Welcome back!

It was a great delight to welcome back the Cathedral Choir on Saturday for the start of the new academic year. The packed service in the nave gave opportunity to welcome the newest members of the Music Foundation; the new Probationers - Samuel, Alice, Estella, Sophie, and Petra; three new Choral Scholars - David Bevan, Peter Dockrill, and Edmund Le Brocq; and not forgetting our new Senior Organ Scholar, Harrison Cole. 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; Ross and Erin, the new Head Boy Chorister and Head Girl Chorister; and Tom and Madeline, who were appointed 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 - Woody, Charlie, Gabriel, and William. Bravo!

On Sunday there was more cause for celebration as Mr Alistair Tighe, the new Head Master of Wells Cathedral School was installed during Evensong. The Cathedral Choir was joined by the school’s Chapel Choir and Brass Quintet. The massed forces joined together for the anthem, Parry’s ever-stirring I was glad - it was something spectacular and a wonderful welcome for Mr Tighe, to which we add our own heartfelt greeting.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Tickets now On Sale!

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Tickets are now ON SALE.
Please CLICK HERE to book yours now!

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is set to visit Wells Cathedral as part of a very exciting fundraising event happening this coming October! The great 1923 gothic silent movie is to be shown on the big screen in the atmospheric space of Wells Cathedral, England’s first Gothic cathedral. The musical accompaniment to the film will be improvised on the Cathedral’s great organ by David Bednall, one of Europe’s finest improvisers.

The concert will held on Wednesday 17 October at 7.30pm as part of the Cathedral's annual new music wells festival .

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Universal’s 1923 version of Victor Hugo’s novel, was one of the great super-productions of its day. The film makers built a life-size façade of the great French cathedral which, along with numerous other sets representing medieval Paris, took a year to build and remained in the Universal lot as an attraction for years to come. The film starred the great silent movie icon, Lon Chaney as Quasimodo, the cathedral’s spectacularly deformed bell-ringer, not to mention a huge cast of up to 3,500 extras!

The film is ultimately a tragic-triumphant story and was a huge success in its time. Lon Chaney’s performance is extraordinary; despite being hampered by a large amount of make-up, a body brace, and a total lack of dialogue, the attention to detail that Chaney puts into his acting is often more stunning that the film’s architecture. Together with veteran director, Wallace Worsley, Norman Kerry (a major talent of the day who plays the part of Phoebus), and young rising star, Patsy Ruth Miller (who plays Esmeralda), they took a classic story of archetypal heroism and love, and created an indelible piece of art that remains breath-taking in its scope and vision.

David Bednall has established an international reputation as an exciting and virtuosic organist and is particularly noted for his skills as an improviser, especially in providing the soundtrack to silent films. Bednall was formerly the Assistant Organist at Wells Cathedral and is now a Bristol-based performer, composer, and lecturer. His improvised organ accompaniments to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde at the Oxford Festival of the Arts and The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the Bristol Film Festival were both sell-out performances and widely acclaimed. He has also performed improvised soundtracks to Faust, Metropolis, and J’accuse.

a fundraising event

The showing of this film is a fund-raising event for Wells Cathedral Chorister Trust. The Trust helps young singers from all backgrounds to train in a world-class musical environment. The Trust wants to be able to give any child with musical talents the opportunity to enjoy a unique all-round education at a specialist music school.

“Choristership: the single greatest leg-up a child can be given in life”
Alexander Armstrong
Television Presenter, Actor and Comedian

The gift to make music is innate and found everywhere, regardless of wealth and circumstance. Our responsibility is to give any child with musical promise the chance to benefit from this remarkable training for life.

To achieve our goal, we are seeking donations to build up our endowment and create a fund large enough to provide scholarships and bursaries in perpetuity. Only this level of financial support will ensure that no gifted child misses this opportunity. Please explore our website (link above) to find out more.

This will be an event not to be missed. Book your tickets now in the knowledge that all profits will go towards supporting the choristers of Wells Cathedral.

Tickets are now ON SALE.
Please CLICK HERE to book yours now!

You can also get tickets by telephoning 01749 834483
or by visiting Wells Cathedral Box Office.

 
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The end of a wonderful year!

