Saturday, 9 September 2017

BBC Songs of Praise with the Northern Division of the Choir Schools Association (9 September 1990)

Recorded in summer 1990 and broadcast at the start of the new academic year, this edition of Songs of Praise featured cathedral choirs from the Northern Division of the Choir Schools Association. Filmed in Lichfield Cathedral, it also marked the first public engagement of the Patron of the CSA, HRH The Duchess of Kent.

Cathedrals which I know are represented alongside Lichfield include Lincoln, Liverpool, Edinburgh, York and Wakefield, but please let me know if there are others so I can update this list.


The choir booklet reveals that on the day itself just an hour and a quarter (from 11.00am until 12.15pm) was allowed for the television rehearsal, with the recording starting at 1.45pm and finishing at 6.00pm.

While the original video that we were given had clearly been watched, we are grateful to the Archive of Recorded Church Music which has provided a link to a better quality copy in their archives.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Cathedral Choir Concert: Summer 1979

Beyond the cassette label 'Summer 1979', specific details about this private recording of a concert in the Cathedral are sparse. However, local recollections suggest that it was a concert to showcase the first year's achievements of Jonathan Rees-Williams who had taken on the role of Organist and Master of the Choristers at the start of April 1978 and was installed on 16 July, 1978.

The inclusion of the entirety of Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor (including the Credo), which was a new addition to the choir's repertoire under Rees-Williams, is a clear indication of what he had achieved in a short space of time, after Richard Greening's eighteen years at the helm.


Thursday, 13 July 2017

'One equal music': a homily for the end of the choir year

This is the text of the homily given by Canon Andrew Stead, our Precentor, at Evensong on Sunday 9 June, 2017, the last service at which departing members of the choral foundation sang. It is reproduced here with permission.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Surely the Lord is in this place, and this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven. And into that gate they shall enter, and in that house they shall dwell, where there shall be no Cloud nor Sun, no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no foes nor friends, but one equal communion and identity; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity. 

John Donne concluded a sermon given at Whitehall on February 29 1627 with these words referencing the story of Jacob’s Dream of the angels ascending and descending from heaven on the ladder resting between earth and heaven. Donne was speaking about the Christian hope and his conviction that Christians would achieve the beatific vision, the ultimate communion with God. In Donne’s wonderfully chosen and crafted words there is a recurrent construction: one equal light; one equal music; one equal possession; one equal communion; one equal eternity.

What drew me to that extract from Donne’s sermon were the words, ‘one equal music’ words that informed the title of one of one of my favourite novels by Vikram Seth: An Equal Music. An Equal Music is a book about love, about the love of a woman lost and found and lost again; it is a book about music and how the love of music can run like a passionate fugue through a life. In one passage in the book there is a description of a string quartet and the relationships between the individual musicians and how in the moment of playing a scale all of the individuality, differences and tensions dissipated as seemingly without prompt they play the perfect scale together. In the simplicity of that a sort of perfection is achieved, a synergy between the musicians playing; and there is something profoundly spiritual about that moment as if it were making connections that tapping into the very order of creation.

Donne’s words, ‘one equal music’, resonate in passages like this and speak of a power that goes way beyond individual talent and musicianship, or indeed the achievement of the individuals coming together. There is a sophistication and a sense of connection springing from a common humanity that can be so much more than just a sum of the parts.

Our anthem, Blest pair of sirens, this afternoon helps us consider this in another way as it points us towards considering, through Milton’s words, the relationship between voice and verse; words and music; rhythm, metre and harmony. The direction of this interplay points very much in the same way to eternity and to the courts of heaven, as do John Donne’s words – words and music, voice and verse, the individuals (and the collective) transporting humanity through a God given creativity to the union with our creator Himself. Music has this ability to serve as a vehicle enabling the worship of God in so many ways, whether as an expression of devotion and worship by the composer and musicians themselves, or carrying a congregation in hymnody or psalmody to engage with words and meaning through bringing them together with one voice; or enabling worshippers to have a sense of awe and wonder, of beauty and truth at the deepest level of their being through listening and mediating upon what they are listening to. It is not a thing of the moment either as, in every sense, communion takes place and something is taken away. It is often that this taking away, this glimpse of truth, of beauty and the divine, that occurs in the relationship of voice and verse, the carrying the other, that important moments are captured and later through the singing of the tune, that a word, phrase, idea or glimpse of the divine is made alive again.

St Augustine in his Confessions, often deeply concerned about the worldly nature of music, was forced to concede of music’s ability to touch the soul and tap into a world beyond itself as he said,

How I wept to hear your hymns and songs, deeply moved by the voices of your sweet singing in church. Their voices penetrated my ears, and with them truth found its way into my heart; my frozen feeling for God began to thaw, tears flowed and I experienced joy and relief. 

At the end of an academic year our Choral Foundation are also coming to the end of their choir year. We are grateful to them as individuals and as a choir for all that they do through their musicianship to enable not only their own worship of God but that of our collective worship and our mission in this place. They help us in maintaining the opus dei in this place; the daily round of the offices, and they are an important part of our missional offering as a cathedral bringing, as they do, many to have their frozen feelings for God to thaw and to convey the reality of the love of God through an encounter with truth and beauty.

