Cathedral music: October 2019

Dr Christopher McElroy, Cathedral director of music

September saw the return of the Cathedral Choirs and the resumption of daily sung choral services. Fair to say there is a lot happening this term, as well as two – hopefully interesting – news items to begin the academic year:
 
New Organ Scholar
 
We are delighted to welcome James Todd as our new organ scholar. James hails from Crewe, where he recently completed his A Levels. A Catholic, he has played the organ regularly in local parishes and annually on the Shrewsbury diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes. He started studying the organ aged 11 and confesses that it has slowly taken over his life. In addition to the organ, James also plays the piano and trombone, having recently achieved an ARSM in the former.
 
James will serve as organ scholar at the Cathedral for one year, and from September 2020 hopes to study Music Performance at a conservatoire with the organ as his principal instrument. While here, James will be involved in all aspects of music department life, from playing the organ to training the choristers and typesetting music. The organ scholarship is very much an apprenticeship for working in a Cathedral music department, and we encourage a hands-on approach.
 
Grants from the FCM
 
A choristership for a boy or girl allows them to live and breathe the liturgical life of the Church – on a daily basis they participate in the liturgical rites and sing its music. Their understanding of liturgy and music comes from their participation, not just from reading or learning about them. As well as forming our choristers as liturgical musicians, we also place great emphasis on training them as musicians, equipping them with the skills not just for their singing in the Cathedral, but for what hopefully will be a lifetime of musical engagement.
 
Choristers' musical skills are learned primarily through three overlapping routes: by singing music, by learning music theory and by playing instruments. Put simply: the better the theoretical knowledge and the more advanced the instrumental capabilities, the more effective each individual chorister's musical skills will be.
 
Therefore, we are delighted to have recently received £25,000 worth of grants from the Friends of Cathedral Music to support our choristers. One grant will enable all of our boy and girl choristers to have access to industry-leading software specialising in music theory. This means the children can solidify and practise the skills they learn in choir while at home using a computer or tablet.

Secondly, we have received an endowment grant of £20,000 to support the costs associated with our girl choristers taking instrumental lessons. We are very proud of our girl choristers, who recently marked ten years since their first service and who today are still the only all-girl Catholic cathedral choir in the UK (and possibly the world) that rehearses and sings on a daily basis.

Instrumental lessons tend to be given one-to-one and on a weekly basis. With the decline in the priority of arts subjects in schools today, the cost of these lessons falls to parents. It is very much our belief that all choristers should have the opportunity of instrumental lessons, hence our desire to establish a fund to support this. I would be delighted to hear from any individuals or organisations that would like to make a contribution toward our girl choristers' instrumental tuition endowment fund, so that this funding can benefit as many of our girls as possible. I can be contacted at music@metcathedral.org.uk.