Being a Chorister For a Day

On Saturday 14 October, the Cathedral again hosted its fabulous, free ‘behind the scenes’ day, where children were able to experience the life of a Cathedral chorister. 

Forty-one girls and boys, aged between seven and ten, came from schools across Somerset and beyond for the annual Be a Chorister for a Day event where they met the Cathedral choristers and participated in singing workshops. The day culminated in singing Choral Evensong in the Quire of the Cathedral with the award-winning and world-renowned choir. The children performed the anthem Love Divine by Howard Goodall, helped the choir lead the two hymns in the service, and learned to process in and out.

There were also events for the children’s parents, including a tour of Wells Cathedral School and Tea in the historic Vicars’ Hall. It was a great success and everyone involved thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

If you are interested in the 2018 event, please contact the Cathedral Music Office via musicoffice@wellscathedral.uk.net.  If you can’t wait that long you may like to join Wells Cathedral Song Squad, which meets on Tuesday nights. Contact Tricia Rees-Jones via triciarj1@gmail.com for more details.

Introducing... the Choral Scholars

We're now just over a month into the new choir year and so it seems high time that we got to know some of the newer faces in the Music Foundation. This week we learn a little more about our three new Choral Scholars.

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Finn Lacey (alto) was born at home in Twickenham. Despite living spitting distance from the world-renowned Twickenham rugby stadium, Finn enjoyed kicking a football as a pastime and hence began a youth career, albeit a brief one, with Brentford FC Academy at the age of 7. Shortly after, Finn auditioned to be a chorister at Hampton Court Palace with secular classics such as ‘I Want You Back’ by the Jackson 5 and ‘What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?’ by Jimmy Ruffin. Despite this questionable programme, Finn was successful and he became a probationer at the Palace, but this was again short lived.

In 2008, Finn auditioned to be apart of Wells Cathedral Choir. After his successful audition came the beginning of a demanding and often challenging yet equally rewarding treble career at Wells Cathedral. Finn was given the opportunity to sing on CD recordings, in live broadcasts, and on tours to The Hague, Hong Kong and China. Shortly after the trip to the Far East came the inevitable voice change that left Finn a treble no more.

The lack of choir commitments allowed time for both free weekends and sport which Finn found refreshing but, finding that the large void left by choristership being replaced with only unwelcome exams and teenage angst, it was only a matter of time before Finn re-entered the choral world. Finn knew he wanted to be an alto; artists such as Art Garfunkel, Plan B, The Bee Gees and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys had all used their falsetto, thus making the alto voice that bit more appealing over the perhaps more traditional tenor or bass parts for Finn.

In 2016 Finn became the alto choral scholar at Portsmouth Cathedral and promptly fell back in love with singing. After a so-so set of A-level retakes, Finn began looking for a new choral endeavour after Portsmouth. For old times’ sake above anything else, Finn auditioned for Matthew Owens once more (now as a 6ft tall, hairy countertenor!) and was pleasantly surprised at his success for the second time!

Finn is an avid Liverpool fan and film fanatic but above all he is a fervent (verging on psychotic) listener to music. Finn’s favourite album is the Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’, with perhaps the only LP to rival this being Brian Wilson’s follow up album and swansong ‘SMilE’. If only it were finished... Finn is enjoying being in Wells for another year and is rediscovering the place he calls his home.

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Oliver Chubb (tenor) has recently completed his undergraduate degree in Music at the University of Bristol, specialising in composition and performance. He began his musical life as a chorister at Portsmouth Cathedral, which founded a lifelong love of choral music. Though he didn’t realise it at the time, being a chorister would play a huge part in his musical education and his appreciation of cathedral music.

In addition to singing, Oliver is also a keen trumpeter; he began playing at the age of six with the sole intention of “making people’s ears explode”; residents of Vicars’ Close will be pleased to know he has long since abandoned this desire! His time at Portsmouth Cathedral also had a part in his education in trumpet by giving him the opportunity to play The Last Post while still a chorister and, after his voice took its natural downward course, he continued to play as a trumpeter for larger services, including on the 2014 BBC Radio 4 Christmas Morning Broadcast.

During his time at the University of Bristol, Oliver has performed in many ensembles; he was the principal trumpet of the University Chamber Orchestra for two years and as a singer has sung both as choir member and as a soloist, most notably while on tour with the University in Prague last year (Schubert's Mass in F) and Barcelona this year (Mozart's Requiem).  In his final year at Bristol, he was awarded both the JH Britton Award and the Performance Prize by the Music Department. As well as his studies at University, Oliver was a choral scholar at Bristol Cathedral, with whom he performed live on BBC Radio 3 and on BBC One TV in the 2016 Christmas Morning Service, as well as taking part in the recording of the choir’s new CD.

