedral’s south transept. My wife Elizabeth and I had friends amongst the students in both these colleges; and at Lichfield amongst the staff too. I thereby gleaned much information.
In 1967 I was appointed lay­clerk at Canterbury Cathedral. St Augustine’s Theological College was over across Lady Wootton’s Green. From the mid­1970s through to the early 1990s I taught spoken voice­production for ordinands. St Augustine’s had ceased to operate as a college in its own right, but had been taken over by King’s College, London for the final year of its four­year ordination course. When that closed in 1976, and with it St Augustine’s College, I worked with the new, part­time Canterbury Ordination Course, and then briefly at the combined Canterbury and Rochester course till it moved to Rochester.
I was never given details of any previous vocal training the King’s College men might have experienced, but in that fourth year the group had two collective hours with me working on the spoken word. They sounded as if they’d had none before. In the Canterbury Ordination Course and the subsequent Canterbury & Rochester Ordination Course, the mostly mature students were given voice­production for a total of just two hours in their three part­time years. We usually used the altar, chancel step, pulpit, and font area of a nearby church.
Tuition was never one­to­one – the students were in groups of about ten. Actually, in one way only, this proved useful. Each student had a small ‘congregation’ to address, and at intervals I asked those listening for their impressions as we went. All found this valuable, and said so.
In the two hours, each man (sic) got what amounted to a few minutes individually, always in front of the others. I was always surprised just how poor most of the students were at using their speaking voices to good effect. Even by the 1970s, most of them seemed to mutter in church or hall as if a microphone were lurking near their mouths. There wasn’t one – we used no amplification. Each student was helped to judge the acoustic and interior space for himself, as in real life, for volume and speaking speed. If there had been time, and a microphone was fitted, we could have dealt with some technique, but there wasn’t, and so we didn’t. In any case, it’s best to work first on the voice as a personal, unamplified instrument. Confidence comes from this.
Consonants were slack or often non­existent, even all those years ago. I used to explain that, with or without a mike, it's not just a matter of what you say but how you say it, and crucially whether everyone can hear every word properly, whatever your accent. It’s worth remembering that a mike near a slurred mutterer merely magnifies the slurred mutter!
It seemed to me that a major cause of the problem was that, even by the 1970s, few ordinands appeared to have sung as choristers – or at school, or sung even at all – especially since becoming men. I always asked them about it, stressing that ‘seriously considered singing’ and clear, spoken enunciation go hand in hand. The individual who has sung in a well­trained choir (I emphasise the ‘well­trained’) more often than not finds it has given him or her good preparation for speaking in public. It also gives them a good grounding and interest in real church music.
I suggest therefore that the mediocre or non­existent vocal skills of an increasing number of today’s clergy are linked with their having had no choral experience worth the name, or any. Likewise, they have not had enough spoken­voice training, if they’ve had any at all. Recently, I met by chance an incumbent who had attended the part­time Canterbury/Rochester Ordination Course a year or two after I left the part­time staff. He told me they had no voice­production help whatsoever during his three years’ training! Clearly, I hadn’t been replaced.
On some occasions, my voice­production sessions followed some sort of supposedly devotional early­evening service. I had to slip in quietly near the end, ready to take over. Clearly, the only ‘music’ provided had been to the guitar, strummed by a staff­member clergyman in worn­out lumberjack check shirt and scruffy jeans, whom I saw and heard accompanying their final ‘worship song’. Apparently, this was the norm for ‘Worship’ of any kind throughout the three years. No surprise, then, that there seemed to be no liturgical music study of any sort in the Canterbury Ordination Course
CHANGES IN TRAINING FOR ORDINATION What a complete contrast it all was to Ely Theological College, an Anglo­Catholic foundation. The cathedral organist visited to lecture on liturgical music and history, and took some of the college choir practices. During my time in Ely it was Dr Arthur Wills. I think his immediate predecessor as cathedral organist, our late CTCC vice­president the distinguished Michael Howard, had done the same. The theological college choir used to sing very occasional (non­statutory) men’s­voice services in the cathedral, and they sounded good.

