Cathedral Voice

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June 3, 2024

Notes from the Tower

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Yet again (rather like Wells last October and Brecon recently) Cathedral Music Trust was blessed with the most gloriously warm, sunny weather for our Local Gathering to attend Matins at the Tower of London on Sunday 2 June.

35 supporters joined organiser Mark Bellis, and while most attendees were fairly local to the London area, a few had travelled from further afield – the prize for the longest journey going to Bob (Regional Coordinator for Scotland) and Annalee Horton, whose journey was 563 miles from Forres on the Moray coast! It was also delightful to welcome our new CEO-designate, Jonathan Mayes, who was keen to join us even before he takes up his role officially in early July.

Canon Roger Hall welcomed us most warmly in the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula on Tower Green, even providing a resume in his remarks of some of last year’s CMT grants, and we then had a most inspiring service of Choral Matins sung by the 12-strong professional mixed choir. What a joy it was to hear the words of the Book of Common Prayer Matins again, now that the service seems rather rarely sung in many cathedrals.

The singing was terrific throughout. Even the Ebdon Responses were beautifully characterised, each with a quite different mood and then we had the delight of a completely unaccompanied psalm. Then came a real highlight of the day: Britten’s wonderful Festival Te Deum in E, beginning very gently, the voices ‘floating’ against quiet organ chords, before the dramatically impassioned central section (‘Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ’), the sopranos negotiating their fearsome top Bs quite effortlessly. Palestrina’s Haec Dies was the anthem – a virtuoso showpiece for double choir, and after Roger Hall’s thought-provoking and entertaining sermon, it was touching that the intercessions featured our own CMT Prayer.

A further highlight turned out to be the organ voluntary – Bach’s famous Toccata in F, BWV540 – one of the most monumental works in the organ repertoire lasting over 10 minutes. This was thrown off with quite breathtaking virtuosity by the new Assistant Master of Music, who took up his post only in April, Hugh Rowlands.

After Matins, Master of Music, Colm Carey gave us a fascinating talk about the organ, which, we learnt, was originally built for the Banqueting House in Whitehall, and whose case dates from 1699, but whose pipework is entirely new, dating from 1999, by the Canadian firm of Fernand Létourneau. Hugh Rowlands then gave us a short organ recital, featuring works by Schumann, Cecilia McDowell and Judith Weir – all most musically played.

Attendees were then free to explore the atmospheric and rather secret Norman Chapel Royal of St John the Evangelist, dating from 1078, high in the White Tower and to chat over lunch in the New Armouries Cafe.

Overall, this was a fascinating day full of wonderful music, much enjoyed by all participants in really excellent weather!

Mark Bellis, Regional Coordinator for the South and East of England