In a few minutes time after the offertory hymn we will be saying thank you and farewell to members of the foundation who are leaving us and we will be praying for them God’s blessing and we do that with love and gratitude for all that they have done to support and be part of the mission and worship of this Cathedral Church through their music making, discipline and hard work. We hope that along the road they too have grown in faith, in their humanity and as musicians, and that whatever is next in their lives that they will still look back on their time in the Choral Foundation as a blessed and special time.

Our anthem, and the quotation I read from John Donne, point beyond the immediate and into eternity. Our music making here is always by definition going to be full of imperfection but we are reminded of a greater reality and the hope of eternity where we will be, ‘in tune with heaven’: one equal light; one equal music; one equal possession; one equal communion; one equal eternity. And, as Milton puts it, in words concluding this evening’s anthem:

O may we soon again renew that song,
And keep in tune with Heav’n, till God ere long
To His celestial concert us unite,
To live with Him, and sing in endless morn of light. Amen.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Choristers' Recital at St Peter's Church, Edgmond (10 June, 1987)

As well as singing the regular services at the Cathedral, the choir has always been involved in concerts both within the Cathedral and in the diocese. This is a copy of a private recording made of a recital given at St Peter's Church in Edgmond as part of their seemingly now defunct annual music festival.


Saturday, 3 June 2017

BBC Songs of Praise: Saints and Angels (3 June 2007)

The discovery of the Lichfield Angel during the installation of the Nave platform in 2003 and its public unveiling in 2006 provides the backdrop for this edition of the BBC's Songs of Praise hosted by Aled Jones and recorded in Lichfield Cathedral, featuring both the Cathedral Choir and the Lichfield Cathedral Chamber Choir (along with a performance by OperaBabes). This episode also features an interview with Jill Saward who died earlier this year.


Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Royal Maundy from Lichfield Cathedral (31 March, 1988)

The Royal Maundy service happens annually on Maundy Thursday and is held in a different cathedral each year, and details of its history are best found elsewhere online such as the official home of the Royal family or Wikipedia.

In 1988 the service took place at Lichfield Cathedral and there is a variety of media coverage of the event.

The hour long service was broadcast live on BBC Radio 4 and that can be heard in this recording; annoyingly, from a choral perspective, the excellent commentary is frequently given over the music.



Lichfield District Council released an Official Souvenir Video which, its commentary tells the viewer, cannot contain the choir singing. While the music can be heard and much of the service is included, this video is potentially of more interest to local historians.


The event also received local news coverage on Central News


 and BBC's Midlands Today


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

John Harrison: Lay Vicar 1836-1848

Last year, we received an enquiry requesting any information about John Harrison who was a tenor Lay Vicar from 1836 until his death in 1848. Beyond this, the inquirer knew they he was buried in the Cathedral Close and had married at St Chad's Church.

Michael Guest, Senior Lay Vicar, was able to provide some further information about John Harrison and the nineteenth century appointment process:

John Harrison came from Gloucester where he had been a tenor lay clerk at the cathedral there from 1834. In January 1836 the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield advertised for an Alto Lay Vicar and Tenor Lay Vicar. Such was the rarity of posts becoming vacant here, and also the lucrative nature of the post, that they shortlisted 23 candidates to come for audition, mostly drawn from singers who had served their apprenticeship in other cathedral or collegiate choirs.

The posts carried a salary of 'Upwards of £90.0.0pa, together with a small house, free of rent'.

The advert was placed in London newspapers and some regional papers during five days in January 1836 and contained the following caveat that "None need apply but such as can bring with them satisfactory testimonials of excellent moral character and a musical science to be approved by the Dean and Chapter and can show themselves upon trial to be well versed in cathedral service".

John Harrison attended the audition on 26/27 January and, having been appointed after the existing Vicars Choral had submitted their recommendation to the Chapter, he returned to Lichfield the following month to undergo a second stage trial in which a solo was assigned to him within the music specifically appointed to be sung at each of the fourteen services (Matins and Evensong) in what was traditionally recorded as 'trial week'. Having successfully completed this period, he was subsequently installed formally into the Lay Vicar's stall of Tachbrook..

It may also be of interest that the £90.0.0pa salary was derived from the corporate lands and properties which the Vicars Choral owned in and around the city. Their income was derived from lease renewals and ground rents and they were very significant landlords in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. The yields from this property portfolio made them extremely well resourced and probably the highest paid cathedral singers in the country. In addition to their independent income source they also received a daily living allowance, called Commons, worth 3d per day from the Dean and Chapter. Given that their individual incomes were worth far in excess of the average working man's wages for a full working week and that their duties amounted to no more than two hours per day, leaving them free to augment their salary by pursuing other employment, this explains the attractions of the post. When the additional rights to a house in the Close, free of charge and the fact that as the post was freehold (meaning that they would be paid for life, even if they could no longer fulfil their duties and had to be represented by a deputy singer who was paid considerably less) are taken into account, this was a truly gold plated package!