Lichfield Theological College was a broad­church establishment, but I always got the impression that real church music figured within it at least somewhere. One of the lecturers even ran a madrigal group! Incidentally, all three theological colleges I am mentioning have long closed down, the buildings of two of them annexed by the usual predatory King’s Schools!
The decline of liturgical music study in theological colleges that began during the later 1960s seems to have continued since, nation­wide. I cannot pretend to have any first­hand knowledge of the situation in training courses in 2014, so I could be wrong about the present state of play in them. There may be some colleges or courses that prove it! I hope there are. But increasingly, everything points to there being few, if any.
It should therefore be no surprise that too many of today’s cathedral clergy seem at best merely musically naïve. The implications for genuine cathedral music – which is of course a variety of serious classical music – are not good. Thankfully, it is still theoretically possible to encounter a precentor who, while singing as a cantor at Evensong or when celebrating Sung Eucharist, rivals a lay­clerk. Historically, this is as it should be. I have known a few in my long cathedral career. The best I ever heard was the probably unsurpassable Howard Such, Precentor of Canterbury, for whom Alan Ridout wrote what amounts to a virtuoso cantor’s part in his unaccompanied, superb Requiem. It was written to be sung in procession round the dreamily resonant Canterbury nave. We broadcast it once. I have the recording.
Unfortunately, the likelihood of hearing clergymen with even a quarter of Howard Such’s musicianship and vocal quality is becoming rarer by the year; and each year, the numbers of men training for ordination seem to be down.
One would hope that moves were afoot to deal with the accelerating problem of unmusical clergy, but I fear there are few stirrings of this sort, if any. Answers on a postcard please! In due course, many of these musically­challenged clergymen and now clergywomen find their way on to cathedral chapters. Once there, they are in a position to use their influence and vote to make far­reaching decisions that affect the music foundation and its survival.
Thankfully of course, all that being said, members of the clergy with good singing and speaking skills can still be heard gracing the Daily Office and the Liturgy. At the moment, that is. PG.



Readers opening their Radio Times for the week beginning 6th December 2014 were greeted immediately by a double­page spread of the Canterbury Cathedral choir stalls filled with jubilant young women, clad in surplices and cassocks.
Clearly, though it’s labelled as the new girls’ choir, most of the members are hardly girls anymore. The article wrapped round the photograph and extending into the next pages is predictably gung­ho, complete with predictable quotations. They include the compulsory quote from one of the ‘girls’ still in genuine girlhood (she’s only 14), accusing our unique, over one­thousand­year­old tradition of being sexist. There are the predictable excited interpolations by the female writer of the article, and much thrilled enthusiasm from the Dean.
Thankfully, the Dean also makes some telling remarks about music – Tallis for example – sounding better sung by the boys (though he doesn’t say this is because it was written for them), and other music, like Faure, sounding better sung by girls [like the boy’s solo ‘Pie Jesu’?!]. Happily, he also points out that the sounds made by boys and girls – or in this case, young women – are different, which of course they should be if trained appropriately. Also gratifying is the second picture – a decent­sized photograph of the traditional choir of boys and men, labelled ‘the Canterbury Cathedral choir’.
We should not hold our collective breaths about the reassuring exclusivity of that labelling! We should look at the glum expressions on most of the men’s and boys’ faces. Remember that when launched, the girls’ choir was to be a quite separate ensemble that “…would sing a few times a year, when the cathedral choir was not there”. Not long afterwards, this had become: “The girls will sing when the boys are not there.”
Almost always, cathedrals that make such or similar announcements fast see the girls not as a choir in their own right, but as an alternative top line that sings with the men. Of course, in cathedrals that offer a men’s­voice evensong each week, this will tend to become a girls and men’s service, and centuries of repertoire for men’s voices with countertenors on the top line will never be heard again. Parallel with all that, reference made to the girl
singers will probably read: ‘Cathedral Choir: Girls’ Section’. How long before the final step? PG.
PS: Fanfared for this summer, the girls make their first commercial CD with the lay­clerks.



A certain cathedral organist of my acquaintance left to buy an ice cream during the sermon on a delightfully sunny Sunday morning, and sat outside enjoying it unaware of the fact that the sermon had been uncharacteristically short. Inside the cathedral, the minor canon announced the hymn. Silence. He announced it again more loudly. More silence. The senior lay­clerk, realising what had happened, began the hymn very loudly and was gradually joined by the rest of the choir and then the congregation singing the whole hymn a capella. I never heard the likely later conversation between the organist and dean! Anon.