Oliver’s favourite musical experience was singing in the BBC Proms Youth Choir in Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle at the BBC Proms, closely followed by Verdi’s Requiem Marin Alsop the following year.

Another reason for Oliver pursuing a career in music is that it serves as an excellent travel agent - recent excursions have been to places such as Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Bordeaux, Barcelona, Cornwall and Brittany.

Since leaving the university, he has given two public recitals in his native Hampshire accompanied by his former choirmaster, and one in Bristol accompanied by former Wells Cathedral Assistant Organist, David Bednall.  

Oliver is active as a performer in the Bristol music scene and has played and sung for many local orchestras and choirs. Other pursuits have included conducting a small choir specialising in 20th-century repertoire, and founding a Bristol-based function band (now available for booking!). Like his alto counterpart Finn, Oliver’s days consist of waking up in the afternoon and eagerly waiting for the beginning of evensong, a plight common amongst the choral scholar species. Readers who take pity will be relieved to know that he is readily available for hire as a trumpeter for lessons, weddings and funerals (the bar tab won’t pay itself...).

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Harry Guthrie (bass) has been singing for ten years; he joined Bedford School’s Chapel Choir at the age of nine, and he’s been hooked ever since. Aged 10, he joined the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, singing in many of the main concert venues and cathedrals across the UK, including the Royal Albert Hall, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, Birmingham Symphony Hall, and many others. He’s also been on some pretty good holidays (aka music tours!) singing in Notre Dame, Paris, St Mark’s, Venice, and Chartres Cathedral.

A few years ago, Harry’s school choir was the only robed choir to take part in the annual Festival of Remembrance in the Albert Hall – made unforgettable by standing just a few feet away from the star of the show, Pixie Lott! However, what was forgettable was falling down the Albert Hall's stairs in cassock and surplus - thankfully no harm done!

Harry is also co-founder (and arranger) of the ‘Bedford Sharps’, an a cappella group of Bedford School students who perform concerts in their local area. When he’s finished his choral scholarship at Wells, Harry is off to read Music at Trinity College, Cambridge. Outside of music, he’s a passionate Manchester United supporter and likes to play golf with friends.

new music wells 77-17: a feast of contemporary music!

The choristers are preparing to take part in Wells Cathedral's tenth annual festival of new music: new music wells 77-17, to be held from Sunday 15 – Thursday 19 October 2017.

Building on the success of previous years, all music during the Cathedral’s services and at four special concerts will be selected from repertoire written over the last 40 years - no mean feat for any cathedral choir! Click on the poster above to enlarge it for more information on all the world premieres that will be taking place.

This year’s distinguished Composer-in-Residence is Howard Skempton, who celebrates his 70th birthday shortly after the festival. He will have two works premiered by Wells Cathedral Choir on Thursday 19 October at the 5.15pm service of Choral Evensong. The festival will also include world premiere performances of works by Professor Philip Wilby, Francis Jackson (in celebration of his 100th birthday on 2 October), and Rebecca Farthing, who is a student at Wells Cathedral School.

In other events, Lord (Michael) Berkeley CBE – presenter of BBC Radio 3’s Private Passions will be in conversation with fellow composers Howard Skempton and Philip Wilby on Wednesday 19 October: Composer Conversations with Michael Berkeley begins at 2.30pm in the Education Room. Skempton will give a public composition masterclass in Cedars Hall on the afternoon of Thursday 19 October, working with students from Wells Cathedral School. Admission to all of these events is free.

There will be four lunchtime concerts during the week, all starting at 1.05pm in the North Transept of the Cathedral:

Monday 16 October – A Contemporary Song Recital with Edward Goater and Christopher Sheldrake

Tuesday 17 October – Students from Wells Cathedral School will perform music by the school’s student composers

Wednesday 18 October – Students from Wells Cathedral School will perform compositions by this year’s featured composer, Howard Skempton

Thursday 19 October – Organist and Master of the Choristers, Matthew Owens, will give an organ recital featuring music by Judith Bingham (President of the festival), Philip Glass, Howard Skempton, Lionel Rogg, and Philip Wilby

Admission to all four concerts is free, with retiring collections to support Wells Cathedral Music.

A new innovation within this year’s new music wells festival is new music bells which will see the Cathedral’s bell ringers performing a piece by Howard Skempton on the final day of events: Five Rings Triples was commissioned for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad Project and receives its South West premiere of the Five Rings Doubles version on Thursday 19 October at 4.30pm.

Founded in 2008 by Matthew Owens, Organist and Master of the Choristers, this innovative festival is a retrospective of sacred choral and organ music of the previous forty years during all services, together with world premiere performances by Wells Cathedral Choir and organists of music by internationally renowned composers, local composers, and composition students from Wells Cathedral School. There are also concerts and a public masterclass with the featured composer of the year. The festival’s President is British composer, Judith Bingham, following on from the late Jonathan Harvey.

