Choristers take part in Service to Commemorate the end of WWI

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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.

You can find out more about the German Choir of London's tour of UK cathedrals here.

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'.

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The Girl Choristers, Electrolaryngographs, and Psychoacoustics!

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.

The girl choristers in March 2007

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.'

You can read Professor Welch's full and fascinating
research overview by clicking here.

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Christian Unity at Downside Abbey

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!

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Promenade Concert in aid of WCCT

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).

Temporary Organ Failure!

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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!

 The Cathedral Organ will soon be restored to its former-sounding glory!  (Photo: Owain Park)

The Cathedral Organ will soon be restored to its former-sounding glory! (Photo: Owain Park)

David Bednall Signs with OUP

We are thrilled to hear that former Assistant Organist, Dr David Bednall, has been signed to a long-term publishing agreement with Oxford University Press. 

David Bednall is recognized as one of the leading choral composers of his generation and studied for a PhD in Composition with Professor John Pickard at the University of Bristol. He is a Teaching Fellow and Organist of The University of Bristol, Sub Organist at Bristol Cathedral and Director of The University Singers. He studied with Dr. Naji Hakim and David Briggs and was Assistant Organist at Wells from 2004-07.

Whilst at Wells, David was commissioned to write a number of works by Matthew Owens and, as a result of this, Wells Cathedral Choir recorded a CD of these works and others. The disc, Hail, gladdening light was extremely well received and gained the accolade of Gramophone Editor's Choice. The choir went on the record a second disc of David's work, Flame Celestial.

David's career as a composer has since gone from strength to strength. In November 2008 his Requiem was premiered in St James’s Church, Spanish Place with St Mary’s School, Calne, Edward Whiting (Director) and Philip Dukes (Viola) to great acclaim and was given its US Premiere in St Mary the Virgin, Times Square, New York. This work has been recorded by these forces and released on Regent Records to great critical acclaim. His largest work to date, Welcome All Wonders – A Christmas Cantata, commissioned by The Queen’s College, Oxford was premiered by them in November 2011; they have released this work on Signum also to superb international critical acclaim. His 40–part motet Lux orta est iusto closed the Bristol Proms 2015, and he was commissioned by the Finzi Trust to write a Gloria and Nunc dimittis to accompany Finzi’s setting of the Magnificat for the Three Choirs Festival 2016.

David's Stabat Mater was premiered in New York in 2015, and the recording of this on Regent with Jennifer Pike (violin) and the Chapel Choir of Benenden School under Edward Whiting was an Editor’s Choice in the Awards Edition of Gramophone 2016. Recent projects have included a BBC Commission for James Gilchrist, Philip Dukes, and Anna Tilbrook which was premiered in Hull, City of Culture, in July 2017.

We offer David out heartiest congratulations and look forward to hearing more of his music.

We are also delighted that David is performing in a concert in aid of Wells Cathedral Chorister Trust on Wednesday 17 October when he will be improvising a soundtrack (another of his many skills!) to the silent film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. More details will follow closer to the time.

The Choir on Spotify


Each week, music-streaming service, Spotify features a different composer and offers a playlist of some of their works as a definite introduction to that composer's music. Last week's composer was John Tavener and we were pleased to see that the choir's recent recording of Tavener's music featured with the track They are All Gone into the World of Light.

If you have a Spotify account then you can listen to the complete playlist by clicking here.

Former Wells Organ Scholars Appointed to St Paul's

 Nicholas Freestone (L) and William Fox (R)

Nicholas Freestone (L) and William Fox (R)

We were very proud to hear this week that two of our former organ scholars have been appointed to posts at St Paul's Cathedral.

Nicholas Freestone (Wells Cathedral Senior Organ Scholar 2014-15) has already spent three months as Organ Scholar at St Paul's and has now been appointed as Acting Sub Organist for the next six months. Nick has previously also held posts at Tewkesbury Abbey and St Albans Cathedral.

William Fox (Wells Cathedral Junior Organ Scholar 2012-14) is currently completing his undergraduate degree in Music at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he is also Organ Scholar. He will be succeeding Nick to the post of Sub-Organist at St Paul's Cathedral in July. On leaving Wells, Will went on to be organ scholar at Hereford Cathedral for his gap year.

We wish them both our sincere congratulations and look forward to hearing more of their successes in the future.

You can read the full announcement from St Paul's Cathedral here.

New Year's Honour for Former Chairman

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We were delighted to hear today that our former chairman, Iain Ball has been awarded the MBE for 'services to Cathedral Choral Music and to Young People'. We are obviously thrilled that Iain's hard work has been recognised and rewarded with such a prestigious accolade. When Iain retired as chairman in 2014, Elizabeth Cairncross, Principal of Wells Cathedral School, wrote the following tribute to him:

Iain Ball became chair of what was then the Wells Cathedral Girl Chorister Trust in 2004, after Canon Melvyn Matthews and I used what we like to think was tact, diplomacy and vision to persuade him. He tells it differently! The Trust had had a shaky start. It needed strong, inspired leadership, advocacy and drive. Iain brought all those qualities and more.

He works very hard. His meticulous preparation for trustees’ meetings, his seeking out of good people to be trustees (which continued even into the clear eyed succession plans for his own departure as chair), his thorough planning for events, and his building of a team to help him do that - all these were just the outward manifestation of hours of reflection and planning. And he worries productively. He told me that, having finished his term as chair, he could now sleep easily – and I don’t think it was an exaggeration.

Iain had – has – a vision for the Trust which has enabled him to lead the raising of a million pounds thus far. It meant that he steered its evolution into a trust for boy and girl choristers alike, when that became desirable, with charm and firmness, and managed to retain the support of those with a particular commitment to the girls’ cause. He has shared that vision with countless people, including his own friend Lady Marina Hobson, who has been such a generous enabler, and including HRH Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who has become not only the Trust’s royal patron, but its friend and foremost cheerleader.

 Iain Ball [centre] welcomes HRH The Countess of Wessex to Wells Cathedral School on her first official visit in 2007

Iain Ball [centre] welcomes HRH The Countess of Wessex to Wells Cathedral School on her first official visit in 2007

He has supported the whole choir through the opportunities for new and interesting music which Trust activities have given, and many people have had hours of quality entertainment through Trust events. And Iain is, above all else, generous. He shares his contacts and his friends – like Lady Marina – and he shares his hospitality. (He once told me that he believes it is a sacrament.) He thanks people warmly, quickly, and personally. He is trenchant, and he is kind. So he achieves things!

Helen [Iain's wife] has been a willing, generous and thoughtful ally and supporter through all these years, and needs our thanks as well. There are choristers now in the choir and the school who would not be there if it were not for Trust funding. There are young adult musicians making an impact for good in the world who started their musical careers in the choir because of the support of the Trust.

And perhaps his greatest success is that he leaves the leadership of the Trust at a point when it is both solid and developing, with clear ambition for the future, and the ability to realise that ambition. We owe Iain a great deal!

Elizabeth Cairncross
Principal, Wells Cathedral School

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A Christmas Sell-Out!

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The choristers have been rehearsing hard over the past few days for both the Christmas services and the annual Carols by Candlelight Concerts. The two concerts, featuring a selection of seasonal music and readings, are performed in the nave Wells Cathedral lit only by candles - almost 3,500 of them!

We're delighted to hear that both of this year's concerts are completely sold out! But don't worry if you haven't got tickets and were hoping to hear the choir in full festive song this Christmas season: there are two carol services and the three services of Christmas Day itself yet to come. All details can be found on the Wells Cathedral website - CLICK HERE.