THE MILITARY WIVES CHOIRFrom everywhere come complaining voices about unequal opportunities connected with anything left that happens to be an all­male activity. The demand is that females should be admitted immediately. There is resistance from those of us who protest at the suppression of diversity – which, of course, something characteristically different represents.
But it’s interesting when the boot is on the other foot, as it were! Here is an excerpt from a long and interesting Radio Times article, ‘Encore’. It’s about the work of the now celebrated choir­master Gareth Malone, much featured on television and the media generally. He is doing valuable work to kick­start general choral singing in the strange times in which we live, including a start on getting boys interested in singing again. The choruses and ensembles he has begun seem to be flourishing, especially his famous Military Wives Choirs. But the writer of the article, Rosie Millard, asks the inevitable questions for today:

…What about Military Husbands? Aren’t there any chaps out there with girl friends or wives serving in the armed forces who would like to be up there, singing on the podium? What with Malone being such a fair­minded, reasonable, decent chap… “Well,” he says, “as a musician, and someone who has been involved in the pastoral care of these choirs, I have seen that it is a very female activity, and I think fitting men into it would change the nature of it entirely. Military Wives is a female activity much like the Women’s Institute, or the Girl Guides. And there are so few men who would take part. The resultant choir would cease to be soprano, soprano, alto. It would become [as printed] aoprano, aoprano, alto…and Terry. Which would be very difficult for Terry.”
Yes, this specialist female choir would be changed totally – by implication, ruined – by admitting male voices, or a lone male voice, as Gareth further implies. He is of course quite right to resist admitting men to these female choirs. And, naturally, he won’t be censured for saying it.
But we, wary of the Thought Police, should say little more – except to cite the Girl Guides and what were once called the Boy Scouts!
Radio Times, 12­18 July 2014 .



DEVOTION IN THE ABBEY Dr – later Sir – Frederick Bridge was Organist and Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey from 1882­1918. The Rev. John Thynne was an Honorary Canon.
...Thynne…and his family used to sit in the front row of stalls which at that date stretched in front of the choir. One of the daughters, Agatha, was an outstandingly beautiful young lady and was the subject of much unspoken boyish devotion. One of her silent admirers was greatly gratified when he chanced to overhear his schoolmaster, Mr Shiel, and his cricket coach, Leonard Box, saying what a remarkably beautiful girl she was.
Those of us who have been choristers will be familiar with the kind of emotions involved, but not perhaps with what happened next:
This same boy was considerably hurt when Bridge one day took him aside and accused him of not working as hard as he might. The hurt lay in the fact that the beautiful Agatha was sitting directly in front [of him], and it was to her that he was singing his heart out. Accordingly, he sang up; but so loudly that her mother remarked to Bridge that the boy behind them had a voice of rather devastating power; whereupon he was moved over to the other side. Of course, this was almost as good. He could sing straight to her!

This photograph of most of the choir in 1888­1889 may well include the boy in question. We don’t know his name, which is a pity, because almost all the men and boys in the photograph are named! Dr Frederick Bridge (front row,
third from left) is quite young at this date. The bearded man next to him is the Precentor, the Reverend Flood Jones. William Shiel was the headmaster overheard in conversation with the cricket coach. Stanley
Roper, a familiar name amongst the boys, eventually became Organist and Choirmaster at the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace. The names of two of the altos are underlined in my copy.
Italicised excerpt from The Westminster Abbey Singers – Edward Pine (Dobson, 1953).







CATHEDRAL Malcolm Walker and David Davies (Impress
Books, Exeter EX4 4RN: 2014: £25­00)

Every so often cometh a book that seems a must for cathedral and church organ buffs. This is one of them. It is packed with historical detail about Exeter cathedral life, politics, and the men in charge of the music. There is quite a lot about Samuel Sebastian Wesley, Organist and Master of the Choristers there for a few years, who, we are reminded, was a brilliant organist and superb composer but a difficult, grumbling and often unpleasant man. The book is nicely turned out, with good illustrations, some in colour, and a wealth of information to devour. It is a work both for the musical academic and the more general musical reader. There is much technical and historical detail about the evolution of the fine Exeter organ, while the book also repays dipping into at random for sheer interest. PG.



Dear Sir
I constantly wonder at the apparent lack of concern and seeming silence from the majority of men who have been part of our fine and precious male choral tradition. Lots of them are still involved in it. Many others are keen members of Old Choristers’ Associations. Far more have not kept up their connection with their old choirs. But out there over the whole country men are still benefitting from the unique experience this kind of vocal and musical training gave them as boys and many of them as men singers. Why don’t they put their heads over the parapet? Why are they so silent about what is going on? But perhaps they are silenced. For example, I for one write to the Press whenever threats to the traditional choir arise, as they are doing increasingly, but not one of my letters has ever been published.
Kenneth T Davies former chorister of All Saints, Margaret Street, London.



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