History of the choir
A brief history of the choir written by Mike Benford -Miller
The choir was established in 1968 by the new Vicar of St Thomas’, Revd. Robin Phillips, and the organist Roy Taylor. It is an integral part of the family of the church, enthusiastically supported by the congregation and the vicar, Revd Tracy Ward.
Since 1981 the choir has been led by a number of organists and Directors including Susanne Bailey, Duncan Eyre, Peter Harle, Marc Hall, Jonathan Lo, Andrew Dean and Dr Tom Howling.
Peter Harle was the organist and choir master for 21 years. He encouraged the development of the trebles’ vocal skills, and their knowledge of repertoire leading to the examinations and awards of the Royal School of Church Music. He introduced the choir to singing at a number of Cathedrals including Durham, Wells, Lincoln and St David’s, Wales. The choir was often accompanied by Reg Holmes, Andrew Dean and from time to time Matthew Owens.
Peter also arranged concert tours to France on a biennial basis for the trebles and young adults. They were accompanied by John Wilson, Fellow of the Royal Northern College of Music and by a youth orchestra drawn from the RNCM Junior School. John continues to have a strong connection with the choir.
Following Peter’s retirement in 2005, Marc Hall was appointed Director of Music. Marc was a chorister and graduate of the RNCM. His enthusiasm, commitment and drive were rewarded with an increase in numbers as well as a development of the range and quality of the choir. He continued the tradition of tours by taking the choir, including for the first time adults, to Belgium and the Black Forest. At the end of Marc’s leadership, he established the choir’s pre-Christmas weekend rehearsals at Fort Belan in North Wales.
Jonathan Lo was appointed Director in 2010. He organised St Thomas’ Music Festival in 2011, which included a vocal masterclass and recital by lby Nataliya Kompaiyets-Jouri, soprano, accompanied by John Wilson, a choral concert by the church choir with Marco Bellasi and Kristine Healy accompanied by Michael Wynne. Jonny led the choir in residencies at Worcester, St David’s and Ripon Cathedrals and at Hexham Abbey. In 2015, accompanied by Andrew Dean, the choir returned on a tour to Belgium, singing in Brussels, Ghent and Ypres Cathedrals, and again singing at the moving Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate.
The last three years have seen Andrew Dean as Director of Music followed by Dr Tom Howling. Tom, a member of the choir for about 12 years, has considerable experience from singing as a chorister, as a student at university and subsequently in church choirs. Andrew has been associated with St Thomas’ for almost 30 years. As a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists he performs regularly in the UK and Europe. In August 2017 the choir was in residence at Winchester Cathedral accompanied on the organ by John LeGrove. The following year the PCC supported the permanent appointment of a two-person team with Andrew initially as Organist and Tom as the Director of Music. Additional help was provided by two members of the choir, Ben Collyer and Elsa Shah, both of whom subsequently left to take up organ scholarships at Oxford University. John LeGrove, Will Jeys, an organ scholar, and James Hibbert, now Director of Music at St George’s Stockport, also assisted. Subsequently John LeGrove was appointed Organist. John is a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists and on the staff of Chetham’s School of Music. In 2018 the choir was in residence in Rochester Cathedral and as a result of this was invited to sing evensong at Westminster Abbey in July 2019. Over 70 people, choir and congregation, made the journey to London. It was a great honour and an amazing and memorable experience. The following month the choir was in residence in Lichfield Cathedral.
Plans are in place for choir tours to Truro Cathedral in 2020 and to Hereford Cathedral in 2021.
The RSCM Voice for Life training scheme continues to be offered to choristers. Over recent years St Thomas’s has had seven choristers gain their RSCM Gold Award.
A more detailed Choir history can be obtained from Michael Benford-Miller or from the Parish Office.
Mikebenfordmiller1@virginmedia.com 28th October 2019