Happy Birthday to my Blog which is now 10 years old! I have been blogging about my church and choir almost every week over these last 10 years – 10 of the best years we’ve had. I cannot imagine it ever being better than it has been during that time, so have decided to stop producing regular weekly blogs and let this 10 year slice of church and choir life pass into the archives of the Internet as a time capsule of what it was like to sing in a church choir in Creamtealand, in the early years of the 21st Century. Maybe one day, some future reader will marvel at what used to happen at my church and feel nostalgic, or laugh their head off, or shake their head with disbelief, depending on how culture dictates. Meanwhile, I will still be active on Twitter @Chorister9 if anyone wishes to follow me. To the future!
Easter morning services passed me by, with four generations of our family to entertain. But, at the end of a tiring but happy day, it was a real treat to chill out at Evensong, listening to a strong choir (augmented by former choristers, returning home for Easter). I enjoyed them singing Noble in B minor and ‘Now the Green Blade Riseth’ (Lindley), complete with unusual organ harmony, and a well-sung Psalm 66, to Anglican chant. The only shaky contribution was the second half of the Sweeney responses – surprising, given the familiarity of them to our choir. Perhaps it was due to tiredness after such a busy day. To end, the organ was given a good workout with ‘Toccata’ (Whitlock), complete with rather rude sounds in the lower range – I wonder what (or who) Whitlock was thinking of when he composed those?!
Holy Week is a very special time, when all the services are quiet and thoughtful (my favourite sort). Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday was the wonderful office of Compline (said, apart from the hymn) with Homily (theme this year: Jesus’ feet). After the silence, I always love the triumphant return of the Gloria on Maundy Thursday (Thorne Mass) and the sung ‘I give you a new commandment’ (Shephard).
For the first time in many years, I was able to go to the Good Friday Stations of the Cross (it usually clashes with choir practice) – a very moving and solemn occasion, more popular than I remember it from the past. Then the Final Hour, long readings punctuated by prayers and silence. ‘Oh Saviour of the World’ (Goss) and the hymn ‘O Sacred Head’ seemed particularly fitting in this context. We departed quietly and ‘in confusion’ – which in the Anglican church translates into ‘form an orderly queue’, and home, in order to listen to passiontide music on CD, for the rest of the afternoon.
I decided, after many years of taking part in the Palm Sunday procession, to sit in church and see how the service appeared to those who didn’t wave palm branches, following the donkey. And what a delight it was – some peaceful organ music (‘Sheep may safely graze’, etc.), followed by complete silence. Then a brief explanation of what to do when the main procession arrived and hearing the strain of the end of ‘All Glory Laud and Honour’ as the procession arrived at the West Door. That was the cue for us all to stand and sing the first hymn, ‘Ride on, Ride on in Majesty’. Later, we all enjoyed a brief drama about the significance of the donkey to some not terribly keen churchgoers, and the delightful anthem, ‘Hosianna’ by Gesius.
An interesting lesson on the potential perils of microphones, today. I guess every invention has advantages and disadvantages, and church amplification is no exception. On the plus side, the sung Lent Prose (Plainchant) was just right for the season, quietly sung with soft organ accompaniment. The children’s Passiontide presentation was also confidently given, prepared by one of the church teenagers, and delivered by the youngsters themselves. Complete with pictures of Jesus’s feet with painted toenails!
Had a lovely (but cold) weekend in Truro, with the Friends of Cathedral Music. The cathedral is 125 years old, so there was much celebration, including a very well-organised concert involving all four choirs – junior, youth, main and voluntary cathedral choirs; also organ recitals, meals, talks on the cathedral and its music, and tours. Truro, and its cathedral, are obviously very well cared-for: the city was so clean and tidy, so much thought had gone into the service and event preparations, and the vergers in their bow ties with cassocks looked so cute!
For the first time ever, on Friday, I had the pleasurable opportunity to hear my own choir having a full rehearsal. You learn so much from that experience, perhaps it should be compulsory for all choristers? It was a joyful occasion because, at the end of the evening, we celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of two of our choir members, an alto and a bass, with a small party at our usual choir watering hole.
Sunday took us to Llandaff Cathedral again, home church of our son and his family. Their small parish choir sang ‘Locus Iste’ (Bruckner) beautifully as we went up to take communion. Llandaff produce the most incredibly varied child-centred snacks after their morning services, you never quite know what you are going to get. This Sunday, with after-service coffee, there was the opportunity to sample the delights of pineapple and banana pieces on sticks and toasted fruit bread. Of course, there were also biscuits if you wanted to be really boring.
Spent a very enjoyable ‘Plainchant Workshop’ day at St. Mary’s, Totnes, run by Peter Parshall – I had sung Gregorian chant before, but had forgotten much of the detail, so it was a very useful refresher course, suitable for complete beginners but also those with some experience. The day ended with Compline, plus the Lent Prose (Attende Domine), Ubi Caritas and Ave Regina Caelorum.
A chance to listen to my own choir sing Evensong on Sunday, from a relaxing position in the midst of the congregation. Our deputy organist had written a setting of the Magnificat which was beautifully light and joyful, with plenty of running notes in the melody, so often missing from the modern chants we are regularly required to sing. The solo of ‘Wash me throughly’ (Wesley) sounded very poignant as usual, and the unconducted parts coming together much more than they had at rehearsal earlier. It is always interesting to hear choir rehearsals and then stay on for the service or concert, to hear the improvement.
My wonderful time of listening continued: firstly, on Saturday, with the RSCM Voices West at Wells Cathedral (Walsh responses, Bairstow Canticles and Byrd ‘Civitas Sancti Tui’). I particularly enjoyed the gentle, laid-back style with which the Byrd was sung – in which the choir sounded much more like cathedral choristers than a diverse collection of parish church choristers, such as they were. It was a good opportunity to meet up with friends for the evening – it is very interesting how many church musicians seem to end up at either Wells or Salisbury. Sunday saw a return to our own church – and a rare opportunity to hear my own parish choir sing. They had a tuneful, gentle, quiet style, in the responsorial psalm, the Mass setting (St. Thomas, Thorne) and the a capella anthem, ‘Lord, for thy tender mercies’ sake’ (Farrant). I was very proud of them.
Such wonderful music was perfectly complemented by a simple, but delicious Lent Lunch in the Parish Centre – with curried parsnip soup, bread, cheese and coffee. To call it a Hunger Lunch would be a misnomer – and anyone still with empty boots had an opportunity to stock up with Fair Trade goods to take home.
Having decided to give up choir for Lent (at least), and see what life looks like from the other side of the choir stalls for a change, it was rather appropriate that the first service was a quiet evening Eucharist with Ashing, at which only a small choir usually attends. It was a good choice, with some beautiful organ music before the service started, The Mass of St. Thomas, which I know best (although I had to work hard to hear and sing the tune rather than the alto line) and a gentle unison choir-only Gospel Acclamation, sung calmly and clearly by the small choir of six. I can see that I could get rather used to listening rather than singing. But the highlight was at the end of the service, when – as a member of the congregation – I was able to stay quietly in my pew and listen to the whole of the organ voluntary, rather than having to process out to the choir vestry after only a few bars. It always seemed strange to me that those who were supposed to be most musical were the very ones who weren’t there to hear the music!