The Choir of Romsey Abbey has returned from a successful visit to Ripon Cathedral, Yorkshire, where it sang at daily services for four days in late August. It tackled often challenging music, ranging from unaccompanied Tudor anthems by Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Tomkins to Twentieth-century settings of the Evening Canticles by Sir Herbert Brewer and Peter Aston, as well as the Psalms set for the day.
Despite having been at the Abbey for only a few weeks, the Reverend Tim Harling, Assistant Curate, impressed worshippers as he led the choir through the Responses by Humphrey Clucas during several of the services. Canon Neil Crawford-Jones, Vicar of Romsey, acted as cantor for the remainder.
The ‘singing holiday’ is now a long-established fixture in the choir’s calendar; previous years have taken it to Canterbury, Truro and Durham. It provides an ideal team-building opportunity, as Robert Fielding, Organist and Master of the Choristers, observes:
‘For the younger choristers, aged eight or nine, it is often their first time away from home without their parents. But homesickness is usually forgotten with the first game of football on the lawn after arriving on the minibus from Romsey!
‘Older boys gain leadership experience, both from giving confident leads when singing and in competing for the for the team shield, awarded on the last evening. Points are won during the daily dormitory inspection, in quizzes and games – the rivalry is friendly but intense.’
After breakfast and a morning choir practice the party went out for an excursion each day, returning to the Cathedral to sing Evensong. The boys had a great time at the Lightwater Valley theme park, whereas the men enjoyed the opportunity to sample local ale after a tour of the Black Sheep brewery at Masham.
A real highlight for many of the supporters who travelled with the choir was its impromptu performance of a Magnificat by Thomas Morley in the ruins of Fountains Abbey. This was quite possibly the first time in hundreds of years that its walls had echoed to plainsong and polyphony in a style that its Cistercian monks might once have recognised.
On the Sunday the choir sang at three services: the Eucharist, during which the men sang a Mass by William Byrd; Mattins, which featured John Ireland’s exuberant Te Deum; and Evensong, for which the anthem was Sir Edward Elgar’s deeply-felt The Spirit of the Lord.
The choir extends its thanks to Stephen Power and Thomas Leech, a former Abbey chorister and now Assistant Organist at Ripon Cathedral, who played the organ at its services. Next August sees the choir singing at Norwich Cathedral. On Sunday 9 October the choir will be joined for Evensong by the choir of Sherborne Abbey.