One of the things I love about my job is how the moving parts under the surface of what appears to be roughly the same thing (since 1880) make for fresh challenges all the time. One example is the boy choristers. Each year, we have a different set of people with their own personalities, voices, strengths and weaknesses in terms of musical ear, sight-reading ability, connection with the music, stamina, passion and focus. I’m fortunate at the moment to have the most wonderful cohort, who take their responsibilities seriously and are willing to work hard to achieve excellence. They are also very gifted indeed and very lovely, respectful people who embody values in terms of integrity and dignity that are a constant inspiration.
If you ever have to rebuild a cathedral choir coming out of a pandemic, this is the set of boys you want to do it. But that is not to say it’s been easy for them (or for my colleagues and me). The lockdowns have, in my experience, sent children into their shells more. They have missed out on interactions with others as they learn how to flourish, not in a vacuum, but as part of various groups or mini-societies (choir and school being just two). They have missed months of valuable training which means they haven’t got the same confidence in their musicianship and music-reading ability, or the same vocal and mental stamina.
We have been building everything back methodically, brick by brick, and my main aim has been to coax rather than force them back to their full glory, seeking ever greater engagement with the music, energy in the sound, determination to do a good job and to push through tiredness from time to time.
Having been denied Holy Week and Easter last year they have had to work extra hard to re-learn various significant once-a-year pieces in recent weeks. Our tradition relies on the passing down of knowledge, skills and culture from the older boys to the younger and this has taken a hit with the conveyor belt almost stopping in the past year. But the boys have taken the thread of continuity and developed it into a rope. (Only in that respect would I describe them as ropey.)
A little project that brought some light relief to their daily online rehearsals was the recording of the song A Million Dreams from The Greatest Showman. I’m very proud of the boys for conquering both the musical and technological challenges of this project (don’t ask!) and to Andrew Gemmill for creating such a beautiful video and the best possible audio – would you ever know they were all recorded from home, using only their phones?
The choir is now recruiting for boys from Year 3 entering Year 4 in September. Please email email@example.com for more more information.