Music News December 2020

Img 2784-800Last month I wrote that it is impossible to predict how the musical life of St Mary’s would evolve during the remainder of 2020, but that it was certain that all the church musicians are determined to keep it going. The experiences of the last 4 weeks demonstrate this determination.

The choir in limited socially distanced form with 8 or so choristers has been singing in the regular Sunday morning services. Larger numbers provided the virtual music for Online Choral Evensong during the time of Covid at half term. This included the hymn Angel Voices, a psalm and Nunc Dimittis in G and Beati Quorum by Stanford. Meanwhile, the junior choir has participated in the Family service.

Soprano Lizzie Bennett explains what singing and worshipping in church has meant to her, and she speaks for many of us: -

‘I have now been fortunate enough to sing at two Sunday services since the choir, in truncated format, was welcomed back to church, having been a last minute replacement on one occasion. The first and most overwhelming feeling has been pure joy at being able to sing live music with other people again. Zoom rehearsals have been great for keeping us in touch but, as our attempts to sing ‘Happy birthday’ to choir members as a massed, unmuted choir have proved, they don’t give quite the same musical effect!

The biggest joy, however, has to be that for the first time in months we are able to worship in the way that, for me at least, is more natural and more meaningful than any other: hearing and feeling your voice combine with others is really a transcendent experience. I certainly miss the hymns and will be very glad to be able to sing with the congregation again, but we’ve all learned that there is no such thing as a small mercy these days: every tiny drop of normality is significant.

Musically, singing in a spaced out way has its challenges - you definitely feel rather exposed vocally as well as physically, and it’s harder to get uniformity of tone and timing, especially given how few opportunities we’ve had to sing together for months (essentially 20 minutes on the morning in question). Fortunately the choir of St Mary’s has never shied away from a challenge!

I hope members of the congregation are aware of the huge amount of work that has been going on behind the scenes by Oli, Jeremy, Bron, Patrick, Peter and many others: everything from being ‘the Zoom verger’ and recording guide tracks to composing brand new music and juggling a hundred odd tracks to create one online service - not to mention keeping up morale and providing endless entertainment, some of it deliberate…

The fact that St Mary’s - unlike so many other churches and cathedrals across the country - has been able to keep a weekly schedule throughout some of the darkest times many of us will have ever experienced is really quite remarkable. Being back in church to sing is a cause for great celebration but I do wonder if we would still have a choir if it hadn’t been for the substantial efforts made by so many of the church’s musicians throughout the last eight months.’

The first (socially distanced of course) meeting since March of the full adult choir in St Mary’s took place on 30 October, to record music for the All Souls’ service on 1 November. The service opened with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Organ Prelude on Rhosymedre, the motet was Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, and concluded with Richard Rodger’s voluntary on You’ll Never Walk Alone. Despite the absence of a congregation, there were 2 hymns, The Lord’s My Shepherd and Amazing Grace. Of course, a simple list of the music does not do justice to the experience. This is the feedback from some of the choristers, readers and clergy attending the service. The word most often used by participants was ‘moving’. Other comments include ‘I felt a strong sense of unity within the choir family’. ‘The sound and atmosphere were thrilling. Very emotional.’ ‘It seemed fitting for this first gathering for many months to be one that focused on loss and hope’. ‘It was a true joy, despite the sadness, to be part of a big living breathing choir again’.

Now that we are again in lockdown till the beginning of December, the future of music during this period for regular services, as well as for special occasions such as Remembrance Sunday and Carol Services is awaiting clarification. At the time of writing, all we know is that ‘Places of Worship will be closed, unless being used for [among other important activities] broadcast acts of worship’, which is happily quite a bit less restrictive than in the spring. However these new rules develop, I remain confident that the church musicians, under Oli’s leadership, will continue to serve St Mary’s to the best of their ability.

Ottilie Lefever.