I do have a note that in 1848 the Lay Vicars appointed John to conduct a survey of all their lands and properties for valuation purposes, which suggests he was rising in seniority and authority within the hierarchy. I have also recorded that in April 1857 a boy chorister named William Harrison was given a leaving pension by the cathedral to be apprenticed to an organ builder. William could have been as old as 15 or 16, so perhaps born in 1840 or thereabouts. It might well be that he was John's son as the choristers were sometimes the sons of lay vicars. Another long serving and very distinguished Lay Vicar was the bass Daniel Harrison who was a member of the choir in the second half of the nineteenth century and who became Mayor of Lichfield: another relation, possibly?

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Allegri's Miserere Mei (Psalm 51): Ash Wednesday 1990

Professional recordings and broadcasts of cathedral choirs abound, and there is some excellent work being done by The Archive of Recorded Church Music to preserve historic recordings, especially the BBC broadcasts of Choral Evensong. Some record labels have also taken to re-releasing older recordings which they either own, or to which they have bought the rights. In our case, all of these are listed in our discography.

However, alongside the official recordings, over the years individuals have been known to smuggle tape, minidisc and digital recorders into services, whether to capture a son or daughter's first or last solo, a premiere performance, a final service, or for a variety of other reasons. Such recordings are not always flawless, but they serve to offer an true representation of what happens on a daily basis.

Allegri's Misereri mei, a setting of psalm 51, is widely known in choral music circles because of the top Cs demanded of one of the treble soloists and the myths surrounding its early performances in the Sistine Chapel (a fascinating account by Ben Byram-Wigfield of many of the historical details can be found here). It is the set psalm for Ash Wednesday, and Allegri's setting is frequently reserved for this annual occasion.

This recording was made by the parent of one of the soloists (presumably the top C singing treble) during Evensong on Ash Wednesday (28 February), 1990. To remind us that the choristers exist outside the cathedral, please remember that the solo is being sung by a boy aged somewhere between 11 and 13 after early morning instrumental and choir practices, a full day at school and - as it was a Wednesday - at the time, double games, or sporting fixtures during the afternoon.


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

John Saville (1736-1803): An eighteenth century Lay Vicar Virtuoso

Of all our public singers, while many are masterly, many elegant, many astonishing, HE only is sublime

Thus in one of her many letters did Anna Seward - writing to Sir Walter Scott no less - attempt to describe the artistry of John Saville, probably the most notable of the Lay Vicars to grace the stalls of Lichfield Cathedral in the eighteenth century. Miss Seward’s intense though almost certainly platonic relationship with Saville has been explored in depth by others and was indubitably something of a cause célèbre in the society of eighteenth century Lichfield. Historians have focussed on the nature of their relationship and its impact on Anna Seward’s own reputation as well as her emotional attachment to the Lay Vicar, whilst Saville himself has tended to be somewhat overshadowed by his inamorata.

Saville’s memorial, sculpted by Sir Nigel Gresley, may be found on the west wall of the south transept; a handsome monument in the classical style and of a scale which both rivals and exceeds those of greater dignitaries. This provides some indication of the high regard and renown with which he was held in his lifetime. The fulsome verses inscribed on the memorial were composed by Anna Seward who paid not only for its construction but also for Saville’s funeral and the construction of his burial vault, which is located on the south side of the cathedral churchyard, adjacent to the nave aisle. Her own wish to be laid in the same vault as her dear friend, if the tomb of her late father Canon Seward could not be made to accommodate her remains, was overruled by the Dean and Chapter after her death in 1809, presumably on the grounds of propriety.

The singer himself had died aged 67 in August 1803, as his memorial records, having sung at two Cathedral services earlier in the same day, much as he had done for the previous 48 years of his tenure. He had been appointed to the choir as a young man of 19, installed as a Lay Vicar in 1755 upon his translation from Ely Cathedral where he had served as a probationary Lay Clerk, having been born in the nearby fen village of Haddenham in 1736. His long vicarship coincided with a turbulent time in the Lichfield choir’s musical history, during which for some years the Organist and Master of the Choristers was the talented though mercurial Dr John Alcock, who simultaneously held the post of Lay Vicar and made little secret of his contempt for the state of the musical resources, the behaviour of his fellow musicians (and indeed for the Dean and Chapter) many whom he subsequently satirised within a novel published under the pseudonym John Piper after resigning the post of Organist whilst still continuing as a member of the choir 

Saville was one of the Lay Vicar signatories to a petition sent to the Chapter at Michaelmas 1758 regarding Alcock’s own misdemeanours, but appears to have remained on good terms with his colleague and one suspects on account of his prowess, was able to surmount the criticisms which Alcock levelled against the other Lay Vicars. In the Georgian period, Lichfield Cathedral maintained the Opus Dei through daily choral offices of Matins and Evensong (choral celebrations of Holy Communion were rare) for 365 days per year. Lay Vicars took days off in rotation according to a strictly regulated pattern. This diurnal rhythm and routine formed the essential framework of John Saville’s musical life, though far from limiting his artistic horizons.

