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Youth Sing Praises To God

by glynch — last modified 06 Oct, 2017 11:21 AM

Teenage singers play key role in ensuring the Anglican Choral Tradition thrives in the Diocese

“Sing praises to God, sing praises;  sing praises to our King, sing praises.
                For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.” Psalm 47:6-7


When people from other churches, and especially from other countries, think about the Church of England, the first thought that enters their mind is often a robed choir singing transcendent choral music.

As musical tastes have shifted over the past half-century or so, many perceive that this an image of a world now in terminal decline. Yet, the tremendous success of TV programmes like Gareth Malone’s The Choir series and Last Choir Standing demonstrates that a group of human voices singing in harmony retains a popularity and a power to move which few other musical styles can match.

The Anglican choral tradition still thrives in the Diocese of Salisbury, and in parishes across two counties, a new generation of passionately committed musicians is taking up the musical baton. Singers in their teens, and even younger, are key to maintaining a thriving choral tradition in our parish churches, putting in many hours of work to become highly skilled choristers at a young age.

Rachael Ibbetson is Head Chorister at St John the Baptist Church, Devizes.  The 16 year-old is the youngest of four children, all of whom have been through the choir’s ranks as they have grown up, so she has long been used to being surrounded by church and choir.

“It was only natural to join the choir at St John’s when I was old enough,” says Rachael.  “I remember sitting in on a practice just before my eighth birthday and thinking, ‘I can’t wait to be a part of this!’”

The chance to make new friends is a particular attraction for Rachael, as is that unique feeling of togetherness, even with complete strangers, that choral singing produces.

“I love the feeling of unity within the choir”, Rachel continued, “Working with both adults and children, we get a really diverse group of people but, somehow, when we are put together with sheets of music in our hands, we mix and work in harmony as one. That’s what I love, making music with people – sometimes strangers – and yet we manage to make it work and sound good!”

Rachael is in church for choir practice on a Friday night, ahead of the service each Sunday morning.  The thrilling feeling of offering music to the glory of God every week has given her the opportunity to explore more about her own faith and sing in some awe-inspiring buildings.

“The presence of God is obvious,” she goes on to say.  “I can tell you honestly, it is a privilege to lead the worship here, and visiting other churches and cathedrals has been very rewarding”.

Nor is Rachel’s singing just about the pleasure of music-making, but an expression of her Christian faith. “I was encouraged to go to confirmation classes and have been given so many opportunities to further my understanding of Christianity by becoming an active member of our society.  I have met people who will remain my friends for life.”

Rachael also enjoys the lighter side of music and is regularly seen on the stage in local amateur theatre productions.  “I can’t really remember life without choir or music; it has always been such a massive part of me,” she concludes.  “It’s impossible to imagine my future without singing in a choir.”

Rachael is currently studying for A-Levels, including in Music and Theatre Studies , and both will no doubt continue to feature highly on her agenda as she prepares for life beyond.

Marcus Stacey

Another is dedicated teen musician whose choral music undergirds a committed Christian faith is Marcus Stacey, head chorister at St Mary the Virgin in Bishop’s Cannings.

Marcus also had a very youthful introduction to the world of choral music. “I joined Bishop’s Cannings choir when I was 9 years old”, he says, “in January 2008.  I have always enjoyed singing and when we were in the church for a Christingle Service I decided that I would like to join the choir.  After the service I had a chat with Alan Stonell and the rest is history!

“My family, especially my grandparents have always encouraged me to attend church so when I said I wanted to join the choir I had their full support.”

I wonder did he find it strange to be singing with a mostly adult group from such a young age, but Marcus says that it wasn’t. “I have always found the congregation to be very friendly and really supportive”, he reports, “and Alan has been inspirational and has always been willing to give me extra time when I have needed it.

“It has been a huge commitment but I can honestly say that coming into the church and belonging to the choir feels like being part of a large family.  My sister, Jasmine, joined the choir with me and my Mum joined about 18 months later. I was confirmed four years ago and am now Head Chorister and have also becoming a server. The RSCM medal scheme has also given me the incentive to progress and keep going.”

Asked on how his singing relates to Christian faith, Marcus unconsciously quotes St Augustine, saying, “I feel that singing about God and praising God is like praying twice.

“I am sure that singing and attending church will always be a part of my life – wherever that takes me.  The best thing about belonging to our choir is the sense of belonging and being part of a really friendly environment.”

As well as singing, Marcus’ commitment to Christianity gave him an ambition to be a communion assistant and serve the chalice, which he now has the Bishop’s permission to do.

Most choirs could do with more young voices, not just young people of school age, but also more singers in their twenties and thirties. Marcus feels that family support is key.

“Many choirs I feel it’s quite difficult to know how to encourage young people to join the choir as often it’s the lack of support from parents who don’t feel they can make the commitment. Our Choir Master goes into local schools and talks to the young children about the choir and this has been very successful in bringing in more young members.”

We can only pray that more young people will take up the challenge of keeping the unique and distinctive Anglican Choral tradition thriving.

Learn new skills and ideas about using music in worship with the Salisbury Diocesan Certificate in Church Music, a distance learning course. Full details are here.

The Royal School of Church Music's Voice for Life training scheme provides a framework for singers to develop their vocal skills. Their Church Music Skills course provides development for organists, music directors and cantors.

The Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough has a series of useful training videos on hymn playing for organists and choral singing in the Eucharist in the Anglican Tradition.

This is an extended version of an article which appeared in Grapevine, 2014 No. 8. Click this link to subscribe to Grapevine.

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