Matthew Owens, Organist and Master of the Choristers, writes:

Congratulations on a wonderful year for the cathedral choir. I would like to thank, once again, those who have completed their time in the Music Foundation for their commitment, dedication, hard work, and magnificent music making in service to the worship of the Cathedral: Choristers Bailey, Xavier, Taylor, Harriet, Mimi Beth, Jessica, and Sophie; Junior Organ Scholar Nicholas Tall; Choral Scholars Mr Oliver Chubb, Mr Harry Guthrie, and Mr Finn Lacey; Senior Organ Scholar Mr Joshua Stephens, and Countertenor Vicar Choral Mr Tim Wilson. We also say thank you to Raphael and Eliza, who are leaving us at this point. We wish them all the very best for the future.

Many congratulations to Ross on becoming Head Boy Chorister; Tom on becoming Deputy Head Boy Chorister; Erin on becoming Head Girl Chorister; and Madeline on becoming Deputy Head Girl Chorister. They will make an excellent leadership team for the choristers.

The following probationer choristers are to receive their surplice at the first Evensong of the new academic year: Woody, Charlie, Gabriel, William, and Amelia.

Congratulations to the following boys and girls for winning the plus point competition for the Trinity Term: George (Junior Boy Chorister); Alexei and Ross(Senior Boy Choristers); Amelia (Junior Girl Chorister); Jessica and Harriet (Senior Girl Choristers).

Finally, the Dean often talks about how important it is for the Cathedral to connect locally, nationally, and internationally. It seems to me that the Cathedral Choir is one of the very best ways of doing this. It connects with people every week during term time in singing nine services to regular members of the congregation, visitors, tourists, and pilgrims. During the Whitsun and Trinity terms it also connected with former choristers (some travelling from the USA) in the annual Wells Cathedral Choir Association Evensong; it connected with the Diocese through one of its regular Evensong visits (this term to St James, Winscombe) and through the annual Diocesan Choral Association Festival; it connected with the world of contemporary music through seven world premieres of works by Stuart Beer (Tu es Petrus), Washington DC-based composer, Gary Davison (Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee), Barnaby Martin (Fauxbourdon Service), New York-based composer, Thea Musgrave CBE (Missa Brevis, and Collect for the Birth of John the Baptist), Robin Walker (Mine Eyes for Beauty pine), and Paul Whitmarsh (The Call); it connected with people – including via reviews in the music press – through the release of its latest CD of works by Gary Davison; and it connected with people across the world during its broadcast of Evensong to well over a quarter of a million people on BBC Radio 3, in the final week of term.

These connections do not happen automatically. They all come about through hard work, teamwork, and dedication. As I mentioned on the final day, when thanking everyone, the most recent Gramophone review described Wells Cathedral Choir as “a crack team” – and it is. But it is not for show and, therefore, one of the nicest compliments after the BBC Radio 3 broadcast was from the Producer, The Reverend Canon Stephen Shipley, who commented that the choir sang with so much conviction and depth, and that it was liturgy combined with music at its best. We strive every day to achieve our best, and will continue to do so. And so my thanks to everyone who has played their part in this last academic year in order to help this happen.

Congratulations on a fantastic broadcast!

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Congratulations to the Boy and Girl Choristers and Vicars Choral who sang on yesterday's BBC broadcast. Matthew Owens had masterminded a wonderful programme, including music with an trans-Atlantic connection for American Independence Day.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN AGAIN TO THE SERVICE ON THE BBC iPLAYER

The service opened with the premiere of Gary Davison's new anthem, Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, written for the Cranmer Anthem Book. Davison (pictured below) is a great friend of our Cathedral Choir (they have recorded two discs of his works) and we were delighted that he was in attendance yesterday to hear this first performance of what was a beautiful setting of Cranmer's collect.

 Gary Davison with the broadcast choristers

Gary Davison with the broadcast choristers

The Preces and Responses were sung to the setting by Howard Skempton. Written for the new music wells 77-17 festival, these received their premiere broadcast. We were also delighted that Skempton also made the trip down to Wells to attend the service.

The psalms were beautifully sung, with the choir's usual crisp enunciation ensuring that not a word was lost over the airwaves! The Walford-Davies chant for Psalm 23 was a real highlight.

