RSCM Scottish Voices crosses Hadrian’s Wall

York Minster

At the weekend members of RSCM Scottish Voices travelled over the border to make a foray into England to sing for the first time as a choir.  Well, 20 of us did.  Numbers were limited because we were joining with the other three, longer established, RSCM Voices choirs who regularly get together every couple of years or so to sing a big Choral Evensong in a Cathedral somewhere in England, in this instance it was York Minster.  Simply because of logistics not everyone in each choir could fit into the space available, big though it is, so spaces were limited to about 20 singers each (a few more than that if the top line were trebles and not adult sopranos) making a choir of something like 104 singers.  So the 20 singers to represent RSCM Scottish Voices were duly chosen by our Musical Director, Frikki Walker, to form a balanced ensemble, and I was lucky enough to be one of those who could go (although being the administrator I’d have gone anyway just to listen and show face even if I hadn’t been chosen to sing).

The service was on the bank holiday Monday (May Day) and we all made our own separate ways there, some going down a good few days early to make the most of the trip, some going there and back on the day itself, and many dragging along long-suffering partners with them!  After a most enjoyable circuitous route zigzagging by motorcycle through the borders I arrived in York on the Sunday afternoon just in time to check into the hotel and wander over for the Minster Choir‘s Choral Evensong when they sang Ayleward Responses (a favourite of mine), Dyson in D Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (standard repertoire but very enjoyable nonetheless) and Ye choirs of new Jerusalem by Stanford (which RSCM Scottish Voices sang the previous week in Old Saint Paul’s Church in Edinburgh – and dare I say it our sopranos sounded better in the opening phrase “the paschal victory to hymn in strains of holy joy” at the bit where tradition dictates most choirs squeak out and clip short the top G on the first syllable of the word “victory”).  The sound the Minster choir made was magnificent, particularly the men, a glorious rounded luxuriant noise.  Great stuff!

The hotel I and two others were staying in was the Guy Fawkes Inn, straight across from the south west corner of the Minster in High Petergate, and it’s built on the site of the building in which Guy Fawkes was born and right next to the church in which he was baptised – St Michael le Belfrey.  It’s a Real Ale pub and the beer, food, accommodation and staff were all excellent and to be recommended.  In fact, if you follow the link to the church the photo on Wikipedia of the front of the church (at the time of writing this) shows the Guy Fawkes Inn to its right.

So to the day of the service, and after two of us had a nice long walk together round the city walls doing the touristy bit in the morning we all assembled at 1pm in St William’s College, a 15th century Tudor building directly to the east of the Minster.  Once the mundane things like seating arrangements were over we started a fairly short rehearsal under the direction of Gordon Appleton, Director of RSCM Voices North and RSCM Regional Music Adviser for the north of England (well, for the moment he is, since he’s about to retire which was partly the reason for this service being on his patch and under his direction).

York Minster and the city walls

After a short’ish break we continued the rehearsal in the Minster but surprisingly and slightly disappointingly to me the decision was taken that we wouldn’t robe for this (I always think that robing while rehearsing in choirstalls is to be encouraged), and we got through all the music (although despite it being a long psalm it was actually less than we normally would sing in an RSCM Scottish Voices service simply because there was no Introit).

Another very short break (during which the battle for access to the toilets commenced!) and we were then into the service of Choral Evensong itself.  It takes a lot to pull a choir that size together in such a short space of time, and rather enjoyably pretty much all of the wee odd rough edges of the rehearsal disappeared as the choir produced a very pleasing sound, and Gordon Appleton came into his own with some very animated directing while standing on a box so those furthest from him (that would be me then) had a sporting chance of seeing a beat to follow!  Oh, and the priest singing the responses was none other than Richard Shephard!

Congregationally it was a pretty full Quire (for those reading this who aren’t familiar with cathedral architecture and nomenclature that’s the name for the part of the building in which we were singing, not a dreadful typo!) and afterwards I didn’t quite manage to find and speak to all those I’d have liked to, but I did manage to finally meet Sue Snell, the RSCM’s Head of Education, who has always been unfailingly helpful in email correspondence.  It’s good to put a face to an email address!

The great and the good then disappeared off to an official function, where I’m given to understand that Lord Gill, Chairman of the RSCM Council, made special mention of RSCM Scottish Voices in his speech, and I’m also told that it had been noticed that RSCM Scottish Voices singers acquitted ourselves admirably!  One comment I got from a VERY experienced church musician who was in the congregation and whose opinion I respect 100% was “all in all a great event”.

I’m neither great nor good, so along with most of the Scottish contingent I went across the road to the Guy Fawkes Inn, where we had food and drink and good company well into the night.

As I said at the start of this post, this is the first time we’ve been invited to one of these events, and it was really nice to be asked.  It was a real shame that we couldn’t take everyone in the choir, but that was all out of our hands, however those who were there represented the choir well and I have no doubt we’ll be asked again and hopefully might be in a position to take more singers along.

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