On Sunday 2 November, the Abbey Choir welcomed the Choir of Sherborne Abbey to sing Choral Evensong together for the feast of All Saints. The occasion was, however, overshadowed by the sudden death on Friday 31 October of a member of the Abbey Choir, George O’Brien, 17, from a rare and virulent tumour on his chest.
George joined the choir in 1999 as a probationer and was appointed Head Chorister in 2004. He began singing alto a couple of years ago after his haunting treble voice broke. ‘Quite capable of singing his part by himself, he was showing great promise as an adult singer. We will miss him greatly’, reflects the Abbey’s Organist and Master of the Choristers, Robert Fielding.
The Service began with a period of silence, after which the Abbey Choir, voices laden with emotion, sang Duruflé’s poignant motet Ubi caritas et amor in George’s honour.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Revd Tim Sledge, Vicar of Romsey had reminded the choir, ‘Music takes over when words fail. George loved singing – he would have wanted to be here today’.
Evensong continued with Psalms 148 and 150 and Thomas Attwood-Walmisley’s Evening Service in D minor. The Magnificat alternated forceful passages for tenors and basses in unison with more reflective, tender writing for trebles and altos; the combined forces of the Abbey Choirs certainly intensified the dynamic contrasts in the piece.
At its heart was a verse for solo voices, ‘He remembering his mercy’; Julian Orchard, treble, and Marcus Johnson, alto, along with a tenor and bass from Sherborne Abbey Choir, deserve a special mention for their confident yet sensitive singing.
The anthem, Edward Bairstow’s radiant setting of the compline hymm Save us, O Lord fitted the occasion very well, closing with the words ‘And asleep we may rest in peace’.
Vaughan Williams’ rousing hymn For all the Saints concluded the service, reminding the congregation of the great company of saints and martyrs on which the church is founded. The Abbey Choir were very grateful to their friends from Sherborne for their vocal support.
Thanking choir mums for the ample tea they laid in the church rooms, Paul Ellis looked forward to welcoming Romsey Abbey Choir and its supporters back to Sherborne next year.
Former Head Chorister dies suddenly, aged 17 – Romsey Advertiser