Herbert Howells's late work, The Dallas Service, provided the settings of the Canticles. These were the last of over 20 settings of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis that Howells composed. The choir's singing was electrifying throughout, with moments of great excitement and drama balanced by great pathos (the work was composed at a time of sadness for Howells as his wife was gravely ill and she died a few weeks after its completion). An innovation in the Magnificat, found nowhere else in Howells’ many settings is the repetition of the opening words, sung by a two solo trebles just before the Gloria - huge congratulations to both Jess and Harriet for their sublime singing here. Equally, mention must be made of the rich baritone of Vicar Choral Craig Bissex who sang the opening solo of the Nunc Dimittis.

The anthem was Eric Whitacre's soul-stirring setting of the American poet e. e. cumming's glorious text i thank You God for most this amazing day. The energy that the choir sustained in their singing was extraordinary given what had come before (and not to mention the heat of the day itself!).

There was one final choral treat to come: following the final hymn (sung to the tune Cloth Fair by John Scott - another American connection...), the choir sang Matthew Owens's gentle Holy Trinity Blessing with its dream-like organ part and gentle vocal lines.

And now mention must be made of the wonderful playing throughout the service of Assistant Organist, Jeremy Cole. He brought proceedings to a conclusion with a bravura performance of Duruflé's Fugue sur le thème du Carillon des Heures de la Cathédrale de Soissons.

Many congratulations again to one and all on a broadcast that reaffirmed Wells Cathedral Choir's well-deserved place on the world stage!

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN AGAIN TO THE SERVICE ON THE BBC iPLAYER

Live on BBC Radio 3 today!

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Join the Cathedral Choir on BBC Radio 3 at 3.30pm today when they will be broadcasting Choral Evensong live from Wells Cathedral. There is a fantastic line-up of music, this year on an American theme to celebrate 4 July: Herbert Howells' Dallas Canticles, i thank You God by Eric Whitacre, and the premiere of a new anthem by the choir's friend, American composer Gary Davison. Do tune in!

Erin shows that singing isn't her only musical talent!

It was a fantastic Diocesan Choral Festival at Wells Cathedral this afternoon. Singers from parishes across the Diocese joined with the boys and men of the Cathedral Choir for a moving service on a theme of remembrance. There were some wonderful moments but a particular highlight came during James Whitbourn's poignant anthem 'This is my commandment' when Girl Chorister, Erin (who nobly came in on her day off!) played the Last Post with great poise. Well done, Erin! And congratulations to all involved, particularly those singers who received the Dean's Award for their hard work and commitment.

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Distinguished Composer Thea Musgrave, CBE, to Visit Wells for Two World Premieres

The Cathedral Choir is honoured that distinguished composer Thea Musgrave, CBE, will visit Wells this weekend for two world premieres of her music. On Sunday 24 June 2018 the Cathedral will welcome Ms Musgrave to Wells for the first performance of two brand new pieces of music. Musgrave, who in 2018 is celebrating her 90th birthday, is a Scottish-American considered one of the most respected and exciting contemporary composers in the Western world.

Her Missa Brevis, funded by the Cathedral Commissions scheme (cathedralcommissions.co.uk), will be sung at the 9.45am Cathedral Eucharist. At the 3.00pm Evensong service there will be the first performance of the 'Collect for the Birth of John the Baptist' – part of the Cranmer Anthem Book (a project curated by Matthew Owens, which will see all the Collects from the Book of Common Prayer set to music over the next ten years).

Thea Musgrave CBE was earlier this month awarded The Queen's Medal for Music. The award was presented to Ms Musgrave by The Queen in an audience at Buckingham Palace on Thursday, 7 June 2018 (pictured above; Judith Weir, Master of the Queen's Music is in the background). She became the thirteenth recipient of the award, following Nicola Benedetti, who received the medal last year. Established in 2005 by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the award is presented annually to an outstanding individual or group of musicians who have had a major influence on the musical life of the nation.