Cathedral music in this era was different to that in our own in two significant respects. The first concerns repertoire: morning and evening canticle settings tended to be somewhat foursquare, generally of a fairly undemanding style with minimal organ accompaniment, instruments being generally much smaller than those of today and without pedal stops. Anthems, however, were frequently very elaborate compositions and provided opportunities for quasi-virtuoso performances from the alto, tenor and bass singers. This was something of a golden age for the art form known as the ‘verse anthem’ where relatively short choruses for the full choir framed extended arias, duets and trios (verses) for skilled solo singers who were encouraged to embellish their performances with frequent ornamentation. Saville would have quickly become acquainted with, and doubtless adept in, performing the verse anthems of Purcell, Humfrey, Boyce, Greene, Wise, Blow and other composers of the restoration Chapel Royal school, whose works are frequently akin to miniature oratorios in scale.

The second significant difference concerns the practicalities of cathedral worship. Before the mid-19th century services were performed in a much more ad hoc basis than today. There were no formal processions: Lay Vicars entered the quire (wearing only long surplices, without cassocks) in a random fashion with no formality, often assembling indeed after the opening responses had been intoned. Their vestry was situated at the angle of the south quire aisle and south transept, hence the location of several musicians’ memorials in that area of the cathedral today. Formal rehearsals for the full choir were almost non-existent and the music for each service was not usually published in advance. The general rule appears to have been that the Canon in Residence selected the repertoire at the start of the service, informing choristers, lay vicars and Organist of his wishes by note or whispered word of mouth. The provision of leather bound music books – frequently in handwritten manuscript produced by copyists and in single voice parts, housed beneath the stalls, meant that repertoire was always at hand and facilitated this practice. The Cathedral Library has an extensive collection of these volumes and they make fascinating reading, not least for the for the graffiti accumulated in their margins over the centuries.

Saville appears to have possessed a particularly fine voice which he evidently used with both skill and grace. Seward’s letters make frequent reference to the sensitivity and artistic qualities of his performance. For example, she noted that
Other voices may be as fine, the skill and fancy of other singers as distinguished; but for all the graces and powers of touching expression, nor man nor woman ever sung as Saville sung.

Evidence suggests that he was a counter-tenor, possibly of the haute-contre type who could sing in both the tenor and male alto registers. Indeed, in 1785 he is recorded as having sung both the tenor and alto arias in a performance of Messiah at a major music festival held in Manchester. The counter-tenor voice was much in vogue by the mid eighteenth century, its distinctive timbre and range possibly rivalling the even more exotic vocal pyrotechnics exhibited by the Italian castrati such as Seneschino, Farinelli and Tenducci who caused such a musical sensation whenever they appeared on the London operatic stage. The operas of Handel after the Italian model were widely admired and many of his heroic roles were written with these particular voices in mind. It is interesting in this context to note how Anna Seward frequently refers in her correspondence to John Saville using the Italianate soubriquet ‘Giovanni’. Saville, however, was certainly no castrato, impregnating his wife before marriage and his appointment to Lichfield where she subsequently bore him two daughters.

He clearly had a particular affinity for Handel’s music and taught Seward to appreciate the composer’s works, both sacred and secular. In due course of time separated from his wife Mary, whom Seward describes as having a shrewish disposition, Saville moved from the residence in which he had previously lived with his family – 6, Vicars’ Close – into a smaller dwelling at 7, Vicars’ Close during 1772 . He appears to have spent increasing amounts of his time outside Cathedral duties organising and appearing in a range of musical soirees and concerts. Some of these were designated ‘Smoking Concerts’ and were convivial musical occasions held in Vicars’ Hall (now demolished) at the western end of Vicars’ Close. These events attracted cognoscenti from the city and featured both instrumental and vocal performances. At the other end of The Close, Anna Seward’s family home in The Palace became the venue for frequent musical parties at which John Saville’s talents were often showcased to a select audience from Close, city and county. Concert parties held to coincide with Lichfield Races were a particular feature of the mid-eighteenth century cultural life of the city.

His prowess as a singer and particularly as an interpreter of Handel’s music certainly brought him to the attention of concert promoters well beyond Lichfield. His name appears periodically in advertisements and concert programmes in Birmingham from the middle of the century and there is evidence to suggest that he was contracted to appear at what is now the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, as well as the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London. More research remains to be done on the full scale of his solo career, but what is clear is that his heart (in more senses than one) remained in the City and Close of Lichfield.

Saville’s portrait of 1770 was painted in miniature by John Smart (1741-1811) and shows a sensitive face with heavy lidded eyes and a contemplative countenance. The painting was the gift of Anna Seward who made a specific bequest of it in her will to Saville’s grand-daughter Honora Jager who became the tenant of 6 Vicars’ Close some years after his death. This charming half -timbered residence located in the lower quadrangle, one of two which housed the college of Vicars Choral , was described by Anna Seward as ‘the pleasant little mansion in the Vicarage’ and became quite celebrated in Lichfield circles for the walled garden behind it in which Saville, a skilled amateur botanist, cultivated an extensive collection of rare plants rivalling that of his near neighbour Dr Darwin. The garden became known as ‘Damon’s Bower’ until Saville’s removal to the neighbouring property after his marital estrangement. He subsequently consoled himself by leasing a plot of land on the north bank of Stowe Pool, close to the famed Johnson’s willow and recreated his botanic garden still within sight of the cathedral spires.

