Herefordshire People: Hereford Cathedral - The Choir Goes On Tour..

PUBLISHED: 17:19 09 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:38 20 February 2013

Choir On Tour

Choir On Tour

There has been a choir at Hereford Cathedral for at least 750 years. Now it has its own blog. Glyn Morgan, Secretary of the Cathedral Perpetual Trust and tour manager, reports to Hilary Engel on the choir's recent tour of the United States.

Friday October 24

Some rather bleary-eyed choristers and lay clerks climbed aboard the bus at 5.30 am in Hereford for the start of this year's tour. Some eighteen hours later we arrived at St Thomas' Church, Whitemarsh, in Philadelphia. Maybe it was because we didn't have those little screens in the back of the seat in front to play games on that the flight seemed even longer than nine hours. We met our delightful hosts, who are all very welcoming.

The choir of Hereford Cathedral is widely recognised as world class. It broadcasts frequently on national radio and television, and has made several recordings. It plays an important part each year in the Three Choirs Festival. Over the past six years it has toured in Germany, Holland and Ireland, and four times in the United States - most recently at the end of October.

Glyn Morgan was in charge of the complex business of organising the tour, taking 17 choristers aged between 8 and 14, nine lay clerks, the organist and director of music, Geraint Bowen, assistant organist, organ scholar and a 'pastoral support team' of three to five destinations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Massachusetts.

"For some of the children it was the first time they had travelled without their parents," says Glyn. "But it's a big growing up experience. We rarely have any problems with homesickness: it's often harder for the parents who are left behind. The boys create their own security blanket."

"It must be the same with any group travelling together - a sports team, or an orchestra: it becomes its own family. You are sub-consciously aware of other people's needs, and the members look after each other."

"It was an incredibly exciting time to be in the US," says Glyn, "with not only the historic presidential election coming up, but also the baseball World Series in full swing."

Saturday October 25, Whitemarsh, PA.

An appreciative audience heard our first concert this evening. It all went very well, even though we were all feeling the jet lag and tried to ignore the fact that the concert finished at 2 am UK time ...

A good number of people came, despite the fact that Philadelphia's baseball team have reached the final of the World Series (game 3 of a potential 7 was played tonight) and some very inclement weather. After the concert the rector of St Thomas's was presented with a copy of the Mappa Mundi.

"We met quite a few people who, although they had travelled a lot, had never heard of Hereford," says Glyn. "They promised they would come and visit us on their next trip. We often get people turning up at the cathedral and saying, 'We first heard the choir when you were touring California', or wherever."

"Our hosts were amazingly generous. The boys usually stay with families who have children of a similar age, often choir members themselves. It was wonderful hearing our boys babbling about where they were staying, the wonderful hamburgers they'd had for supper, or how they'd played baseball, or gone swimming. It's a fantastic experience for them."

"But one of the best things about a tour is that it helps to develop a team spirit in the choir. Normally their routine is so intense that there isn't time to relax together and get to know each other well."

Every week during term time the choir sings eight choral services - Evensong on every day except Wednesday, and two services on Sunday mornings. They rehearse for fifty minutes every weekday before school starts, and then again after lessons and before Evensong at 5.30. On Sundays they are working from 9 to 5.

The schedule of the tour was also fairly demanding: five concerts and four services in the space of a week.

"From a musical point of view," says Geraint Bowen, "one of the interesting things about touring is that the choir gets to perform the same music night after night. For example, they did Durufl's Requiem five times in a week. When they're at home at the cathedral it's usually a different repertoire every night. But the repetition on tour gives them a chance to improve and develop a performance."

The choristers were allowed one day off, when they went sight-seeing in Philadelphia.

We visited the Comcast Tower, the tallest building in Philadelphia. Tradition had it that the local baseball team would never win the World Series if any building was built higher than the William Penn building, so a small statue of Penn was placed on top of the tower to keep his statue as the highest point in the city.

We then visited Macy's department store, which contains the world's largest playable organ. Covering a full three floors, it was quite a sight. A short recital was given at midday, and a few of us couldn't help wondering what it would sound like if Dr Massey [Organist of Hereford Cathedral 1974-2001] could get his hands on it.

After a trip to the Liberty Bell, which is near the site where the Declaration of Independence took place, the boys met up with the choristers from Bryn Mawr for a game of football. The lay clerks, meanwhile, went to one of the many local art galleries (yeah, right). The evening brought some very wet weather, and the World Series game was rained off, with the Phillies needing one more victory to clinch the title.

"The main point of a tour," says Glyn, "is to share fellowship and ministry and music with our hosts. We definitely come back feeling that we have made new friends - for the choir, and the Cathedral, and for Herefordshire."

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