Commenting on the award, Judith Weir said: 'Scottish-born composer Thea Musgrave has been a musical pioneer for many decades. With innovative use of space, sound and colour, her work has made rich contributions to numerous genres, including opera and orchestral music. Now aged 90 and resident in New York, she is still energetically at work, a warm-spirited, optimistic inspiration to her many listeners, performers and colleagues around the world.'

On receiving the award, Ms Musgrave said: 'Although much of my career has been on an international stage, this medal represents my British heritage. It also recognises the impact my Scottish roots have had on my music - which continue to inform and nourish my work and anchor my role in the world.'

 

'A crack team': the Choir's latest Gramophone review

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We're thrilled that the choir's second recording of the choral music of Gary Davison, 'Awake My Soul' has received a very favourable review in the latest edition of Gramophone, in which the choir are described as 'a crack team' . We couldn't agree more.

This is the second disc of choral music by American composer Gary Davison that Matthew Owens and his excellent Wells Cathedral Choir have released. The first, ‘The Armour of Light’ (Regent, 2016), was also the first commercial recording devoted solely to Davison’s work and included a number of pieces written especially for the ensemble. The second, ‘Awake My Soul’, continues that relationship, with Davison’s Requiem Mass, commissioned by the choir in 2015, as its centrepiece.

That Davison is a practising church musician himself (organist and choirmaster since 1995 at St Francis Episcopal Church, Potomac, Maryland) is evident in the skill with which he writes for his forces, achieving maximum dramatic, textual and sonic impact with music whose relatively simple demands put it well within the reach of most church choirs. Wells, however, are a crack team, and the Requiem (scored for choir, organ, mezzo and viola) gives them some welcome additional scope.

The booklet note makes much of Davison’s debt to Duruflé and Fauré but it’s the influence of Stanford, Bainton and Bairstow we hear first in the title-track – a solid piece of declamatory diatonicism. The rest of the disc settles into an attractive if rather generic liturgical style with one foot in the past (a fauxbourdon set of canticles, plenty of chant-like melodies and modal harmonies).

The Requiem’s additional forces give us some sumptuous viola-playing from Philip Dukes and some vibrant colours from the Wells Cathedral organ, played here by David Bednall. There are echoes of Frank Martin in the fretful incantation of the Kyrie and of Howells in the soaring writing for viola that weaves itself around the voices in the Gradual and Offertory. Both Wells’ boy and girl choristers are credited here and bring an easy brightness to the sound...

The full review can be read on Gramophone's website HERE.

The CD can be purchased from the Resonus Classics website HERE.

EVERYTHING you ever (never?) wanted to know about the choir vestments!

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'They look so angelic!', is an oft-heard exclamation uttered by many at the appearance of choristers the country over. Those of us who know them a little better of course know that this is often but a well-practised façade! But one of the most important contributing factors to such a seraphic or cherubic appearance are the choristers' vestments. Maintaining these is no mean feat as choristers often seem to grow at an incredible rate and can be notoriously untidy! Here at Wells we are extremely fortunate to have Mrs Jenny Henderson (pictured above) as the choir's dedicated Mistress of the Robes. As at most cathedrals, this is an unsung task that takes place behind-the-scenes and so many have little idea of quite what an undertaking it is! Until now! Having recently overseen the ordering and fitting of an entire new set of vestments for the choir, Jenny here tells us 'EVERYTHING you ever (never?) wanted to know about the choir vestments!'.

New cassocks 2017/18
Thanks to the generosity of The Friends of Wells Cathedral, the choir has just had a complete new set of cassocks, 75 choristers’ cassocks, and 38 men’s. They have been made by J&M Sewing Service Ltd., of Newcastle (www.jandmsewing.com), established in 1980, who were awarded the Royal Warrant in 2007 - "By Appointment to HM The Queen, Manufacturers of Clerical Robes".

New cassocks for the whole choir were needed because the choir was wearing a motley collection of five different sorts of cassocks, of slightly different shades of blue and different cuts, supplied by different makers over 30 years or more. The bulk of the cassocks were heavily worn, much mended, showed clearly the signs of the hems having been altered again and again, were stained and grimy beyond the reach of laundering or dry-cleaning, and the linings were disintegrating.

