St Sepulchre’s in Newgate is known as the National Musicians Church. The ashes of Sir Henry Wood, founder of the Proms, lie in its north chapel which is dedicated to the commemoration of significant British musicians. You would therefore expect this church to be a thriving centre for music, both as part of worship and through concerts to promote sacred and secular music to the local and wider community. But you’d be wrong. It turns out the dog collar in charge has decided that amateur and professional musicians will no longer be permitted to hire the church for rehearsals and concerts.
By contrast the Parish Church in Cirencester, where my Male Voice choir meet weekly and indeed give concerts from time to time, is part of something called ‘Music in Country Churches’ which was set up by HRH Charles, The Prince of Wales. Music in Country Churches was set up as a charitable trust in 1989. The trust has 2 main aims; To take concerts by artists, ensembles and orchestras of international renown to country churches of special beauty and historical importance and raise funds. Trust can then make significant donations to the churches they visit, to help specifically with the heavy costs of the upkeep of the fabrics. Concerts have been given by such distinguished musicians as Rostropovich, Cecilia Bartoli, Murray Perahia, Maria João Pires, Lang Lang and Maxim Vengerov.
A few weeks ago, as you may have read on this blog, a new Wyvern digital organ was installed at St Thomas a Becket in Bath where I have the honour of being ‘Organist in Residence’. I’m not sure exactly what this somewhat grand sounding title means, but it does nevertheless entitle me to a key to the church and access to the organ. Following the fiasco of the original installation, the speakers have now been properly installed and so in October I have been asked to put on a concert in the church to herald the arrival of the new organ. This struck me as a splendid idea, so the first thing I did was to engage my friend Luana to come and sing. After all, organ recitals are extremely tedious and electronic organs only sound nice up to about a 4 foot flute if you are lucky.
Nevertheless I’m sure we will get a good turn out to our concert / recital (Friday 13 October at 7.30pm in St Thomas a Becket Widcombe if you’re interested!). Mostly people will be coming because they think they should hear the new organ and more importantly there is a promise of wine, and hopefully cake at the end.
The curious thing is that despite much excitement about the new organ, no one actually wants to listen to it being played before or after a service. Every week I attempt to offer a voluntary which reflects the service and relates where possible to the theme in some small way. But despite everyone sitting in silence through the sermon, the eucharist and the prayers, as soon as we get to the organ voluntary the church is filled with shouting as people try to make themselves heard above the ‘noise’ from the organ. This is not uncommon. In fact it is generally only in Cathedrals where the congregation are invited to sit and listen quietly to the organ voluntary after a service. In many ways I don’t mind. It’s not for me to dictate what people should or shouldn’t do in church.
However, if the National Musicians Church has abandoned concerts, in favour of music purely being there to enhance the services, we will soon be in a very sorry state if congregations are not made aware of this change. Indeed there will soon be no point to presenting music at the end of a service if it is just there for congregations to slurp coffee to whilst shouting at each other.