Cathedral Super Choir CD Tops The Charts

50 choristers from cathedrals across the UK joined forces with St Paul’s Cathedral Choir for a new album entitled ‘Jubilate: 500 Years of Cathedral Music’, released by Decca Classics and Classic FM on 17th March. Since we featured an article about the CD back in February, it has since been released and shot to the top of the classical music charts.

Our very own Astrid Rose-Edwards (pictured above singing in her blue cassock with the massed choir), then Head Girl Chorister, was the representative from Wells. Astrid said:

'In January, I went to Saint Paul's Cathedral with 50 other choristers from around Britain, as well as the choristers from Saint Paul's Cathedral. I made friends with a lot of the choristers there, because we all had something in common! With Andrew Carwood conducting we soon finished the recording and were all tired after working so hard. It was a great opportunity and I'm so glad that i made so many friends there as well.'

Every copy of the album sold will raise money for the ‘Diamond Fund for Choristers’, which aims to help young choral singers and secure the future of cathedral music. It is supported by Classic FM presenter Alexander Armstrong – a former choirboy himself – who hails becoming a chorister as “the greatest leg-up a child can be given in life”. Alexander spoke to Andrew Carwood about his chorister years and you can watch this interview in the video below (apologies for the poor sound quality!).

The album, which celebrates 500 years of cathedral music with a host of famous choral tunes, was recorded in the astonishing acoustics of St Paul’s Cathedral – with its 8-second echo! St Paul’s Cathedral Choir has been performing in London’s iconic venue for nearly 900 years, making it one of the world’s oldest and most illustrious cathedral choirs.

The songs on the album span five centuries – from Thomas Tallis’ Salvator Mundi to Paul Mealor’s Ubi Caritas, with Handel, Mendelssohn, Vaughan Williams and more between. There is also a special arrangement by John Rutter of A Gaelic Blessing, sung by fomer chorister, Aled Jones. Most of the music chosen for the album was written by composers who themselves were former choristers, from William Byrd and Henry Purcell (Westminster) to William Walton (Christ Church, Oxford).

New Music List Now Available

The Cathedral's latest Service and Music list is now available. There are many musical highlights to look out for and you may also notice that the Cathedral Choir is recording over the next couple of months - more on that soon! Please CLICK HERE to go to our In Performance page from where you can download the Music List in PDF form. Alternatively, hard copies can be collected from the Cathedral. We hope to see you at a service soon!

Former Choristers fill the Cathedral with 'a joyful noise'!

The annual Wells Cathedral Choir Association reunion took place on 28th April as former choristers from across the years joined the Great Choir for sung Evensong singing C V Stanford's Evening Canticles in A and his beautiful motet, Beati quorum via. The enhanced choir, with an age range of 15 to 80, made itself well and truly heard, filling the cathedral with ‘a joyful noise’. The day finished with a well-earned drink and dinner at The Fountain Inn, with lots of choir tales of yesteryear. 

Extraordinary Success for Former Chorister!

Congratulations to former Head Girl Chorister Madeleine Perring (picture above with Matthew Owens). Maddie took part in her first Mid-Somerset Festival singing competition on 23 March. Despite being only 15 and entering the aged 16-19 category, Maddie won Best Opera or Operetta, Best Art Song, and the May King Vocal Award for the outstanding singer in the young adult section!

Sing unto the Lord a New Song

The following is a thought-provoking sermon given during Sunday Evensong by The Reverend Prebendary Stephen Lynas, Senior Chaplain and Advisor to the Bishops.

And he said to me, ‘Son of man, Go now to your people in exile and speak to them. Say to them, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says,” whether they listen or fail to listen.

Some of you will know the work of the English writer Ronald Blythe. Blythe is a Church of England reader, now in his 90s. He’s very much a man of East Anglia and has been associated over many years with the poet John Clare, the composer Benjamin Britten, and the artist John Nash.

He tells the story of the day he was sent by Benjamin Britten to Blythburgh in Suffolk to persuade the Vicar, a Mr Smith, to give permission for a concert to be held in the church. I would guess this was in the late 1950s.

He records the conversation like this: “The Vicar was puzzled. Is it a band?” he asked. “Well, sort of a band,” replied Ronald Blythe.

Permission having been given, Blythe later went back again with one of the supposed band to try the church for sound. The musician was, in fact, was Yehudi Menuhin.

“Is it a band? – sort of...”

I like to imagine something similar happens here in rural Somerset when our Cathedral Choir arranges to go and sing in one of our country churches, which they do.