By the time of his death, John Saville was evidently a notable Lichfeldian (albeit by adoption) who combined wide interests in the arts, a voice of rare quality, together with a sensitive disposition and a great capacity for friendship, most notably with Anna Seward. He succeeded in rising above the vicissitudes caused by Close gossip concerning the relationship he and ‘The Swan of Lichfield’ had forged over many years. His loyalty and personal qualities left a profound impression on the poet, perhaps best summarised in this extract from the obituary she penned for The Gentleman’s Magazine published in London, August 1803:
This melancholy announcement of the loss of an excellent man, very generally known and where known always beloved will excite the sympathy of Genius and the tear of friendship. Pre-eminent were his abilities as a vocal performer from the rare union of feeling with science, of expression with skill.


Readers of this post may glean further similar sentiments from closer inspection of the text of his memorial inscription alluded to above:
Once in the heart, cold in yon narrow cell,
Did each mild grace, each ardent virtue dwell;
Kind aid, kind tears, for others’ want and woe,
For others’ joy, the gratulating glow;
And skill to mark, and eloquence to claim
For genius in each art, the palm of fame.
Ye choral walls, ye lost the matchless song
When the last silence stiffen’d on that tongue,
Ah! Who may now your pealing anthems raise
In soul-pour’d tones of fervent prayer and praise?
Saville, thy lips twice on thy final day,
Here breath’d, in health and hope, the sacred lay;
Short pangs, ere night, their fatal signal gave,
Quench’d the bright sun for thee – and op’d the grave!
Now from that graceful form and beaming face,
Insatiate worms the lingering likeness chase;
To sinless – changeless – everlasting spheres.
Sleep then, pale mortal frame, in yon low shrine,
“Till Angels wake thee with a note like thine”

This article was written by Michael Guest, Senior Lay Vicar, in 2013 for the Cathedral Friends' Annual Report and is reproduced with permission.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Ambrose Porter's Saturday Organ Recitals

The Radio Times archive shows that between 1934 and 1938, alongside regular broadcasts of services from Lichfield Cathedral, there were broadcasts of Ambrose Porter's organ recitals; dates of the broadcasts are listed on the radio page of our website.

In the Lay Vicars' vestry there is still a poster, albeit somewhat the worse for wear, exhorting us to attend his Saturday recital in July 1930.


However, this was clearly not a new thing. I recently rediscovered two handwritten programmes from my organ-playing grandfather's papers of Porter's Saturday recitals he attended as a 20-21 year old in the summer of 1926:



The programme for the June recital is written out in ink with what I believe is Porter's signature, having seen his writing previously; but the fading purple of the July programme makes it look as if it is just a printed duplicate.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

A local response to the 1894 Review of Lichfield Cathedral Choir - The Mercury

In response to yesterday's review first published to the day in 1894, the local newspaper, The Mercury, published the following piece on February 2, 1894;

Lichfield Cathedral Choir 
It would be very interesting to learn what local hand has guided the judgement of the writer of a notice of our Cathedral Choir, which appears in Musical Opinion for the current month of February. Some of his conclusions are sound enough, but the paper discloses the fact of the writer has been prompted by purpose; that the details have not being acquired by casual and unpremeditated visit. The outline of his paper is that the Cathedral Choir is not enough; the boys and the tenors are good; the basses so, so; altos not equal to the tenors. The organ playing is that of a man of marked ability, who lacks enthusiasm; the choirboys are cherubs; and the Reverend GTG Hayward “the right man in the right place”. The position of the singer should be changed; the boys should be provided with the more liberal supply of books; the statutes require alteration; the foundation number of men and boys should be increased. It is unfortunate, and some will think is unjust, the local hand did not direct his critic to ascribe every good word he has written to the general excellent of the voices and the painstaking ability and hard work of Mr Lott, the Cathedral organist. Some further details might have been given him, such, for instance, as the fact that the principal boys are now imported and that the total cost of the choir probably exceeds £2,000 per annum. The critic falls foul of the City Churches, at the largest of which – Saint Mary’s – he says there is pretentious but rather unsatisfactory service. The local hand should have informed that the choir masters (having regard to a limited population) have, of necessity, to keep the boys much longer than would otherwise be the case. He does not seem to have afforded any information of the almost purely voluntary character of such services; and, in all probability, he based his opinion on a single visit, when climatic conditions may have been dead against satisfactory singing. May be, however, he took his text from his local guide. If he did not, then his conclusion is the more untenable. 
To return to the Cathedral Choir. It would be an easy matter, but it would be unjust, to single out points in detail peculiar to certain conditions and circumstances which no one would admit come up to a cathedral standard; but we are delighted to add our testimony to the general efficiency of the choral part of the Lichfield Cathedral services, and also to the organ playing. These results (outside the vocalists themselves) have to do, however, with one gentleman only and that is Mr Lott, for whom the Dean and Chapter should strictly maintain a free hand, without interference from those who know but little of the Art of which is he is so distinguished a professor.


