St Mary’s Choir News
Choir Report 2020
The first quarter of 2020 began in a lively, positive way for the Music Department at St Mary’s with the Feast of the Epiphany, two of our choral scholars, Morgan and Charlotte, singing solos in a Messiah performance by the Gower Chorale at the Uniting Church in Sketty. Key dates in February included Candlemas, an Evensong marking the retirement of HM Lord Lieutenant, and Ash Wednesday. The weekend of the 14th/15th March 2020 proved eventful on many fronts: a wedding with choir at Christ Church, Choral Matins and a Confirmation (congratulations to Emily on her Confirmation), and, unknown at the time, was to be final singing weekend until September.
During the first quarter, (in addition to our normal two Sunday Choral Services) Tuesday Evensongs continued to be appreciated by many, and the rotation around various sections and ensembles from within the choir have offered valuable learning opportunities and encouraged greater confidence. The various groupings on Tuesdays (until lockdown) have been the Gentlemen, the Upper Voices, and the Boys’ Choir supported by Jenny and Gwyneth. I would like to see the Boys’ Choir develop further – the Tuesday Evensongs offer the perfect environment for the Boys Choir to develop its identity. A city centre church like St Mary’s should be a flagship for choral enterprise for the City, County and beyond.
Congratulations to Prof Tony Davies who in 2020 has achieved a membership of 60 years singing bass with St Mary’s Choir. At the other end of the spectrum, we welcome John Reynolds to St Mary’s Choir as a probationer – he sang his first service Sunday 13th December. Congratulations also to Will Evans, one of our former choristers, who has been appointed Head Chorister at Chester Cathedral. Congratulations to alto choral scholar Bethany Conway on achieving a 2:1 in her BSc degree in Zoology from Swansea University. Congratulations also to Lindsay Atkinson who has moved to a new house in Cardiff as her work and training as a surgeon relocates. I would hope that we will have an opportunity to thank the two of them in person when they come back to visit. Lindsay will not be too far away, and I am sure we would be pleased for her to come back and sing periodically, and likewise for Beth. 2019-20 has been a remarkable year for altos in St Mary’s with five regular altos on the books, and with occasional visits from Bethany’s father Fr Philip who also sings alto and is now based as a vicar in the Diocese of Exeter.
As Director of Music, during lock-down I have had to adapt to different forms of musical direction, keeping in touch with the choir, continuing to offer musical training and emphasising the shared experience of choir membership and raising awareness and understanding of the cultural context and our musical heritage. Throughout lockdown I have been in touch with the choir with a weekly email containing what I refer to as directed learning, that is, suggestions for listening, watching and vocal warm-ups. Ideas will have been shared on singing techniques, the historical context of music and its composers, and on a straightforward emotional level, moments for reflection, appreciation, and enjoyment. Socially, Peter Thomas organised a couple of Zoom-based choir quizzes and these helped keep people in touch. Amidst the long down, there was opportunity to continue learning and I am strongly of the opinion that education (and it is not all done at a desk or computer!) is a lifelong activity that can enrich and benefit everyone.
During 2020 I have explored new technology for communication, teaching, and recording and editing audio and video. There has been the weekly production of musical content hymns and organ music for the Parish of Central Swansea Sunday and Wednesday offerings of worship, and there have been the production and presentation of hymn and anthem meditations during Passiontide. Fortunately, I have had a stable routine in which to practice organ, tightening up on technique, and revisiting, reinforcing, and extending my repertoire. I am grateful to Isobel and Emily who (during the summer term) assisted me in the weekly recording of a hymn ready for Sunday. Regular weekday choir rehearsals at home have enabled this. Experience has shown that much time and patience is needed to thoroughly rehearse, audio and video record and edit a single hymn, and this can often take as much time to deliver from rehearsal, performance, and production as a full choral service.
St Mary’s is affiliated to the Royal School of Church Music and as such has benefited immensely from involvement over the past year. Through the RSCM, individual training has been made to choir members available via webinars and other online resources, including a young person’s choral course and a varied series of weekly lunchtime lectures. The RSCM resources utilised have included advice in response to Covid-19, various webinars, online training for Voice for Life at Dark Blue and Gold levels, and participation in the Big Easter Evensong, RSCM Music Sunday, the RSCM Celebration Day Evensong in October, and the Big Christmas Carol Service (which will include special guests and readers, including Alexander Armstrong, Teresa May, and HRH Prince of Wales).
In August, the RSCM ran an online Young Person’s Summer Course (for singers aged 8-23), entitled ‘Hear my words’. Over five days, singers joined a series of live webinar rehearsals, which support singers in learning ‘Hear my words, ye people’ by C.H.H. Parry. The live rehearsals were supported by further resources available through the RSCM Showbie class including scores, rehearsal tracks and other tools to support wider learning. I am delighted that Emily was amongst the 65 singers on the course who were drawn from over 30 different churches and cathedrals from across four continents. The course was directed by Adrian Lucas (RSCM Head of Choral Studies and former director of music at Worcester Cathedral). At the end of the course participants were required to submit audio-visual recordings of themselves individually singing Parry’s anthem Hear my words and these were combined to make a full choir performance.