The churchwarden or sidesman asks – “is it a choir?” And our Precentor, or Matthew Owens, or whoever is making the arrangements, says “... Sort of”.

And what a choir. To be asked to preach at such an occasion as tonight, when we are in the company of world-class music and musicians, is a bit of a task. Ronald Blythe’s vicar, Mr Smith of Suffolk, rather exemplifies the great gulf that is fixed between the company we are in and the more amateur musical attempts of the rest of us.

There is a tension that all church musicians must wrestle with between what is ordinary, workaday regular repertoire, and the extra-ordinary, the complicated, the festival pieces. It’s the difference between a ‘sort of band’ and Yehudi Menuhin. There is music that most of us can do, and music that only some of us do. I’ll return to that, later.

Now you might have been expecting musical readings for this feast of new music today. But Biblical references to music are in short supply. Yes, obviously there are the Psalms, and in particular Psalm 150 with its trumpets, lutes and harps. We used Psalm 138 tonight, with its starting invocation of praise in music. The New Testament encourages us to use psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. But our readings tonight did not take us down a musical road. Instead, we cheated slightly, and heard the readings appointed for the first evensong of the feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, which is tomorrow. So we heard the prophet Ezekiel, discovering that his task was to speak the word, whether people liked it or not. Some of you will be familiar with the other stone pulpit in this Cathedral, down in the nave, with the red-lettered text around the ledge: ‘preach the word in season or out of season’ – a New Testament echo of Ezekiel’s uncomfortable job. I wonder if composers and choirmasters sometimes feel they have this same uncomfortable calling:

·      I must carry on writing – whether people like it or not.
·      I need to compose – whether it’s popular or not
·      We need to sing this piece, whether they like it or not.

The dedication of musicians, like prophets, is admirable. But they must sometimes ask themselves: am I doing this to please the crowd, or to give voice to the inspiration that is within me?

Even as we meet here in these surroundings I am conscious that not ten miles away, Lionel Richie is taking to the main Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. He’ll be followed later on by Paul Weller and The Who. Yesterday, I was very moved to see 87 year-old Burt Bacharach on stage working through his extraordinary catalogue of music.

And we might ask of them too: are they doing it for the money and the crowd? Or because they have this inner compulsion to make music, and to do it as well as they can?

And from Galatians, Paul’s slightly grumpy apologia for his ministry; and the linking of Peter and Paul, whose day it is tomorrow.

·      Paul the Jew, called to travel the known world and preach to the Gentiles.
·      Peter the apostle was to preach to the Jews.

The same task, but to different audiences. He is making the same point as Ezekiel: there is a compulsion deep inside, given by God, to spread the message, by whatever means.

I spent seven very happy years working at the BBC in religious broadcasting. I have some very cheerful memories of coming to this Cathedral from our base at BBC Bristol to transmit a live Choral Evensong. I also played a minor part in some Songs of Praise recordings here:

·      I recall a Good Friday televised service where we had the cameras moving through that forest of pillars and arches behind the high altar as the choir sang the Lotti Crucifixus est
·      And, given that it is 25 years ago, it is now safe to tell the story of broadcasting disasters at Wells Cathedral. For one TV recording one of the riggers had run a camera cable over the top of one of the chantry chapels in the nave sanctuary. Sadly, he managed to bring down a portion of the stonework at the top. A very angry virger came up to the producer to report this damage and said in somewhat stressed tones: I think you should know that you BBC people are only here by a majority of one vote in the Chapter. [!]
·      And on another occasion we were all safely shut up in the recording vehicle reviewing tapes while Evensong took place here in the Quire. Sadly, one of our engineers had left the BBC loudspeaker system on in here, so as we were out in the truck gaily reviewing a recording of hymn singing, it was being pumped out full blast in here while one of the canons was trying to lead the intercessions. Out came the virger: “turn it off, turn it off!”

We used, in those days, to speak of two kinds of musical audience:

·      There were ‘Radio 2’ people, who liked a melody that they could get hold of; words that spoke to their own life experience, and generally something accessible.
·      And then there were the ‘Radio 3’ people, somewhat more ‘highbrow’, much more adventurous and knowledgeable – but not exactly ‘down on the streets with the kids’.

It is of course a false distinction, but a useful one. And nowadays you would have to add in there are also ‘Classic FM’ people, who combine a bit of both. Anyway, I shall leave you to decide for yourself which category you fit into.

New church music has been the subject of some recent controversy in the august columns of the The Church Times. They printed an article by The Reverend Dr Martin Thomas, complaining about what he sees as the lack of brave new church music.

