Cathedral Voice


May 24, 2024

Salisbury Remembers

Read the latest news from Cathedral Music Trust

During the past two months, Salisbury has lost two much loved members of the local music scene.

Mary White, a long time member of the former Friends of Cathedral Music died on 13 April, aged 79. Mary was a well known local piano teacher, sang with the Salisbury Music Society, was a long term member of the local organists’ association and rarely missed Choral Evensong, often arriving just in time for the start of the service! She also belonged to the Royal College of Music and regularly took an active part in the Edington Festival. She loved the cathedral, which she had formed a strong connection with since her training at Sarum St Michael, ran the Lydians Group, and lovingly made and repaired cathedral vestments right up until just before she was taken ill.

I can remember a time during the Sunday morning Eucharist when Mary, who was sitting next to my wife, leaned across and told me off in no uncertain terms for humming quietly to a Mozart Mass! I don’t think I have ever been so embarrassed.

Mary’s funeral was attended by a congregation of 200 and ended with the Lay Vicars singing the Orahanui Blessing, a New Zealand piece new to many of us and which represented her cousin who lives there.

Another life of faith and sacred music, and one that that lasted more than eighty years came to a sudden end recently when John Powell, a much loved member of the Salisbury music scene died aged 92 in April. John was born in Coombe Bisset, near Salisbury, when his father was the church organist and where he developed his love for church music. He was a member of the local church choir and then auditioned for the cathedral choir when Sir Walter Alcock was the organist, eventually becoming head chorister. John always said that singing in the cathedral choir changed his life for ever

In 1975 he formed the St. John’s Singers, whom he continued to conduct for 41 years, and even after giving up the baton, he continued to sing with them using his powerful bass voice until suddenly becoming unwell in March this year. Together with Christine, his wife, he raised over £250.000 for local charities through organising various musical events, particularly the famed Christmas Wassail parties in the City Hall.

John was also a member of the local organists’ association and played regularly for services in the village churches near Salisbury. He was a loyal member of Friends of Cathedral Music, and for many years, the Area Representative for Salisbury. He once told me that he was very proud of the fact that during his tenure of office he had doubled local membership. Mind you, and I am not sure if this is true, he always insisted that anyone joining the St. John’s Singers had to become a member of FCM!

As you might imagine, John’s funeral was full of wonderful music, all carefully chosen by him. The cathedral choir sang a setting of Psalm 84 by Alcock, ‘Song of Peace’ by Stanford, and ‘In Paradisum’ from Faure’s Requiem. Bob Chilcott’s anthem ‘So the day dawn for me’ was sung by the St. John’s Singers to whom he dedicated the anthem. The cathedral choir was conducted by David Halls and the St. John’s Singers by Steve Abbott. As John’s coffin was carried out of the cathedral John Challenger played ‘Transporte de Joie’ by Messiaen.

It was typical of John to leave his much loved cathedral accompanied by such a rousing and triumphant piece of music. He will be much missed.

The cathedral choir continue to sing 8 services each week, divided equally between the boy and girl choristers, with our wonderful lay vicars providing the lower voice support. Earlier this year they visited Piddlehinton giving a concert in aid of the parish church, and in July will visit St. Michael’s Church, Compton Chamberlayne, for another outreach concert.

In January the voice trials were held and four boys and girls will be joining as probationers in the autumn term.

During Holy Week the Choir performed ‘Seven Last words from the Cross’ by Sir James MacMillan, where they were joined by a professional string orchestra, and those present agreed it was a moving and poignant performance.

The 6-12 May was devoted to the music of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, celebrating his centenary, with an organ recital by John Challenger and a joint concert with the choir of St. Matthew’s Westminster. Music included some of Stanford’s best works and also of his pupils, such as Holst, Vaughan Williams, Ireland and Wood.

The choir now look forward to the Southern Cathedrals festival at Winchester in July.

Chris Barnard, Local Ambassador for Salisbury