In line with Government Guidance and compliant with local risk assessments and precautions, live music had a phased return to services at St Mary’s from September 2020. Beginning with just organ, then a single cantor (thanks to Charlotte), then antiphonal singing from our choral scholars, Charlotte, Morgan and Will in time for Fr Sam’s first Eucharist as a priest, to consistent singing teams of up to six voices.
Following auditions in October, we welcomed, Daniel Alsop as a new bass choral scholar (bringing the total number of scholars for 2020-2021 to four). He was a Chorister and then Bass at St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol and is a Media and Communications student at Swansea University. His musical achievements include having passed his RSCM Gold Award when still a treble. We then built on our Choral Scholars’ Team with another bass, Nathan Williams, a former Chorister from Worcester Cathedral and studying Applied Medical Sciences at Swansea University where he has been awarded a university music scholarship. We also have another soprano joining us, Anna Florence, a recent music graduate from Cambridge University where she sang in the Chapel Choir of Homerton College. Anna was with us until Christmas Day, after which she took up an appointment as Arts and Music Administrator at Leicester Cathedral.
The Choral Scholars’ Team continued to sing until 6th December 2020 after which the remaining services of Term were sung by a team of upper voices and a team of the Gentlemen. The anthem at Evensong on Advent 4 was the first performance of an arrangement I had made for treble voices and organ of Hail! Blessed Virgin Mary. Video recordings were made of solo contributions through the term and of various choral groupings for online broadcast including the Deanery Advent Service and the St Mary’s Christmas broadcast.
In January 2020 I was appointed RSCM Regional Co-ordinator for Wales, and in October this role was expended to become RSCM Regional Manager (Wales). It involves the restructuring and management of the local RSCM Areas across Wales. It sits alongside my teaching at Swansea University and arts consultancy work, and importantly, complements my work at St Mary’s. On the musicology front, I was pleased to be invited to give a lecture, ‘Organs of Paris’ to the Swansea & Brecon Retired Clergy in January, and an online lecture to a discussion group from Eglwys Dewi Sant, Cardiff in September, ‘CerddoriaethEglwysigyngNghymruo’rDiwygiadProtestannaiddi’rRhyfelCartref’ (‘Church Music in Wales from the Reformation to the Civil War’). I was pleased to have had a research article published, in the Journal of the Royal College of Organists, ‘Observations concerning organs in Wales and the borderlands during the Reformation’, and a piece in the Christmas edition of the Swansea & Brecon Retired Clergy Newsletter, ‘A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols – a personal reflection influenced by the tradition’.
The St Mary’s organ remains in regular use for practice, recording and services, and in December maintenance work took place on the with repairs to certain notes not sounding and the reactivation of the swell oboe. Further work will be necessary in 2021 to re-leather the pneumatic motors to some of the bass notes in the swell organ. While the St Mary’s Summer Organ Series 2020 was inevitably cancelled, I did manage to give recitals in All Saints’ Barry (February 2020) and Grimsby Minster (October 2020).
The Swansea St Mary Choral Trust has been able to offer significant funding support for the Choral Scholarship partnership between St Mary’s and Swansea University, and I am grateful that the Trust also provided Jenny with a bursary to cover the cost of individual singing lessons during the academic year 2019-20. Many thanks to other donors to the Choir, much of which is directed towards the important training and development aspects of Choir membership. It is the recognition of success and achievement, often demonstrable and measurable through the ABRSM graded exams or the RSCM’s Voice for Life training, that is a way of acknowledging financial support already received and encourages potential donors to hope for fair return on future investment. I continue to look at further ways to encourage extra financial support as we enter the new academic year, and importantly for what we as a church can do to inspire that support. In December St Mary’s received a grant of £500 from the Linbury Trust as part of the Friend of Cathedral Music/Cathedral Music Trust’s Cathedral Choirs’ Emergency Fund and this has been directed towards our choral scholarship programme.
An eventful 2020 with these many highlights enjoying success because of the dedication and hard work during the normal routine of services and rehearsal, and behind the scenes during lockdown. My thanks to the choir for their commitment, perseverance, and patience during this challenging time. I am grateful to the support of team of assistant organists – to Andrew Goodwin, Alan Sykes, and HuwTregelles Williams, and to Josh Xerri (he is a former chorister at Llandaff Cathedral, Organ scholar at Chelmsford Cathedral, and Alto choral scholar at Birmingham Cathedral, who joined us briefly but has now moved to London to train as a barrister). Also, to Canon Ian and the whole clergy team for their support of the musical life of the church, and especially to Fr John and Fr Sam for their ministry at Evensong. Finally I wish to pay tribute to Canon Ian’s leadership during lock-down, and how all the clergy have each contributed to the Parish of Central Swansea online worship provision and general pastoral care.
Dr William Reynolds, Director of Music
Presenting Choral Scholar, Charlotte Boden, with her certificate
for ABRSM Grade 8 singing with Distinction, January 2020.