 The choristers looking resplendent in their new cassocks

The choristers looking resplendent in their new cassocks

The background story
A set of 19 boys’ and 15 men’s cassocks had been made (by Val Pitt who looked after Bristol Cathedral choir robes for many years) for the boys and men for their first USA tour in the early 1990s (when Malcolm Archer was choirmaster; he had come from Bristol, hence the connection with Val Pitt). Another 18 to match had been made when the girls’ choir was first formed in 1997, more again (6 or so) when, as an experiment, girls were invited to stay on through their GCSE years (i.e. until they were 16) if they wished to, rather than leave at the end of year 9 (aged 14, by which time of course boys’ voices have almost always broken). There was also a steady trickle of extra sizes ordered from time to time as need arose. 

But there were still never enough, so I spent hours altering hems, moving belt buttons and neck poppers, swapping belts. Eventually that fabric was discontinued and the maker retired, so an older, incomplete set (made by a former chorister mum, we don’t know quite when but pre-Malcolm Archer, as the choristers at that time were wearing shockingly old and tatty cassocks) was brought back into play in 1999, and the remaining fabric from that project made into more cassocks for the girls in 2001 so that at least most of them were wearing garments the same shade of blue. Meanwhile a few more cassocks for tiny boys were ordered to meet need, from yet another maker, so by 2010 we had five different makes in three different fabrics, and many of them were grubby and tatty from 25+ years of hard wear. Something had to be done. 

What has this complete refit entailed? 
First there had to be a great deal of “number-crunching” much of it done by my dear friend Rachel Hewson, briefly a chorister parent, who has a PhD in interrogation of information and re-presenting it in a different format that is easier to understand.  Handy that!  This entailed a number of terrifying schedules! She worked through my 18 years’ of records that had of course not been kept for this purpose:  but they showed who had worn which cassock for how long and what alterations or refits I had done to them all as the terms ticked by. She ingeniously re-arranged the information to give us a huge list of the notional sizes that had been created by alteration to meet need, how often and how many of the same size had been needed at any one time. This was the critical bit. 

We then had to cut this down to fit within the sum of money offered, making sure that we still had on the list at least one cassock of each size (or close to it) that had been needed over time: choristers under 42” length are rare, as are those of over 56” length and either very slim (32” chest) or very buxom/stout (40” chest), but they do occur from time to time and they have to have a cassock to wear that is both comfortable and looks smart. Also, they almost all pass through a wide range of middle sizes on their way to adult sizes. 

What has this cost? 
The smaller children’s sizes of cassocks have cost about £155 each including the belt, and £16 per ruff. The surplices have not been replaced, but if you add on the cost of those, the cost of the whole outfit comes to about £225 per chorister, more for the bigger sizes (they incur VAT) and more again for the men’s: a man’s cassock costs typically about £185, their surplices £65

The fabric of the new cassocks is superior to what we had before: that was 100% polyester, which is a dream to wash but is sweaty to wear, it melts if you stand too close to a heater, and it will never bio-degrade when we have finished with it. So with encouragement from the Precentor, I ordered the new cassocks in the same fabric that the clergy cassocks are made from: 45% wool, only 55% polyester. It also can be machine washed and drips dry without needing to be pressed.  Wonderful! (so long as no-one irons one, or washes it too hot, or tumble dries it…)

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Ruffs and cravats
The choristers have also had new ruffs this year, courtesy of The Friends. They cost £16 each, they come in 6 sizes, fasten with Velcro, and do not require starching or ironing…phew!

I have tried making ruffs to save money, but found it impossible to get all those pleats even and straight; the professionals must have a machine that does it for them. I have made the men’s cravats out of old sheets for years, but Chris Wilson, wife of one of the Vicars Choral has come up with a much neater design that fastens with Velcro – but she too uses old bed sheets. Why not?  It’s soft, poly-cotton, costs nothing, washes easily and drips dry. 

Surplices
Surplices are the voluminous white garments worn over the cassocks. New ones were not needed, a big order having gone in a few years ago to replace surplices of indeterminate age – again a tatty collection of different sorts, and none of them white anymore. 

Choristers usually serve a probationary year before they are given their surplices. There is a moving little ceremony during the first evensong in September, when they are presented to The Dean who asks them if they desire to be admitted to the choir of this cathedral church, and asks them to promise to be obedient and fulfil their duties well. The Head Choristers then drop the surplices (fitted and name-taped in advance) onto each child, and the smallest get a bit lost in the folds sometimes!

