The Cathedral Choir was joined for Evensong last night by the Cathedral's Youth Choir - the Wells Cathedral Song Squad! The children joined the choir with great gusto for the singing of the anthem, John Barnard's arrangement of 'If God is Building'. Well done to them all! And we look forward to their next performance. If your child is interested in joining the Song Squad, then CLICK HERE to visit the cathedral website for more information.
Last Sunday, we said a fond thank you and farewell to the Cathedral Choir’s Head Boy Chorister, Taylor, who is having to hang up his 'treble boots'. During Evensong, Matthew Owens, Organist and Master of the Choristers, and Canon Precentor Nicholas Jepson-Biddle, paid tribute to Taylor who has worked extremely hard and has been a great chorister and Head Chorister - a terrific role model for the younger boys in the choir. Following the service, Taylor was joined by boy choristers past and present for a party in the sunshine outside the cathedral. He will be much missed but we all wish Taylor well and look forward to him returning for the final Evensong of the choir’s academic year.
Equally, we are delighted to announce that this morning during the Cathedral Eucharist, Xavier was inducted as our new Head Boy Chorister. Xavier has been an excellent Deputy Head Chorister since September 2017, and we know that he will carry out his enhanced duties with aplomb. Congratulations to Xavier!
The choristers are all now enjoying their extremely well-deserved Easter break. The three services on Easter Sunday itself were wonderful and they sang fantastically well, particularly considering what a busy week it had been: not only with the usual Holy Week services but also the premieres of two substantial new works - well over 2 hours of new music! Yet they still had enough energy to make Howells' Dallas Canticles at the final evensong sound particularly exciting!
But for them, the high point of excitement for the day may have been the annual post-evensong Easter Egg Hunt where they had fun finding their chocolate reward to take home and enjoy!
We offer our huge congratulations and thanks to them all. And we sincerely hope they have a wonderful holiday!
The choristers were today part of the world premiere performance of Philip Moore's St Luke Passion. Commissioned by Cathedral Commissions of Wells Cathedral, with support from the Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust and the Vernon Ellis Foundation, this major new setting of the St Luke Passion was sung by Wells Cathedral Choir within a service for Palm Sunday. The Evangelist was tenor, James Oxley and the part of Christ was sung by our very own Bass Vicar Choral, Christopher Sheldrake, who deserves particular praise for stepping into the soloist's shoes at barely 24 hours notice as Gary Griffiths had to bow out due to illness.
It was a performance of great beauty and conviction and the choristers sang brilliantly in the various chorus roles, including three solo girl choristers who took the roles of the women who question Peter.
The choristers battled through Somerset's second recent bout of substantial snow to get to Wells Cathedral today and fulfil their duties. Those boys who weren't completely snowed in made it in for the 9am rehearsal, with a least one dedicated soul walking in from a nearby village! They did themselves proud on their reduced numbers. The girls were rehearsing from 9.30am for the Legal Service and sang Elgar's majestic Te Deum and Benedictus with great aplomb considering that some of their number were also stuck at home. Needless to say, there was some time for fun in the snow once the singing was done!
On Saturday 24 February a special service of Choral Evensong took place in the cathedral to commemorate 100 years since the end of WW1. The German Choir of London joined the Cathedral Choir to sing specially selected pieces of music to celebrate both this point in history and the theme of peace.
The service was part of a project called “Blessed are the Peacemakers”, under which The German Choir of London are travelling to several Cathedrals in the UK (including Coventry, Norwich, Liverpool, St Paul’s, and York Minster) as well as Belgium (Brussels Cathedral and the Ypres Menin Gate), and France (Notre Dame Paris) to sing in such services.
The joint choirs sang the Evening Canticles in D by George Dyson, who himself saw service in the First World War. The sound of two choirs was awe-inspiring in Dyson's grand setting of the Magnificat, whilst the serene Nunc Dimittis was particularly poignant.
The service also included the premiere of British composer Orlando Gough's anthem 'Facing Home', a gentle but deeply felt setting of an evocative text: 'Never has life been so dear to us as now, standing here facing home'.
Unbeknownst to many, not only do our girl choristers enrich the life of the cathedral and wider community on a daily basis with their wonderful singing, but for almost 20 years they have also been major contributors to a unique study into the development of the female singing voice.
Girls first began singing in Wells Cathedral in 1994. Since 1999, the Wells Female Chorister Research Team - consisting of Professor Graham F. Welch (UCL), Professor David M. Howard (Royal Holloway) and Dr Evangelos Himonides (UCL) - have undertaken six-monthly studies at Wells with the girl choristers, involving over 700 recordings of more than 100 choristers! The data collected has provided new insights into the impact of education and training on young female voices, and of how such voices develop over time, as well as key factors that shape such development.