Wednesday, 1 February 2017

An 1894 Review of Lichfield Cathedral Choir - Musical Opinion and Music Trade Review

The national journal Musical Opinion & Music Trade Review made its seventh review of church choirs an assessment of Lichfield Cathedral. First published on February 1, 1894 (in Volume 17, Issue 197, pp298-299), the piece in its entirely follows:

Among the Church Choirs

VII Lichfield Cathedral
When a cathedral choir takes its turn in these papers, it can hardly be necessary to use up space by an attempt at a description of the edifice itself. Any such information might be deemed “common property”.
In rendering the church services in the most dignified and impressive manner, cathedrals and kindred foundations have obviously very important advantages. On the other hand, these same advantages, while running their course, present difficulties with which the ordinary parish church is quite unacquainted. To illustrate this position of affairs more clearly, let us take one point. A church like St Andrew’s, Wells Street, with full cathedral services daily, engages a competent singer. If for any reason he becomes unsatisfactory, notice is given, and a better man takes his place. But unless a cathedral vicar-choral elects to “break the bond”, the foundation is responsible for his emoluments so long as he lives. We do not for a moment urge that this is not all correct and proper, only we fail to see how under such a scheme a choir could always maintain a certain average efficiency, unless indeed the funds available were of an elastic character. To the outsider, it might seem that the “statutes” could be altered – or, as it were, “relaxed” – with possible advantage. Such a one would have to learn that a suggestion to this effect tendered to the cathedral official, from the presiding genius downward, would be received in much the same spirit as a similar communication might have been by a Medo-Persian if some ancient utilitarian had propounded the manifest benefits to be derived from some relaxation in the stringency of the celebrated laws at that time forming the penal code of the kingdom. 
The members of the choir on the foundation, the lay vicars, are nine in number. How strange it seems! Even in the days of olden time they must have realised that each side ought to form a complete and efficient choir in itself. Six would have been an intelligible number. It would have given one voice to each part; and if somewhat weak they would have been evenly balanced. But nine is a soul disturbing number, each of the three parts suggesting “jagged edges”. It is true that in almost all cathedrals supplementary aid is called in for the Sunday services; nevertheless, we staunchly maintain that every cathedral ought to have a full and well balanced choir, Sundays and week days alike. In the case of more than one church we have pointed out that wherever a part – decani or cantoris, or both – is taken by a single voice, however good, the choir is making an approach to the standard of a “double quartet”. The tenors – Messrs Fredericks, Kemp, and Mason – are all of admirable quality and merit high praise. Indeed, so good are they that one feels it to be a sort of grievance that there are not four, or at least that the principles embodied in King Solomon’s celebrated judgment could be made applicable to the case. It would not be easy to find a provincial cathedral better off in this important department, and in each case the pension period may be looked to as at the end of a long vista. One of the trio is, of course a well known name to concert audiences. It is to be wished that equal praise could be awarded to the basses collectively: unfortunately, this is hardly possible. Fresh blood is somewhat needed. as no doubt the authorities fully recognise. With respect to the altos, we almost wish that choirs could be discussed without reference to their existence. It is an uncomfortable duty. We believe the quality of the three counter tenors to be good; but without hearing solos – the only real test – it is impossible to say more. Amid organ, treble, tenor, and bass, the counter tenor has small chance of making his voice known. We have before commented on the singular arrangement by which altos are placed so that both tenor and bass intervene between them and the congregation. Be the counter tenors as good as you please, the quality of tone must be of a refined and delicate order, admitting of no strain, and we may safely say that they would very largely increase their efficiency by standing nearest to the nave. With boy altos, of course, all would be changed; the powerful, sonorous, and fine toned voices would make themselves felt from any position. In our continuous crusade in favour of the universal adoption of boy altos in our choirs, cathedrals have been carefully omitted. This was mainly on the principle of not attempting too much at a time. We really think that cathedrals would gain by the change not less than parochial choirs. It has been asserted more than once that the supply of good counters tenors is barely sufficient for the cathedrals alone. Here is something to the point. Lichfield was fortunate enough to obtain the services of a very superior alto, and paid the usual penalty: he left on obtaining a better post at one of our metropolitan cathedrals. Lichfield advertised for a successor, offering a hundred pounds per annum; a few weeks elapsed, and the advertisement reappeared offering one hundred and fifty pounds. What a proof of the correctness of our views. Without being certain (for the reason assigned), we do not think that the choir possesses an alto equal to the high standard of the tenors. 
The foundation number of boys is sixteen, but on an average eighteen are in training. This number is inadequate. Out of eighteen boys, not more than twelve can be counted on as really efficient. It would be safer to say ten: and this is a vast cathedral. The minimum number ought to be twenty-four: far better thirty, of whom twenty would form the regular choir. It would naturally be asserted that the funds available are not sufficient for the increased outlay. Into this question we cannot enter. Our task is simply to point out that a cathedral ought to have a more powerful choir than any church, while in fact there are church choirs (e.g. Holy Trinity, Chelsea) with double this number. The voices at Lichfield are of admirable quality, and in all respects most satisfactory. Four of the band – Ashover, Salt, Heath, and Russell – are the “genuine metal”, such as the voice trainer loves. Ashover has a beautiful voice, but his strongest point is his excellent reading. Salt has by far the finest voice among the boys, and one that would obtain recognition anywhere. It is of fine tone, with great power, and his solo performances are a credit to the choir. Russell, with a lovely voice, is the most finished singer of the four.
 The rendering of the services at Lichfield deserves high commendation. In a general sense, everything is well done and tells of assiduous care bestowed on the singing. Whether the congregation be large or practically invisible, carelessness and indifference are distinguished by their absence. The boys, too, are models of good conduct and might convert Mr Haweis (of “angelic choir” renown) from his rooted conviction of the inherent depravity of their tribe. Our sole criticism is the oft repeated one of deficient expression in psalms and hymns. The removal of this defect really involves little extra work or trouble: Hymns A and M are ready marked (perhaps a little more than necessary, but that is easily remedied), and the psalms ought to be. This done, what more is required than to insist that a well trained body of singers should attend to plain directions? 
There is a custom prevailing at Lichfield which urgently calls for reform. The supply of music for the boys is quite insufficient. Sometimes absolutely all the boys on a side sing from two copies! Thus grouped, they suggest sheep huddled together for protection in a storm. How the high clerical dignitaries who habitually attend the services can endure seeing the orderly ranks of their choir constantly broken as it were into “ fragments “ is, to the writer, perfectly inexplicable. It is a sort of axiom with careful organists that every member of a choir, small or great, should have a copy to himself. This rule need naturally not be carried out too rigorously, nor indeed is it essential with large copies; but not under any circumstances should more than two look over the same copy. While decorum calls for a change, the disadvantages from a musical point of view should also be considered. 
The organist, Mr J B Lott, Mus.B. Oxon., is, it need hardly be stated, a man of marked ability, and a fine player. We think, however, that a vein of enthusiasm might be cultivated with advantage. Mr Lott can lay claim to one virtue which is by no means common even with the most distinguished of his compeers: he never overpowers his choir. On the other hand, it might justly be said that the virtue is sometimes carried to excess: this applies mainly to the psalms. Still, his accompaniments are most tasteful and mark the musician. But when throughout a long and festive psalm the grander side of the mighty instrument remains untouched, we can scarcely be accused of a carping spirit. There are certain verses – e.g. “He gave them hailstones”, “The voice of the Lord”, “The Lord thundered out of Heaven” &c. – where one instinctively looks for the organ to assert itself; and even if it be a little stronger than the choir, the error, such as it is, would be freely forgiven. It is on this point that Mr Lott sometimes fails to impress his hearers. If without abandoning his refined style he would in jubilant passages elucidate the text by giving voice to the pipes awaiting his commands, the innovation would, we feel sure, be duly appreciated. 
It is a sort of unwritten law that the decani takes the lead, or in other words sings the unequal verses of the psalms. At Lichfield the cantoris leads as often as the decani; and, though there may be method in the matter, to a stranger it seems quite haphazard as to which side is to the fore. Except to puzzle the congregation in the nave, we fail to see any purpose in this departure from the usual course. 
Apart from their musical life, the choir boys are much indebted to the unflagging interest in their welfare taken by the precentor’s vicar, the Reverend G T G Hayward, who, so far at least as this portion of his duties is concerned, is decidedly the right man in the right place. 
The organ is a fine modern instrument, with four manuals, by Messrs. Hill & Son. 
The city churches at Lichfield cannot be said to shine in respect to their choirs. So far as all the boys are concerned, voice training may be likened to the snakes in Ireland. At the largest, St. Mary’s, there is a pretentious but rather unsatisfactory service. The boys seem untrained, and the loud strain maintained throughout is almost painful. At Christ Church – a small outlying parish – a laudable attempt is made for due expression: but, alas! this desideratum cannot precede the knowledge of how to use the voice. 