Choir Report 2019
During 2019 St Mary’s Choir has continued its established weekly routine of Choral Eucharist and Choral Evensong on Sundays and Choral Evensong on Tuesdays, heightened by the enhanced liturgical and musical demands for Ash Wednesday, Holy Week and Easter, Ascension Day, All Saints, All Souls, Advent and Christmas. There was also the annual Civic Service of Remembrance, a Choral Evensong with the laying up of a standard for the Royal Marines Association. 2019 has been a year packed full of anniversaries, and with these celebrations St Mary’s Choir has risen to the challenge and expectations of these occasions with a Choral Evensong for the 50th Anniversary of Swansea becoming a city, and the week of celebrations on the 60th anniversary of the 1959 reopening of St Mary’s. For the third year running the choir has completed two terms of not repeating any Sunday evening canticles. Meanwhile, it has been heartening to see evensong congregations grow and share in our worship, particularly on Tuesdays when we are often joined by members of the St Padarn’s Institute and the Theology for Life Course.
Other occasions of excitement for the Choir have included the recording of two programmes of BBC Radio Wales Celebration, and a performance in December of Handel’s Messiah at the Brangwyn Hall with the Gower Chorale and the British Sinfonietta.
St Mary’ s Church is affiliated to the Royal School of Church Music, and the choir is actively involved in RSCM activities and makes use of the RSCM Voice for Life training scheme. Prof Tony Davies and I have continued to serve as committee members for the RSCM Swansea and Brecon Area. St Mary’s Choir was well-represented at the RSCM Area Choral Festival at Brecon Cathedral in May, and at Holy Cross, Llwynderw, in October where I directed a choral workshop for the RSCM with the theme of eventide. In November St Mary’s hosted the RSCM Voice for Life Gold award exams. During 2019 we presented Emily and Jenny with their Voice for Life Light Blue level certificates and medals. Meanwhile at Christ Church I have been tutoring a group for the RSCM’s The Complete Church Organist Course, a national initiative to support those called upon to play the organ in church and wish to gain skill and confidence in service accompaniment.
Our choral scholarship programme is made possible through a partnership between St Mary’s Church and Swansea University, and we are grateful to Swansea University for their commitment to 50% funding, and for additional funding from the Swansea St Mary Choral Trust and the Friends of Cathedral Music (endowment grant for an additional scholar). The scholarship programme has expanded during 2019, with funding for five places becoming available for the academic year 2019-2020. We are seeking further funding to raise this to six from academic year 2020-2021.
It is encouraging to see the musicianship and confidence of our scholars develop. Beyond our busy schedule of choral services and rehearsals, they receive weekly individual vocal tuition (up to 15 hours of per annum), and we are constantly looking for additional ways of supporting their musical experience. This year they have performed solos in the Chancellor’s Concert at Swansea University’s Great Hall in March and performed a Lunchtime Song Recital as part of the 60th Anniversary celebration week in May. Morgan Darcy Rees-Deacon came in first place in the 16-19 vocal solo competition at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod, and William Playle-de Vries excelled himself as counter-tenor soloist in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms for the Gower Chorale Concert at St Mary’s in June.
In October, at the start of Swansea University’s new academic year, we welcomed back Bethany Conway (who returned to us after a year in industry), and two new choral scholars, Charlotte Boden (a former member of Leamington Spa Parish Church Choir and the Chapel Choir of Jesus College, Oxford), and Demi-Leigh Billington (a former chorister of Liverpool Cathedral). Charlotte is to be congratulated on achieving her ABRSM Grade 8 Singing exam with distinction in December.
The St Mary’s 60th Anniversary celebration week at the end of May began with a concert of Choral Classics by the Choir of St Martin-in-the -Fields. On the Tuesday there was Lunchtime Song Recital was given by our two choral scholars. Thursday 30th May was Ascension Day, and following the Choral Eucharist was a performance by our Director of Music of L’Ascension: Four Symphonic Meditations for Organ by Olivier Messiaen. The music continued on Saturday with Morriston Orpheus performing a 60th Anniversary Concert and included many popular male voice choir favourites. St Mary’s Choir was again in fine voice for the Anniversary Choral Eucharist on the morning of Sunday 2nd June. The week of celebrations concluded with a Celebratory Choral Evensong, the music matching that of the dedication Evensong 28th May 1959.
At the end of August one of our Girl Choristers, Emily, participated in Abergavenny Priory Festival of Liturgical Music as part of an invited trebles choir comprising choristers from Abergavenny Priory, Newport Cathedral and St Mary’s, Swansea.
On Sunday 22nd September presented Ann Conibear with a bouquet of flowers marking her retirement from the Choir recognising many years of faithful service and friendship.
Dr William Reynolds, Director of Music
The Advent Carol Service by Candlelight, December 2019
St Mary’s Choral Scholar, Morgan Darcy Rees-Deacon, wins the Vocal Solo
16-19 Competition at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod, July 2019
Presenting Emily with her RSCM Voice for Life Light Blue Award, April 2019.
Tony Davies was presented with Certificate of Special Service from
the Royal School of Church Music at Salisbury Cathedral, September 2018,
in recognition of his contribution to the RSCM Swansea & Brecon Area.