MUSIC IN CHURCH

[Disclaimer: the writer has no access to written records of the chronological activities of the choir and the comings and goings of its principals – there are no records. The following narrative relies mainly on the recollections of the writer who joined the choir, aged 13, in 1953………so only as good as the memory of a 75-year old!]

GENERAL OVERVIEW

There is a long tradition of choral music in our Parish from well before the present church was opened in 1930. (The previous church had stood for 100 years). The major role of the choir is to provide music for the main church services, chiefly the 10.30 am Mass on Sundays, and extra services for festivals such as Easter and Christmas.

We also sing at services for special occasions such as Confirmations/First Communions, and Pilgrimage Masses. We take commissions to sing at weddings: and singers will also turn up for funerals in the church, without fee. The choir is self supporting and in theory, a 4-part choral group – though these days with reducing numbers we have only 2 males (basses) and no tenors – but the altos can be versatile and sometimes cover the tenor part.

Needless to say, much of the extensive SATB repertoire has had to be abandoned in favour of learning new more flexible arrangements better suited to the voices available. Having said that, for particular occasions we are able to call upon several musician friends who will provide augmentation so that we can we can put on something special.

Rehearsals generally take place in church on Tuesday evenings – although not every week – the conductor decides what is required from week to week. As with any other organisation the dynamics of achoir good group require the infusion of ‘new blood’ on a regular basis: we are always looking for new members both male and female. All that is required is enthusiasm and commitment and the ability to sing in tune. Few of the choristers ‘sight read’ so the ability to read music is NOT essential. Anyone interested in joining should come up into the choir gallery on a Sunday morning after 10.30am Mass and talk to our musical director, Angela Turner

PRINCIPALS AND PERSONALITIES

The ‘officers’ (if you like) are basically the Choir Director and the Organist. Over the years we have been blessed with a succession of masters and mistresses of their craft.

In 1935, the then Assistant Organist became the substantive holder of the post; he was John Aloysius (Jack) Dickinson: he held the post until 1978 when he died quite suddenly. He was awarded the Pope’s Benemerenti Medal in 1975. During his tenure (and when the writer joined in 1953) the Conductor was a Mr Reagan who left soon after, and over the next few years a succession of local musicians (including Billy Beasley, Kenneth Boardman, Derek Boardman and Eileen Tinley (nee Corcoran)) covered the position. Eventually in the early 1960s there arrived on the scene Joseph Terence (Terry) Rogan – a classics teacher at West Park School, St Helens and member of the prestigious BBC Northern Singers. He was a stern taskmaster who moulded the choir into something special. To the choir members it was called being ‘Terryfied’! As can be said of all the future ‘officers’ Terry composed many arrangements and original pieces for the choir – his ‘Hail Holy Queen’ began as a simple melody composed by former Parish Priest Canon F J Ripley; Terry’s treatment of it turned it into a most beautiful and singular 4-part motet. Canon Ripley entered the piece into a sacred music competition on Radio Merseyside many years ago now, and it won first place. Terry was awarded a Benemerenti Medal in 1989. Interestingly, Terry who hailed from Barrow, was taught to play piano by Mother Bertha of the Salesian Sisters at Brettargh Holt, near Sizergh Castle. Mother Bertha was a pupil of Liszt.

After the death of Jack Dickinson in 1978, we were indeed fortunate to secure as Organist the services of John Walton a local musician and graduate of the RNCM and later FLCM, FRCO. John has been a prolific arranger and composer of original works. He brought in two Assistant Organists, his pupil Carol Ann Worgan (now Wareing) and later Richard Lea from Wigan who had been a pupil of Noel Rawsthorne and organ scholar at The Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool. Around 1993 John resigned his post and later became Organist at Wigan Parish Church. He was succeeded by Richard Lea who, in turn, introduced two assistant organists – first Michael Kelsall who was trained at the RNCM and currently a church organist and director of Ormskirk Occasional Singers: and later David Scott-Thomas – who had been organ scholar at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. It was on account of David’s contacts that we provided the music on 2 or 3 occasions for Solemn High Mass according to the Latin Tridentine Rite at Corpus Christi Basilica in Miles Platting, Manchester. This was a special time for music in our parish, because Richard was keenly interested in promoting regular concerts in church – usually Wednesday evenings during the summer, including organ recitals featuring ‘local-grown’ talent as well as bringing in some class performers in all musical disciplines, and generally attracting good audiences. Richard was Director of Wigan Choral Society for a time and directs the Bolton chamber group, The Brixi Singers. He possesses a particularly fine talent for arranging – both choral and orchestral/brass.

During this time a choir member who was a qualified musician began to understudy and deputise for Terry Rogan, gradually settling into the job over the years. This was the much-loved Pauline Murphy, a local teacher. She had a very different style of management which suited the changing times – a very accessible personality. She also directed a popular ladies barbershop group.

In 1999 Richard Lea won the post of Organist at the Metropolitan Cathedral, and was succeeded by John Walton who decided to return: and following the very sad death of Pauline Murphy in 2002, Angela Turner a qualified musician and also a choir member and local teacher took the conductor’s baton in 2003. Angela has also considerable experience with brass bands. She is still choirmistress here and also heads up a small ladies group, ‘Topaz’, and directs The St Helens Singers.