Candle wax
Candles are used a lot in services and concerts at certain times of the year, and if you think how difficult it must be for children to process with candle in one hand, music in the other, concentrating on demanding music sung to perfection, it’s hardly surprising there are some spills and accidents.

Most of the wax spilt on vestments comes off with a warm iron and absorbent paper, but occasional dry cleaning is necessary to remove the residue. 

What’s happening to the old cassocks?
We are delighted that St John’s Church, Glastonbury want most of them, as they have a growing choir, and are in effect a “feeder choir” for the Cathedral, as there have been several choristers from there over the years, including some now. 

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Why are the different choir vestments so-called?
Cassocks: the name derives from the Middle French casaque, meaning a long coat, and ultimately may come from much further back, possibly from the same root as the word Cossack. The name was originally specially applied to the dress worn by soldiers and horsemen, and later to the long garment worn in civil life by both men and women. See Wikipedia.

Surplices: the name is derived from the French “sur pelice” and that from Late Latin superpelliceum, from super, meaning "over" and pellicia, meaning "fur garment", so it seems to have meant a garment worn over your fur outer garments, presumably put on for the carrying out of particular duties or ceremonies. 

Wikipedia has a lot more on the history and usage, the many styles and customs attached to both garments. 

Cloaks
The choristers also all have cloaks, thanks to the generosity of The Friends and many others.  Forty-eight were bought in 2014. They cost about £60 each and were considered essential to protect the choristers from the elements as they walk up and down between school and cathedral so often, in all weathers. They also of course ensure the choristers look smart, literally uniform, as the school uniform varies considerably as they move up the school, and from day to day (some may be in sports clothes or mufti for example). A former head girl chorister once calculated the distance a chorister walked in an average week for a maths project. I don’t suppose the figure is much different now. 

The cloaks have lots of maintenance issues as they get a lot of hard wear – chains snapping, buttons coming off, linings get caught on things and rip, but most of all as they are 100% wool they are a nightmare to protect from clothes moths.  Giving them adequate protection during the summer months when they are in storage is challenging and the occasional moth is spotted however many deterrents and killers I distribute in the cupboard!

Reflections on the job of Mistress of the Robes
I’ve often wondered how many hours of my life I have spent kneeling on the floor in front of choristers, pinning their hems and adjusting their belts. A lot, but what a befitting position, given how special, gifted and committed our choristers are! I believe it was a calling to take on this job.

How many miles of cassock hems have I stitched in 18 years? Well, even the smallest child’s cassock hem is 4 feet all the way round; the tallest broadest men’s cassocks are 10 feet plus round…so I could do the sums. 

How many loads of cassocks have been churned through my washing machine? How many trips out to the washing line in my orchard have I made?  Don’t know, incalculable. What I can tell you is that it’s a good job I’ve got an Aga for them to dry in front of, on hooks in the beam above; AND that there are three stonking great iron hooks embedded in a very old beam in our sitting room (presumably from years ago when this was a farmhouse and they had carcasses, or sacks of something heavy, to hang up) which are big enough and strong enough to hold 20 or so cassocks each. It’s going to be an odd job description for my replacement when I retire: “must have long strong washing line, medieval meat hooks and Aga…!!! 

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Development of the role of Mistress of the Robes
I started on this job because I had my arm twisted to join a newly formed team of chorister mums and grannies, when my younger daughter followed her elder sister into the choir, in September 1999. Rosy had joined in September 1997 aged 10 (year 6), in the third intake of girls, stayed on another 4 years and was in the first batch who stayed on through years 10 and 11 (till July 2003).  She was very proud of the fact that she missed not a single rehearsal or service, neither did she drop a GCSE subject, but it took a heavy toll. 

Frances joined in school year 5, aged only just 8, when Malcolm Archer was still here.  She was Head Chorister in Matthew Owens’ first year and like Rosy also stayed on through GCSEs.  That meant that by the time she left the choir aged 16, she had been a chorister for literally half her life. That’s quite formative!

