Exeter, Lincoln, Gloucester, Chichester, St Albans…. these are some of the cathedrals I've sung at with Thames Philharmonic Choir over the last 25 years. It's been a wonderful experience and a real privilege to sing in such magnificent buildings steeped in so much history, and whose walls I imagine imbued with prayer and praise.
While cathedral choirs take a well-earned rest for the summer, other choirs have the opportunity to sing at the services in their place. We started in 1994, when 37 Choir members with Artistic Director John Bate went to Ripon Cathedral, and we have been visiting different cathedrals around the country each summer ever since.
That visit to Ripon felt like a first foray into unchartered waters. It was not necessarily the music that posed such a challenge – although the singing of psalms presented obstacles for some Choir members who weren't used to them – but the formality of cathedral services which demanded great attention to detail. Uplifting, exciting and moving as it all was, we came away that first year feeling grateful for having survived without mishap!
Our accommodation in those early days was often in student quarters at the local universities. It helped keep costs down and choir
members could share together. Today most universities have cosy en-suite rooms and modern facilities in their kitchens, but back in the '90s some members were sharing rooms with bunk beds!
We always work to busy schedules, rehearsing throughout the day in the music schools and then in the cathedral itself with the organ.
Thankfully, much of the music is more familiar now. Although we take our singing very seriously, we do have a lot of fun and laughter in between times and there have been memorable moments: seagulls keeping us all awake, or fire alarms going off in the middle of the night! We always meet for a meal together on the day of arrival, usually a Thursday and one of the regular pleasures of our trips is to have a guided tour of the cathedral we're visiting.
This July we all struggled with the soaring heat levels as we travelled to Winchester to sing in one of the largest cathedrals in Europe with the greatest overall length of any Gothic cathedral. This was to be our last residency singing with John Bate, who founded the choir in 1964 and has conducted it ever since! He chose some wonderful music for us to sing, which included his own composition of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, as well as his Preces and Responses. It was a very emotional time for many of us, but
I believe we did justice to the music, and to John.
These long weekends of intense singing of beautiful and uplifting music fill me with much joy and peace, and I feel doubly blessed to share it all with like-minded singers in such magnificent surroundings.
Helen Sadler, Choir member since 1965.