Dennis Woodward died on Sunday 28 October. A loyal and active friend of the Choir, as well as an Abbey Guide, he will greatly be missed by us and a great many members of the congregation.

Memories of Chester

At last…I have climbed a mountain! Not in the Himalayas, of course, nor even in the Alps but, just the same, a real, purple-headed, Welsh mountain. I defied the pessimism of those who thought the ‘Choir Grandad’ might prefer a deckchair in the car park and followed the trail – and the rest of the party! Yes, I was last to the top, but I felt it a duty to act my age and to stay at the back. There I could photograph the string of human ants stretching upwards along the path to the summit where they waited for me – if only to have their picture taken, huddled together in the whistling wind! This was one of several happy excursions, exciting with interest and warm with friendship.

Some of the Choirboys relax at the summit of
Moelfanau, Dennis was not far behind!

The evening excursions to one of Chester’s inns were rather different in style, although again with an inbuilt element of climbing. We set out after nightfall and made our way around a third of the city wall. The walk was a pleasure in itself and the return journey, some pints later, was made each time without mishap, nobody being lost overboard!

The accommodation was pleasant enough but presented difficulties because we were too many for it. The dining room was seriously over-seated and the kitchen under-manned. The cooking was not cordon bleu or any other colour for that matter and was perhaps best described by a phrase that my dear old mother used occasionally: “What doesn’t fatten, fills”. However, we seemed to prosper on it, especially those who indulged in D.I.Y. cheese and biscuits as a supplementary course, discovering – by courtesy of a Chester cheese shop – the delights of Shropshire Blue.

There have been occasions in my life when I have worked really hard to make an impression, only to fall flat on my face. Know the feeling? My nose has now recovered from such an event in Chester Cathedral!

It was at the afternoon rehearsal on the Thursday, I think and the beautiful O for a closer walk was being practised, when I saw a group of about eight visitors standing at the end of the Quire, watching and listening intently.

I approached them and, during a musical lull, started talking, quickly developing an evangelistic fervour: “this great choir…from Romsey…in Hampshire…every day this week….that lovely anthem…one of many recorded on CD…available in the bookshop…playing a selection at this moment…a fine investment for lovers of church music…”

They looked at me without moving as I spokelike a group of cats all watching the same mouse: not a word, not a smile, not a raising of the eyebrow. Then the spell was broken as a member of the group referred to his video camera, using sign language to do so…. I don’t think they had understood a word!

The Choir sang extremely well through the week and, at times, brilliantly, building a reputation that will serve them well in years to come. I could pick out a number of performances that I particularly favoured but the piece of singing that commanded my admiration more than any other was not an anthem, not a setting or responses, but a psalm. It was Psalm 105, as I recall, with more than 40 verses.

I have never heard a choir sing a psalm better than this, with sustained and unbroken concentration and application, with faultless harmony, with the rise and fall of dramatic expression, with clarity of words and precision in timing. I thought it was the nearest the choir was likely to get to perfection and I felt privileged to hear it.

Dennis Woodward, 1922 – 2001

I had a lovely holiday in Chester. Thanks, everyone, for everything!