However, the other members of the vestments team (mums and grannies of existing choristers), gradually fell by the wayside as voices broke, their children left the choir, or they took on more demanding jobs, so for a long time no-one else was available really to help while I gradually developed my role, realising there was more and more I could do to help choir members. I learned (from Val Pitt) how to make them look smarter as their public profile consistently rose and also found ways of making the whole system more streamlined and efficient. 

Men’s vestments
After a while I took on the care of the men’s vestments, seeing to their laundry and mending, and organising fitting sessions not only for the new members every year, but also for the large team of deputies who come in from time to time to cover for a regular who is ill, or away working or whatever. As with the choristers, this has entailed having to have in stock a wide range of shapes and sizes. 

This has led to developing a supposedly self-explanatory but none the less quite complicated system of labelling in quadruplicate (on the garment, on the hanger, on the list and on the cupboard door), so that any dep who turns up can quickly find a cassock that fits and looks right. As long as they put everything back on the right (labelled) hanger and in the right (labelled) cupboard, according to the list, whoever comes in the following day will be alright. Most of them do, a few don’t and muck it up for everyone else, and then complain to me that they can’t find anything that fits them!!

One of the Choral Scholars is now appointed to see to it that everything is put back in the right place every day, after every service. Several of the men, both regulars and deputies, have said they have never had this sort of service before, never come across a similar system anywhere else, and they really appreciate being properly fitted instead of it being a free for all. It also means they are uniformly smart.

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The big annual refit
The choristers are all re-fitted at the beginning of each academic year, as that is when the majority of new choristers join, and of course all the returning choristers will have grown over the summer holidays. Most of the fittings take place on the infamous Cassock Fitting Day held in the Education Room of the Friends’ Building, on the first Saturday in September, the only exceptions being the children in year 8 and 9 who have lessons on Saturday mornings, so they have to be squeezed into the demanding schedule of the previous days, without missing too much rehearsal time. Help from others is absolutely essential on this day – there’s no way I can get it all done myself in time as they all have to be robed and perfect by 3 o’clock on the Saturday afternoon, which is when they start rehearsing for the first evensong of the choir year. It’s a very tight schedule requiring much caffeine and many biscuits!

It is jolly hard work, and very stressful but can be quite fun as it’s a good chance for parents (or grannies/aunts/big sisters/dads – yes, several sewing dads, some more competent than others, (naming no names!!!))  to chat and get to know new (often bewildered, shell-shocked!) ones, answering their myriad questions, while they stitch on their children’s nametapes, move their buttons etc. But everybody absolutely dreaded having to do a hem. There used to be whoops of joy, literally, from any parent/other stitcher who’d “got away with it”.  

So with the wonderful, copious collection of new vestments, we hope hems to raise or lower will be a thing of the past!

Jenny Henderson
Mistress of the Robes

Former Organ Scholar brings vocal stars to Wells

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Our former Senior Organ Scholar, Owain Park returns to Wells this Saturday with his critically-acclaimed vocal consort, The Gesualdo Six. The group is comprised of some of the UK’s finest young consort singers, directed by Owain. Formed in March 2014 for a performance of Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday in the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, the group went on to give over sixty performances around the United Kingdom and abroad in its first three years. Over this time, The Gesualdo Six further developed a passion for ensemble singing that for many of them stemmed from formative years as choristers in churches and cathedrals around the country.

The ensemble has recently released their debut recording on Hyperion Records, an album of English renaissance polyphony titled English Motets. The album has been met with critical acclaim and garnered itself a number of 5-star reviews. 

Owain writes: 
We are delighted to be returning to Wells to give a concert at St Cuthbert’s Church on Saturday 2 June at 7.30pm.

Our programme will present meditative and atmospheric music from our debut album, English Motets, and from composers including Arvo Pärt, William Byrd, Thomas Tallis and Sarah Rimkus, accompanied by ancient chant.

Tickets are just £12 (or £5 for students); our website has further information and ticketing resources: http://www.thegesualdosix.co.uk/concerts/

I hope you might be able to join us for our second visit to Wells!

Owain Park
Director, The Gesualdo Six

CLICK HERE to watch a recent video, viewed over 1.4 million times and shared by the German Embassy!