You can assess his views on church music for yourself, but this is a man who is less than enthusiastic about John Rutter, and believes that John Tavener’s work is “neo-religious wallpaper music”.

The article provoked a storm of letters protesting that he is not thinking straight, and commending our cathedrals and churches. I am not qualified to assess the arguments but no fewer than 3 of the 7 letters published in protest mentioned Wells as a place where new music is to be he heard, including:

·      “an admirable tradition of visionary new commissions under Matthew Owens…” – this from James Lancelot, Master of the Music at Durham Cathedral
·      and one from our Dean Emeritus, Richard Lewis, citing 17 contemporary composers being sung in one month alone by the Wells Cathedral Choir.

This little storm in an ecclesiastical teacup does raise some interesting questions for those who love church music. We are back in the territory of music for all and music for some. As I said earlier: there is music that most of us can do, and music that only some of us do.

The following questions arise:

·      Should a choir, (or indeed a Cathedral) rest on its musical laurels, or should it keep pushing boundaries of complexity – and accessibility?
·      How do you make music in worship accessible to more people?
·      How do you present it? Is it only in the context of traditional liturgy, like tonight, or can you showcase it in a reverent way elsewhere?

Dean Richard also made the point (in his letter to The Church Times) that it is a shame the music world tends to reside only in Book of Common Prayer or Latin, and has not moved into more of the Common Worship texts which have done duty now for more than 15 years.

One of the highlights of my own musical year is the Advent Carol Service of Wells Cathedral School. Yes, we all get to sing It came upon the midnight clear. But we also get to hear material that, for many of the congregation, is out on the edge of their experience – I’m thinking of how an Arvo Pärt piece transfixed us all a year or two ago.

It is rather delightful to find that Gary Davison’s pieces we’ve heard tonight include such strong Wells references: the canticles setting is called The Palace Garden Canticles. Now my theory was that the composer has referenced the gardens of our own Bishop’s Palace in the name. Being anxious not to get anything wrong, I ‘Googled’ those exact words to see if I could confirm.Sadly, Google could not confirm this. Instead it pointed me to a Chinese restaurant in Newcastle, called the Palace Garden, which if you are going that way, gets 4.5 Trip Advisor stars. (I’m pleased to say that the Bishop’s Palace Garden gets better than that, and has a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence.)

And to hear a new setting for Glory to thee my God this night is a treat, remembering that the text was written by our much-loved 17th century Bishop, Thomas Ken, remembered both for his saintliness and for his sticking to his beliefs when a change of King from Charles II to James I meant that on point of principle, he could not swear allegiance. Truly a man to preach the word ‘in and out of season’.

I began with the urge to preach and the difficulty of it: something I think that musicians feel too. And I’ve hinted at the possible divisions that music can cause, yes, even in a church or cathedral. A hundred and fifty years ago, the Reverend Samuel Barnett, a priest and social reformer began a series of concerts and lectures for the poor in Whitechapel, in the heart of London’s East End. He recruited artists and singers, and persuaded them to perform/exhibit in the Whitechapel Gallery. And Barnett said this: “Grand music heard in church seems to help many whom sermons fail to touch.”

He may have been onto something there. The words that people like me try to string together can articulate and explain the great truths and stories of the faith. Equally they can confuse or annoy.

Music cannot easily articulate the faith. But it can touch the soul and draw you to admiration, to prayer, to humility. In another context, just down the road, it can bring you into community and make you whoop for joy.

We are grateful for that musical compulsion that drives our composers and singers. There are challenges in it if we care to see them. But we rejoice in their creativity – God’s creativity – and that they are gifted to share with the rest of us lesser mortals.

As Ezekiel put it: And he said to me, ‘Son of man, Say to them, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says,” whether they listen or fail to listen.

A Cathedral Super-Choir!

The world’s first cathedral super-choir, consisting of choristers from no fewer than 50 cathedrals (including our own of course!), has recorded an album in the stunning acoustics of St. Paul's Cathedral. 500 years of best-loved cathedral music on one album - from Tallis to Rutter, with Handel, Stanford, Mendelssohn, Parry and more between - in association with Classic FM and Friends of Cathedral Music's 'Diamond Fund for Choristers'! Have a look and look out for a blue Wells cassock... that'll be our Choir's representative, the then Head Girl Chorister, Astrid Rose-Edwards.

Coming up in 2017...

