Robert Fielding reflects on his first term as Abbey Organist
‘What a splendid set of boys you have’, someone said during our recent trip to sing evensong at Sherborne Abbey. How right they were! I have now come to realise that our present rows of boys have accepted the responsibilities and traditions associated with singing in the choir and are set to continue the high standards expected of them.
Not only have I been impressed with the way the boys tackle learning new music, the commitment of rehearsals and the hard work involved, but I am always aware of the very full support going on from the choir parents whose role can never be praised enough! Many thanks from me for all you do.
Having survived my first term at Romsey, which ended with Holy Week, I am slightly less apprehensive of what the rest of the year may throw my way. I have had such wonderful support from Tim Rogerson, whose administrative brain never ceases to amaze me, and the choir men, who have weathered the change so well and provided me with safety nets whenever needed. I know of places where this is not often the case and am grateful that this is not the sort of thing that goes on at Romsey Abbey.
Jeff Williams is a hard act to follow, whether as a player on his beloved Walker organ, choral trainer, public speaker, smart dresser, joke teller, large person bearing down on you as you fail to disguise the fact that your ruff is hanging out no, seriously, Jeff stands for so much that is our present happy state and it is so good that we still have him around – apart from those with unruly ruffs!
Canon Neil Crawford-Jones has been a very strong support and is someone I can work well with. I tend to use Barney the wiry terrier (we are now good friends) as a go-between and this works very well as Barney explains to Neil why we are singing so much Wesley – he being one of Neil’s less favourite composers. The continual barking seems to sooth the Canon’s brow and he is able to resume his normal air of dignified resignation.
At the end of last term, we held a little ceremony to award the prizes to the boys and to say goodbye to Tom Wale, one of our Decani Basses. Tom is now living in Nottingham where he has started some temporary work at a local primary care trust. We wish him well and thank him for his good humour, time in the Abbey Hotel and of course his singing which we shall miss. More recently, we said thank you and goodbye to Nick Gower, who has sung alto for the last three years. He previously sang as a treble in the choir and rose to the rank of head chorister. Nick begins a degree in chemistry at Bristol University in September.
Welcome to a new Bass, Tony Garnett, who began to sing with us on the 9 May. He is travelling from Andover and is an experienced singer who sang in the choir of Westminster Abbey as a boy. We also welcome our new probationers, Nathanial Copper, Sean Patterson and Finlay Martin.
Plans for the future? I guess the main aim is to maintain the present standards of singing which I know are well loved and supported as an important part of the worship here. I need to get a year under my belt before looking at any change and I feel that the core repertoire the choir sings is varied and well-suited to liturgy, voices and building. I would like to do more plainchant and Tudor polyphony as I think the building was built for it. It would be good to introduce a simple Choral Evensong during the week I can hear Barney barking now
I am looking forward to the Summer trip to Durham and taking with us a selection of the very fine music we have sung over the year. FORAC meets soon to organise this trip and other events to take place before it and I would like to thank members of this team for all they do. There is such a wealth of commitment to the choir from the singing men and adults associated with it. At the heart of all this work is a love for the music we offer in worship and as a newcomer I can see lives given to this love and feel that the worship at Romsey Abbey is going to go from strength to strength because of this. What a team!
By the way, if you don’t already know, the boys won 6-1 at Sherborne! We have invited Sherborne to sing here in October and the boys will have another chance to follow a ball around like a swarm of flies. Maybe I should referee – but then I may be biased. Could you give an offside ruling when there are 40-plus boys, all in one group, with no coloured kit, ALL shouting at you at once ‘Offside!’ or ‘Play on!’ Not to mention the parents on the sidelines!