The local Mercury published a short piece the following day, responding to this. It will duly be published in the archives tomorrow.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

'The Singing of the Choir' - 25 January, 1989 (BBC Radio 4)

Exactly 28 years ago today, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a short, 13 minute, programme looking at the role of cathedral and college choirs "in a changing society and changing musical climate" (http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/f592def96f7c4ff888271572c788dcbe).

The two institutions chosen to represent the "ecclesiastical choral tradition" are Lichfield Cathedral and King's College, Cambridge. The programme features recordings from each choir, and interviews with the directors (Jonathan Rees-Williams and Stephen Cleobury, respectively) and singers from each choir. A recording of the programme has been made available to me and it is now available for a wider audience in the Cathedral Choir's media archive.


Nearly three decades on, this offers an interesting glimpse into the historical situation, but comparisons will inevitably be made between 1989 and 2017 and it is interesting to see some of the same challenges still faced by choirs today.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Memories of Life as a Chorister 1942-1945 from David Stembridge

This account was originally sent to members of the Lichfield Cathedral Former Choristers' Association in 2014 and is reprinted here with permission.

I am grateful to Michael Cockin, Richard Lloyd, Colin Smith and Geoffrey Walker for their recollections and for confirming my own memories.

The day started at 7.00am with a jug of cold water being poured over one’s neck, administered by the headmaster, the Reverend Egerton Walters. It was wise to lean well over the edge of the bath to avoid the water running down one’s back. Thereafter, we ran around the Close before breakfast.