The Cathedral Choir has many musical treats in store for us in the coming months. If you haven't already picked up a copy, the 2017 edition of 'Music in Wells Cathedral' is now available. The Music and Services list for the next two months is also available. Copies of both can be obtained in the cathedral or you can download electronic versions of both below.

Come and hear them sing soon!



Stars of the Screen!

The choristers spent an exciting morning filming yesterday with both BBC Points West and for The New York Times!

Ozzie Latta was interviewed for BBC Points West about his role in the animated adaptation of 'We're Going On A Bear Hunt!' (see our earlier post below). His interview was broadcast on BBC Points West last night and unfortunately is no longer available on the BBC iPlayer. You can however watch a little video from the BBC Points West Facebook page below.

All of the choristers were later filmed by a crew commissioned by The New York Times for their exciting new online feature called ‘The Daily 360’, which features 360° videos of diverse subjects; some news-driven, some cultural. The choristers were filmed walking down Vicars’ Close and then rehearsing in the Quire. We aren’t yet sure of when the video will go live (although it will be over the Christmas period) so keep an eye on the following web page:

Choristers 'learn to take responsibility'

A stimulating article published yesterday on the Time Educational Supplement's website, discusses some of the benefits that children can gain from being a chorister.

by Helen Cocks

If we want children to take more ownership of their work, we need to show them that what they do matters, says a music specialist.

It’s 8am and 30 boys between the ages of 7 and 13 are waiting to go into school. Some are playing football with a balled-up pair of gloves, others competing as to who can shout “bogies!” most loudly, while a suspiciously quiet group is poring over something questionable on a mobile phone. Eventually, a harassed-looking man appears to confiscate the mobile phone and open the door for them.

The boys enter the room and take their places at tall wooden benches. A hush falls, and they begin to sing 16th century church music.

We might be used to seeing choristers singing carols at Christmas, but for hundreds of children – mostly boys, but also, increasingly, girls – this is daily life.  The young choristers of around 50 UK cathedrals, churches and chapels rehearse daily and perform up to eight times a week throughout the school year and beyond.

In several years working with choristers I have been struck by the juxtaposition of their normality as kids and their professionalism as musicians. In everyday life choristers are as noisy, cheeky and disorganised as all children. But in the choir stalls they are able to concentrate on difficult tasks for long periods of time, persevere when things get tricky and pick themselves up and carry on when things go wrong; all skills we try – and often fail – to instil in other children.

Choristers are not extraordinary, but they do extraordinary things, and I believe the key to this behaviour lies in the sense of responsibility they feel for their work.

Choristers learn to take responsibility

So much of modern childhood is having things done for you. Not just on your behalf, but for your benefit. “It’s your own time you’re wasting” we hector when waiting for noisy classes to quieten down, “Homework is for you, not me” or “because it’s good for you”.

How can we complain that children don’t take responsibility for anything, when the constant message is that nothing they do matters to anyone except themselves?

But choristers understand that what they are doing matters to others; people come to watch them sing and demonstrate their appreciation. The pride that the children take in this is evident, as are the positive effects on their feelings of self-worth.

So, how can we create this same effect for other children? A place to start is with explaining consequences. Making children feel valued has to include giving them responsibility for their actions, whether positive or negative. This can be as simple as letting children know when what they do or say affects people beyond themselves.

Children learn responsibility not just as a set of rules by rote, but as cause and effect. Of course there are plenty of responsibilities which are too complex for children really to understand, but starting small can get them thinking in the right ways.

A sense of ownership fosters pride. To remove the ownership of a child’s actions from them is to tell them that they are not trusted to do the right thing.

All children, not just choristers, are capable of remarkable things. If we expect a lot from them, we might just be surprised by how much they can rise to the challenge.

Helen Cocks is a freelance journalist and a former administrator to the Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory School.

The original article can be found here.

That Christmas Card...

We know that many of you are tuning in to John Suchet's programme each morning this week as the Cathedral Choir's latest festive CD, 'A Wells Christmas' is his Album of the Week. Yesterday, John explained why our choir's CD had particularly caught his attention. Since the programme was aired, we've had some queries about the Christmas card from the choristers that he mentions (if you missed his programme, you can listen again by CLICKING HERE - the relevant part of the programme begins at around 1hr 14mins in). For those of you who wanted to see it, the card in question is shown above. The artwork is by Ozzie Latta (a talented young chap - see our news article from 6 December) and our Head Chorister, Hugh Latta (yes, Ozzie's older brother) received a lovely reply from John that is shown below. As you can see, he was as good as his word! Keep listening!