A Visit to Evercreech

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The sun shone for this afternoon's visit of the boys and men to St Peter's Church, Evercreech. As part of the choir's outreach programme, each term either the boys and men or girls and men travel to a different church in the diocese to sing Choral Evensong. Today's service was a great success with the church filled to capacity as local parishioners came to hear the choir sing this traditional choral service. Needless to say, the generous provision of tea and cake was much appreciated by all afterwards!

Some Congratulations!

We need to offer two votes of congratulations today. The first goes to our new boy Head Chorister, Taylor who was installed last week after his predecessor's voice took its natural course rather earlier in the year than anticipated! We've heard Taylor's voice as soloist on many occasions and look forward to hearing it much more as we wish him all the very best in his tenure. Of course, we are very sad to see the former Head Chorister, Bailey leave but wish him all the best for the future and look forward to giving him a proper send-off in due course. Secondly, we're delighted to congratulate Matthew Owens on his installation today as a Prebendary of Wells Cathedral. A first for an Organist at Wells Cathedral, as far as we know! Matthew and Taylor are pictured here with Deputy Head Chorister, Xavier.

World Premiere for World Peace Day

Evensong at Wells Cathedral today marked World Peace Day and involved massed choirs gathered from across the diocese as part of the One Day One Choir project. The choirs joined the Cathedral Choir in the world premiere of the specially-commissioned anthem Blessing of Peace by US composer Gary Davison. It was a wonderful work and fitted the occasion perfectly with its apposite texts. The Choir have recorded two discs of Davison's work and were especially delighted to welcome him back to Wells for the premiere.

The choir also sang the canticles from the Gloucester Service by Herbert Howells. Written in the aftermath of the Second World War, the music of these canticles radiated a sense of hope. Amongst the massed choirs were our very own Song Squad - Wells Cathedral Junior Choir - who sang with real gusto! And some of our former choristers came to sing as part of Wells Cathedral School Chapel Choir and were delighted to be reunited with Gary, whose music they recorded during the chorister careers. It was a very special occasion!

Joubert Disc Receives its First Review

The Cathedral Choir’s latest CD recording of works by veteran composer John Joubert, is now on general release and has received its first review. All of the works featured were commissioned for Wells and were given their first performances by the choir. The programme has at its heart the extended St Mark Passion - a profound and heartfelt retelling of the well-known passion story - which is recorded alongside the expansive Missa Wellensis, and Joubert’s vivid and powerful setting of Locus iste.

John Joubert relationship with the choir began when he visited Wells in 2013 as composer-in-residence for the new music wells 1973-2013 festival, during which the choir performed the premieres of both the Missa Wellensis, Op.174 and Locus Iste Op.175. The relationship flourished and on Palm Sunday 2016 (which happened to be the composer's 89th birthday) the choir gave the premiere of his St Mark Passion in a liturgical setting. The work was repeated on Palm Sunday this year before the choir embarked on the recording as part of the celebrations for the composer's 90th birthday. The choir are joined on the disc by soloists Peter Auty (tenor), Benjamin Bevan (baritone), and Richard May (cello). They were also delighted to welcome back former Assistant Organist, David Bednall to play the organ.

The CD has received its first review from online music journalist, Robert Hugill. The review can be found here.

John Joubert was born in Cape Town in 1927. Aged 19 he won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London and has lived and worked in England ever since. Joubert's long composing career encompasses all genres from symphonic, operatic and chamber works to ever-popular choral miniatures such as Torches and There is no rose.

Excerpts of sample tracks from the CD can be found on our On the Record page.

This very special disc is available from the Cathedral Shops and for a limited time will be available at the special price of £10. Please call the Shop to check availability on 01749 672 773.

A New Choir Year

It was a great delight to welcome back the Cathedral Choir on Saturday for the start of the Choir Year. The packed service in the nave also gave opportunity to welcome the newest members of the Music Foundation; the new Probationers -Gabriel, William, Ollie, and Amelia; three new Choral Scholars - Harry Guthrie, Oliver Chubb, and Finn Lacey (a former head chorister of Wells); and not forgetting our new Assistant Organist, Jeremy Cole; and Organ Scholar, Joshua Stephens. We offer them the warmest of welcomes to Wells.

It was also a delight to congratulate the new Head and Deputy Head Choristers who all received their medals of office at the service; Bailey and Jessica, who become Head Boy Chorister and Head Girl Chorister, respectively; and Xavier and Taylor, and Harriet and Beth, who will become Deputy Head Boy and Girl Choristers.

Last but certainly not least, we offer our heartfelt congratulations to those choristers who have passed their year's probation and were admitted to the choir as full surpliced choristers - Harry, William, George, and Elsa. Bravo!

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).