At mealtimes the Headmaster said grace in Latin before and after the meal. His words were ‘Benedictus benedicat’ but sometimes with the additional words ‘per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum’; after the meal it was ‘Benedictus benedicata’.

Lessons, including Latin and French, followed the usual school curriculum save that every day at midday we assembled in the Song School for choir practice conducted by the Organist and Master of the Choristers, Ambrose Porter.

The song room was at the end of a passage behind the Dean Savage library. We were able to observe Ambrose’s approach and had time to be at our allotted seats by the time he entered the room. Ambrose was a kindly man, nicknamed by us as ‘Potegg’ as he was short and stout. He was exclusively in control of our musical life and undoubtedly he became the most important figure in our school lives. He sat at the piano on a high hassock in a low-backed Windsor chair which we christened ‘the egg-cup’.

Once a week, apart from choir practice, Ambrose held a ‘sing song’ lesson. We enjoyed singing various songs from a collection by Adam Carse who is little known today: it made a pleasant change from anthems and settings. A particular favourite song was I wandered lonely as a cloud by Clifford Harker who went on to become the Organist of Bristol Cathedral.

On Saturdays we had an additional choir practice with the men in the Cathedral.

By Eastertime, Ambrose had succeeded in training us into a cohesive choir ready to appear on Easter day in our red cassocks and surplices. I remember singing the Easter Carol This joyful Eastertide which has remained a firm personal favourite.

I always sat on the Cantoris side under the watchful eye of the Headmaster who sat on the Decani side: woe betide anyone who was seen to laugh. Sometimes the men behind us made jokes which made it difficult to keep a straight face.

The services consisted of Sunday Matins followed by Sung Eucharist (on alternate Sundays) and Evensong at 3.30pm. On weekdays we sang Evensong on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and on Friday morning we sang the Litany Service. There were additional services on Saints’ days.

The standard of education was fairly high and the time spent on singing did not affect the time spent on education. Emphasis was put on dictation and spelling and the good grounding in grammar and spelling made an important contribution for later life.

Discipline was quite strict and certainly the Headmaster was not averse to using the cane on one’s backside. An instruction to go and wait outside the headmaster’s study invariably meant corporal punishment would be administered. It was usually four or six strokes and a victim was expected to display his stripes in the dormitory to his fellow pupils.

The school’s first playing field was behind St John’s church some distance from the Close; it is now used by the city tennis club. The next playing field was by Stowe Pool and finally the school took over the playing fields beyond the stark building, Selwyn House, at the end of the Close, then used as a Theological College. I recall Dean Iremonger telling us the story how one old lady had a squabble with her sister who lived by St Chad’s Church in a house with an uninterrupted view of the Cathedral across Stowe pool: out of spite the other sister erected this tall building so as to spoil the view!

Dean Iremonger was a bachelor who lived in a small house in 9, The Close which is the present Cathedral Shop. He took a kindly interest in the choir and had strong views about what music should be sung in the Cathedral; Ambrose was obliged to respect his wishes. For instance, Stainer’s music was not generally acceptable although there were some exceptions, including I saw the Lord.

Mr Dodd, the Head Verger, lived next door and escorted the Dean to the Cathedral; Mr Dodd wore an unusual hat for these occasions. Because the Dean did not wish to live in the Deanery, this building became available for the School in about 1944. .

The headmaster and his family moved into one half as their residence and a number of the choristers moved into the other part. I was fortunate to move to the Deanery and certainly the dormitory was a very pleasant room. We continued to use School House (12, The Close) for all meals. There was a Broadwood grand piano in the large room in the Deanery on which we were allowed to practise.

Being wartime, the culinary standards were not exciting. There was an element of compulsion about eating all the food on one’s plate. I recall I had some difficulty, particularly with some fish which smelt somewhat differently from the fish I eat today! However, I do remember that ‘spotted dick’ was a firm favourite. I recall one boy, Booth, was adept at cleaning every spot of jam out of a jam jar with a knife; by the time he had finished, nothing was left.

Because of the shortage of sweets many of us brought jars of malt and cod liver oil to school. The matron kept our jars in a storeroom and after breakfast we would be given a dessert spoon to enable us to take one or two spoonfuls of malt. It was regarded as a treat by some of us and was no doubt an important contribution to our diet.

We were allowed to walk down into the town and the chemist’s shop was an important port of call for glucose tablets and meloids, a liquorice based throat sweet; occasionally it was possible to find a bar of Cadbury’s ration chocolate.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Choristers in Summer 1970

A slightly convoluted series of events led to this photograph being discovered in the Lichfield Cathedral School archives a few months ago. It shows the choristers standing on the steps leading to the South transept door after a recording session for the Ascensiontide Evensong LP in summer 1970.


The inscription on the reverse of the image reads:

The Choristers after a recording session within Cathedral, Summer Term 1970.

Adrian Hill, Andrew West, Andrew Preece, Simon Chadwick, James Lockyer
Crispin Morton, Christopher James, Jeremy Cave, David Newell, Jonathan Channon
David Winfield, Thomas Hyatt, Jeremy Summerly, William Ring
Jonathan Morton (Head Chorister), Timothy Soar

(Jeremy Grinnell-Moore was in bed, Roger Langford and James Newell - new and too young)