2008 Diocesan Choirs Festival

St Albans Abbey, Saturday May 17th 2008

Conductor Andrew Lucas

On Saturday 17 May 2008 we held the biennial Diocesan Choirs Festival in St Albans Abbey. Over 250 singers came from all over the Diocese, representing 25 choirs of all types. Ages ranged from 6 or 7 upwards. There was a colourful array of robes and a purposeful atmosphere as we led in and began the rehearsal, led by Andrew Lucas, Master of the Music for the Cathedral.

Andrew, accompanied by Simon Johnson at the organ, took the massed choirs quickly but thoroughly through the bulk of the music for the service. Minor discrepancies were quickly ironed out, everyone was reminded about their breathing and posture and the whole rehearsal was good humoured and enjoyable. The youngest children were able to feel fully involved as they could all see, and there was a great feeling of solidarity achieved through the new seating plan which brought all the singers closer together, arranged 360 degrees around the conductor.

The festival had a new format, with the Cathedral Choir singing evensong for us, beginning with Schubert's absolutely beautiful "Heilig, Heilig, Heilig" from the Deutsche Messe as the introit, sung from the Quire, and going on to include Howells' "Collegium Regale" setting of the evening canticles, Psalm 23 to a setting by Walford-Davies and the responses by Bernard Rose. It was most impressive to see even the youngest parish choristers standing throughout the canticles and watching the Cathedral Choir with interest.

Comments were overheard from a variety of sources about the Cathedral Choristers and how well such young boys had sung such inspiring music.

From the anthem onwards the massed choirs joined in, with an array of diverse music with something for everyone. A variety of challenge was provided from relatively simple to the more demanding Te Deum by Robert Walker, which kept everyone on their toes. There was a range of style and period, including the Agnus Dei by Morley and SS Wesley's epic anthem, "Ascribe unto the Lord", contrasted with the new hymn by Paul Wigmore (text) and John Barnard (music) commissioned for the occasion. It was especially good to welcome John Barnard who joined the congregation for the festival. There was variety of texture including a two part anthem for the upper voices, an anthem for the lower parts, accompanied and unaccompanied music. Included was music to suit almost every taste and to give interest to each voice part - the altos in particular were well provided for both in the Wesley and in View me, Lord by Charles Wood.

The Very Reverend Dr Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, presented certificates to candidates who had been successful in Dean's Award examinations during the past two years, and the Bishop of Hertford, the Right Reverend Christopher Foster, presented certificates to the successful Bishop's Award candidates. In addition three choristers were presented with their certificates for the prestigious Gold Award of the RSCM.

The Walker Te Deum completed the service and the choirs filed out, perhaps a little more wearily than they had led in at the start, but there were many smiles and a sense that everyone had worked hard, enjoyed themselves and achieved something very special.

*** Event reviewed by Marie Price ***

Some photos from the event © Chris Muhley