As we begin the season of Advent, our thoughts perhaps turn to the Christmas holidays. Spare a thought, then, for our Choristers, who are about to begin one of their two busiest periods of the year. They work tremendously hard and are a dedicated and highly-skilled bunch of young professionals: for their hard work, sacrifices, training, dedication and commitment they receive the finest musical training that there is, and become part of a unique and very special family that, in Exeter’s case, has been going since 1179. I am delighted that our Chorister Tutor and Assistant Director of Music, Mr Sean Fitzpatrick, is this week’s Guest Blogger. Read below his thoughts about the joys and challenges of the Chorister Life over the Christmas period.
Since arriving here at ECS in September 2016, I have been party to a great many amazing and inspirational triumphs on the part of our pupils. I can say without exaggeration that I have seen the very best of sportsmanship, the very highest level of academic achievement, and the most beautiful and enriching musical and dramatic performances in that time. I often ponder on these experiences and wonder if I have seen it all. And yet, when musing on the achievements, the musical progress, and the vast variety of concerts and shows, I am still surprised on an almost daily basis at what fantastic feats our pupils are capable of. Perhaps unsurprisingly in my role, this is often on the part of the Choristers.
The pupils of ECS are preparing in this Advent season for the celebration marking Christ’s birth, and looking forward to the culmination of the Michaelmas term in the annual ECS Carol Service in the Cathedral next Friday, before embarking on a very well-deserved break. But whilst most of the pupils are beginning a process of winding down, our Choristers are just getting started, and revving up for the period that a member of the Cathedral Clergy recently described as “The Monster of Christmas.”
On Saturday, all our boy and girl Choristers sang at the Christingle Service in the cathedral along with some 40 perspective children who attended the “Be a Chorister for a Day” event. This was followed on Sunday by the normal round of Eucharist duties in the morning which was crowned by the utterly astonishing “Advent Procession” service in the evening. This service not only involved a surprising amount of sung music, but a great deal of concentration as folders full of music books and loose pieces of paper in one hand had to be balanced with a lit candle in the other—no easy task when you are walking around a building in near total darkness whilst singing literally thousands of notes and wearing long and loose choir robes! Normal Evensong duties, of course, followed on Monday and Tuesday. Thursday night saw the first of the Choir’s Christmas Concerts— two hours of sublime sacred and secular Christmas favourites to a packed Cathedral; and tomorrow night they have to do it all over again! This Sunday sees the Choristers rehearsing throughout the day before singing one of the greatest and most challenging large choral works; Handel’s two-and-a-half hour long epic oratorio “Messiah” accompanied by a full orchestra and soloists. The performance, by the way, is in the Cathedral this Sunday 9th beginning at 2.30pm with tickets available from the Exeter Cathedral website. I strongly recommend attending if you can make it.
Whilst considering everything that I have described, remember to consider that on top of this the Choristers rehearse most mornings and still have their fully inclusive school timetable to fulfil! I think it would be hard for many to disagree that what the Choristers will have achieved in this one week alone is nothing short of inspirational. But it doesn’t end there.
On December 22nd, whilst most other pupils probably have rest and relaxation (and presents!) on their minds, our Choristers will be diligently returning to the Cathedral to rehearse and to sing their round of Christmas services. These services include one of the biggest services in the Cathedral calendar—the “Grandisson Service of Nine Lessons and Carols” on Christmas Eve, as well as not just one or two, but three services on Christmas Day itself.
I genuinely believe it goes without saying that the hard work and commitment of these young people and what they achieve is a continuous source of awe and wonder. I am not a parent, but I think I can be forgiven for conjecturing that most parents would agree that such heavy commitments for the Choristers mean equally heavy commitments for their parents, without whose support, patience and perseverance none of this would be possible. Nor would it be possible without the staff that support them, including the teaching, boarding and catering staff in school, the Department of Liturgy and Music in the cathedral, and the tireless work of the (voluntary) choir chaperones. To all of these people and to the Choristers themselves, I would like to say a collective “thank-you” for the awe and wonder you bring to me, and to the life of the ECS family and wider community. I look forward to seeing many of you at the Cathedral services over the festive period and always remember, if you are ever in need of some inspiration, look no further than the boy and girl Choristers of Exeter Cathedral Choir.
Assistant Director of Music and Chorister Tutor