As one of our trustees, Lois Rogers explains:
'Wells Cathedral choir started taking girl treble singers alongside boys in 1994, at a time when such an initiative was considered fairly outlandish!
'Despite considerable progress in gender equality in most other areas, there was still a widely held misapprehension that young girl singers could not achieve the vocal skill and purity of boy trebles.
'It was quickly established that girls singing alongside boys and men in a choir conducted by a man, developed vocally in a way which led to their singing voices becoming indistinguishable from those of treble-singing boys. This discovery led to Wells Cathedral choir becoming the focus of a long-term academic research project on girls’ vocal development and the modification to this development which occurs as a consequence of choral training.
'The project is led by Professor Graham Welch, a music expert from the Institute of Education in London, and Professor David Howard, a specialist in voice analysis who is also head of the electronics department at York University. Their study has now built up a library of some 740 digital recordings of 105 individual girls’ voices collected at six-month intervals since 1999.
'In addition to microphone recordings, the researchers have also used an electrolarynograph, a device which uses electrodes attached to the neck, to measure the degree of contact between the vocal folds. This allows them to observe the impact of training and education on patterns of vibration of the vocal folds and the effect of this training on acoustic output from the mouth. The measurements have all been made during the production of speech, the singing of a two octave scale, and a carol.
'The research has produced a substantial number of publications including a contribution to The Oxford Handbook of Choral Pedagogy on girls’ vocal training, which is co-authored by Matthew Owens. The other publications cover new territory in the understanding of female vocal development, including the physiological changes that accompanies choral training; related psychoacoustic studies; analysis of the features of the musical culture that influence the chorister sound; and perceptions of chorister gender.'
As part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we welcomed the Monks & Schola Cantorum of Downside Abbey and School to Wells Cathedral last Friday where they moved us with a beautiful service of Choral Vespers.
Yesterday afternoon, it was the turn of our Boy Choristers and Vicars Choral to sing Choral Evensong in the beauty of Downside Abbey. They were warmly welcomed and enjoyed singing some stirring Stanford and Cornelius in the Abbey's generous acoustics. Needless to say, the show of Christian unity was particularly strong over the tea and cake that followed!
We are delighted that the Tallis Voices and Pepyllyng Wynde consort, led by Dr Christopher Lovell, are again putting on a concert in aid of our Trust. The concert is given as part of Wells Cathedral's series of Promenade Concerts. These take place throughout January when the nave has been cleared of all furniture, allowing the audience to wander through this wonderful medieval space.
The concert is at 7.00pm this Friday 19 January and is entitled Following the Star: Renaissance Music for the Feast of the Epiphany. It promises to be a wonderful treat. Tickets are £10 and are available from the Cathedral Shop Box Office (01749 672773) or by post from Dr C R Lovell, Green Farm Cottage, The Green, Farmborough, Bath, BA2 0BA (please enclose a stamped addressed envelope).
If you have visited Wells Cathedral in the past few days you will have noticed an unusual addition to the central crossing outside the Quire, in the form of a small organ console. And if you've been present for a service, you will certainly have noticed that things haven't been sounding quite as they usually do! Assistant Organist, Jeremy Cole (pictured above playing on the aforementioned console) explains all...
The Cathedral Choir was back in the stalls for the Epiphany Term on Monday 9 January, eager to begin singing again and with some very exciting music on the horizon. However, there was one significant absence – the sound of the Cathedral organ!
We are fortunate to have a very dedicated Voluntary Choir in Wells, which sings when the Cathedral Choir is on vacation. While they were singing at the Cathedral Eucharist on Sunday 7 January, their organist, Ashley Marshfield, suddenly found that most of the organ had stopped working, and the Virgers found it was necessary to turn off the power to the main blower.
Maintaining large cathedral organs is a demanding job, in terms of time and money. As time passes, our organ is increasingly showing the signs of its age and, even despite the care and maintenance provided by Harrison and Harrison Organ Builders and Stewart Fothergill Engineers, problems still occur.
The organ will be out of action for at least two weeks awaiting diagnosis of the root cause and then restoring its functionality. We are extremely grateful to David Mason at Viscount Classical Organs, who had a two-manual digital instrument installed in the Cathedral in less than twenty-four hours. This means that the services can continue as normal while the Cathedral organ is being repaired, and the Cathedral Choir can continue as planned with the repertoire for the term.
Addendum: We're very pleased to announce that as of today, Monday 22 January, the organ has been fully repaired and is once again in fine voice!