Following a visit from their Roving Reporter in December, the Campaign for the Defence of the Traditional Cathedral Choir (CDTCC) has hailed us as a “roaring success” in their latest bulletin. The editor notes that “while some traditional parish-church choirs hang on in the face of a thousand difficulties, others flourish magnificently, and perhaps none more so than that of Romsey Abbey.”
In a wide-ranging discussion with Jeffrey Williams, their representative learned about the music we sing, how we recruit boys and the way in which their parents often become involved in the wider life of the Abbey as a consequence. As Jeffrey remarked: “What we do at Romsey is one of the finest examples of youth work in the parish”. He further drew attention to the support of the clergy and the hard work of the Friends of the Choir, without which the social events that draw people into the life in of choir simply would not happen.
The interview took place on the day of the 2003 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, the last such service that Jeffrey would lead as Organist and Master of the Choristers. It was thus entirely fitting that some of his achievements over the past eleven years should be recalled, including the restoration of the 1858 Walker Organ and some of the high profile services he has conducted, including the memorial service in March 2000 for Romsey’s then MP, Michael Colvin, and his wife, Nicola, who both perished in a house fire. On a lighter note, Jeffrey also recounted how he was once nearly stampeded by a herd of cattle whilst conducting the choir at the Blessing of the Crops at Rogationtide!
Given the regular participation of the CDTCC in the ongoing debate about the place of girls in cathedral choirs, the question was inevitably raised concerning the situation in Romsey. Jeffrey was able to point out that the Abbey is home to a girl’s choir that pursues an independent yet complementary vocation. Its members are generally older and prefer to socialise separately from the Abbey Choir boys who, in some cases, are literally their younger brothers. The differences between the sexes in this sense are duly recognised rather than suppressed.
The reporter added a touching little postscript to the interview:
“A little while later, in the presence of a packed congregation, and in what now seems like immemorial tradition, a chorister began to sing the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City, the pure notes arching and echoing the length of the church. Twelve men and eighteen boys moved up the nave: a sight to rejoice the hearts of all who love our traditional choirs. Floreat Romsey!”