In 2008, after some years in retirement and singing as an ordinary rank and file member of the choir, Terry Rogan died at the age of 84. And it was around about this time that John Walton left to take up a new position at Standish St Wilfrid’s Parish Church.

For the next year or so, David Scott -Thomas took over the job of Organist; he was also at this time Asst Organist at Blackburn Cathedral. His area of particular interest was 19/20 century composers of the French School. However, he had several paths in mind for the future including musical theatre, and soon moved on. In 2009 the post was advertised privately amongst the many local organists, and eventually we were lucky to secure the services of Carol Ann Wareing ALCM, ARCO, LRAM who is still with us. Carol is well-known locally as recitalist; and she accompanies Standish Chorale, Wigan Choral Society and the chamber choir, ‘Exsultate’. Currently, Angela and Carol make up a very skilful composing/arranging and management team.

To complete this section it should be mentioned that as Carol’s weekdays are taken up with teaching in educational establishments, she is not generally available for funerals. The Organist usually filling these commissions is a long-established and well regarded local musician Jim Archer who, although not “on the staff’ is like an honorary member of our choir community. Jim has set up and directs a chamber choir, ‘Cantique’ and also a local Community Choir, ‘Spectrum’.

THE CHURCH ORGAN

This magnificent instrument built by Stalhuth of Aachen in Germany was once housed in the previous church building on this site. It was rebuilt by Haupt of Aachen in the 1920’s, and again by John Lifton in 1991. It was further refurbished around 2010.

A leading article in ‘The Organ’ quarterly review of April 1969 said: “This church contains an organ which is one of the musical treasures of England”.
For the aficionados……. the specification of the church organ is as follows:-
SWELL Harmonic Flute 8
Quintaton 8
Gamba 8
Voix Celeste 8
Geigen Principal 4
Piccolo 2
Sesquialtera 2 ranks
Clarinet 8
Oboe 8
GREAT Salicional 16
Bourdon 16
Gedacht 8
Fugara 8
Open Diapason 8
Rohr Flute 4
Principal 4
Mixture 3 ranks
Trumpet 8
PEDAL Sub Bass 16
Open Diapason 16
Gedacht 8
Principal 8
Fifteenth 4
Trombone 16
COUPLERS AND ACCESSORIES
Swell Octave Swell to Pedal
Swell Sub Octave Great Super Octave
Swell to Great 16 Great to Pedal
Swell to Great 8 Tremulant to Swell
Swell to Great 4

SOME NOTABLE ACTIVITIES AND EVENTS

During the earlier years of my association with the choir, old style 4-part Latin Masses were sung on a regular basis. These were very rewarding to sing for the composition of the choir at that time. As times changed and during the 1980s John Walton set up an offshoot group made up of the church choir augmented by several singers from surrounding parishes and choirs – an inter-denominational group called The Arrowsmith Singers. This was instrumental in keeping the church choir together, properly exercised and functioning well as a singing group and at the same time providing entertainment of a lighter nature with many concerts being performed over the years. (Predictably, with ageing and the loss chiefly of male voices the group faded during the early 2000s.)

After Richard Lea ‘inherited’ the Arrowsmith Singers the group embarked on several ‘extra-mural’ activities – and we became associated with a musician/teacher originally from Huyton, who was based at Swanbourne House prep school in Buckinghamshire (and later at Stonyhurst and currently Director of Music at Ampleforth – St Martins); he is Vincent Conyngham BA, MA, BMus, FTCL,LTCL, ALCM. It was with Vincent’s boys choir that we provided the music for services at several churches and cathedrals including Westminster, Ripon, York and Durham (where we provided music for a full week of services). We also went to Paris with the boys from Swanbourne in 1996 and performed in La Trinité, St.Joseph’s Catholic Church and L’église Americaine a Paris.

In 1998 and 1999 an augmented Arrowsmith Singers led by Richard Lea, went on singing trips to Germany – to Thuringia (based in Erfurt), then to the Rhineland Palatinate (based in Pirmasens) and back to Erfurt again in 2001. These were memorable experiences especially as the former GDR had only recently united with West Germany.

Other musical events include two live radio broadcasts of Sunday morning Mass. The first was on the Feast of All Saints, 1987 when inter alia we sang Terry Rogan’s ‘Hail Holy Queen’ and the children sang ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ from ‘The Holy Boy’ by David Palmer. The second occasion was on the Feast of the Epiphany in 1996 when we sang Terry’s atmospheric arrangement of ‘We Three Kings’, and ‘The Shepherd’s Farewell’ from ‘The Childhood of Christ’ by Berlioz. On both occasions Terry’s settings of the Psalm were used.

In October of 2013 we recorded two sessions of BBCTV Songs of Praise together with a churchful of choristers and singers from all around. One session was broadcast during that Advent, with the other during April of 2014.

The foregoing narrative constitutes a highly condensed version of my recollections over the past 63 years -errors and omissions fervently excepted.

Katie Preston January 2016