Abbey Choir sings at Exeter Cathedral
Without warning, nine youngsters had to rise to a tough challenge during Romsey Abbey Choir’s visit to Exeter Cathedral from 21 to 24 August. Each year it visits one of the great English Cathedrals – previous destinations have included Durham, Norwich and Peterborough – and a handful of older boys are normally on hand to guide them through the music.
But on arrival at Exeter, since the voices of the senior choristers in the choir had broken during the summer holiday, the younger boys unexpectedly found they had to carry the top line by themselves.
Robert Fielding, Romsey Abbey’s Director of Music comments: ‘They coped magnificently, steadily gaining confidence as the week progressed. The hard work and experience will, as always, prepare them for the wide range of music that will take us up to Christmas Day.’
The schedule was indeed demanding: up at 7am, breakfast at 8, a ninety-minute practice at 8.45 and another at 3.45, followed by singing Choral Evensong each afternoon.
By the Saturday evening they were undaunted even by Charles Wood’s Evening Service in F, originally composed a century ago for King’s College, Cambridge. This imposing setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis doubles the number of vocal parts from four to eight and includes two semi-choruses; Simon Grant deserves a particular mention for his confident contribution to these as treble soloist. The choir also appreciated a visit by the Vicar of Romsey, Rev. Tim Sledge, for the service.
Other musical highlights included the simplicity of Tudor composer Thomas Morley’s Fauxbourdon service, in which plainsong verses of the canticles alternate with polyphony, the sensitivity with which the Responses by Bernard Rose were sung each day, and the satisfying end to the offering represented by Henry Balfour Gardiner’s sonorous Evening Hymn.
The choir was most fortunate with the weather during its visit, with the summer rains giving way to a couple of days of sunshine. This enabled the boys to enjoy outings building sandcastles at Dawlish Warren and riding the log flume at Crealy Adventure Park. And despite being several years into retirement, the Rev. John Clarke even joined them for this water ride and gamely endured a soaking.
As for the boys whose voices had broken, they came to Exeter anyway and gained their first experience of singing alto and tenor. For one of them, Joe Taylor, this was been his seventh summer cathedral visit; he most looks forward to them ‘for the singing and the way it makes me feel’.
- From 3.15pm on Sunday 7 September: the choir is hosting a garden party in the Abbey’s North Garth (or Church Rooms if wet) to raise funds for a tour to Belgium next May. All are welcome.