Tuesday, 1 January 2019

2018. A Review.

Happy New Year!

Apologies in advance for the length of this musing, but I did threaten to write a review of the year a while ago, and unlike other organisations who insist on doing this sort of thing whilst we're still only halfway through December, decided to actually wait until 2018 was officially over!

Let's start at (almost) the very beginning. A very good place to start!

In January for the Epiphany weekend, I sang with the excellent St Austin's parish choir from Wakefield for an Extraordinary Form Mass in Wakefield, and then on the Sunday, joined them again to sing an Ordinary Form Solemn Mass in Leeds Cathedral, the first of a few visits to my old musical hunting-ground of the year. Later that month, a small group of Rudgates met in York to sing an Ordinariate Use Mass at our base (which is also now the base of the York Ordinariate Mission) in St Mary's Church, Bishophill Junior.

February brought me back to St Austin's for an EF Solemn Mass for the Purification of the BVM (Candlemas) and later on, for the Parish Mass of Ash Wednesday. For the first weekend of Lent I was in Ripon Cathedral singing the choral services there with the Middlesbrough Cathedral Consort. At the end of the month, I was over in Manchester visiting the new home of the Manchester Ordinariate Mission, singing a Pontifical Mass and then having lunch with their wonderful priest (Fr. Andrew Starkie) and his family and the Ordinary (Mgr. Keith Newton) too.

Catholic readers, especially those who prefer traditional Forms, will know that you can request a Requiem Mass in the Traditional Latin Rite for your funeral. This was so for the late Frank Marshall and so in early March, (being a rare example of an experienced singer who can handle the entire Officium Defunctorum by himself without assistance from anyone else) I journeyed to the small Catholic church of St Mary & St Joseph in Hedon in the East Riding of Yorkshire to sing Frank's Requiem. Later in the month I was back at St Austin's in Wakefield helping out with the arrangements for (and singing naturally!) Extraordinary Form Vespers of Passion Sunday with the added complication of a commemoration of St Joseph, whose Feast Day was the day afterwards. Someone was heard to remark to the clergy afterwards “can we have this every week?” Now that's the kind of feedback I like. :-)

Digressing slightly, a big pastime of mine is visiting churches, cathedrals and other places of historical interest. One of the items on my own personal “bucket list” is to visit all the Catholic & Anglican cathedrals in England & Wales (others too on an ad-hoc basis) and I finally ticked Guildford off the list leaving me with what I thought was just Truro to do. I've now discovered that there's a Catholic cathedral in Aldershot where the Bishop of HM Armed Forces is based, and a Syro-Malabar (Indian) cathedral in Preston, so I've still some way to go before the list is complete!

Also in March was my first trip up to Ushaw College just outside Durham. Many of you will know that I'm a paid-up 'Friend of Ushaw' and as such, am supposed to hear in advance of special occasions and services (this was the St Cuthbert's Day Mass) I shall expand on my thoughts about their poor publicity when it comes to actual services (as opposed to other Events/Concerts/recitals etc which are well advertised on their website) as I go on through the year – stay tuned! Needless to say, for such an important occasion as this, I only got to hear about it with less than 48 hrs notice, which I mentioned in passing to the Bishop-elect (now Bishop) of Lancaster who was there along with most of the Hierarchy of the Northern Province.

I do like to listen to other choirs (preferably in a liturgical setting) as well as singing myself, and towards the end of March was able to hear the excellent Sunderland-based Westland Singers, and the equally excellent Clerkes of All Saints back in Yorkshire.

After Easter, I joined up again with St Austin's for their mini-tour of Norfolk, which consisted of a well-received recital in the delightful church of St Joseph the Worker in Sheringham, followed by Solemn Mass of the 2nd Sunday of Easter in the Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Norwich. Later on that month, I was back in Leeds Cathedral, again with St Austin's for a recital during one of the regular series of 'Nightfever' events. Nothing to do with the Bee Gees I assure you! To find out more about it, just click on this link.

One of the highlights of the year for me was in May, with what is believed to be the first ever Pontifical Catholic Mass (in any Form or Rite) to take place in St Mary's, Bishophill. Nothing is known about what took place before the Reformation, but it's highly unlikely that a Bishop would have visited the place – if anyone reading this knows for sure, do please get in touch! This was on behalf of the York Ordinariate Mission, and took months to plan for! It was a full Rudgate Choral Service (the first of the year) and I'd planned it to be a Tallis-fest with lip-service being paid to other composers. :-) What particularly pleased me was that we had enough people in the main choir to actually have the Schola set up as an entirely separate group and sing the Proper of the Mass from the stalls in the Sanctuary. Being an Ordinariate Mass, you might expect the Proper to be sung in English from the English Gradual, but I prefer my own patrimony and, whenever possible, use the full Proper from the Graduale Romanum! If you ever go to a sung Ordinariate Use Mass in York in the future, you know what you're going to get from me. ;-)

Later in May, along with regular parters-in-crime Michael and Lloyd (more about Lloyd later) we went on one of our fairly regular European Road Trips, slightly conservative this time around with only 4 countries (Slovenia, Austria, Italy and Croatia) being visited. A wonderful time with unseasonably hot weather and fermented 'fruit juice' of many varieties including Slovenian cider. You'll have to believe me on this as I disposed of all the evidence whilst I was there! One lesson I learned from this particular trip is that I'm NEVER getting into a small boat again!

In June, I was back with St Austin's to sing for a Solemn EF Mass at St Ignatius' Church in Ossett. Later that month I made one of my semi-regular trips up to my own Diocesan Cathedral in Middlesbrough to sing Vespers with the Cathedral Consort. I also managed to catch up with another choir I like to listen to whenever I can, Caelestis, the student-based and led choir who sing on Sunday evenings at St Lawrence's church in York. Highlight of the year for some I'm sure was their superb liturgical performance of Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor.

At the end of June, I was in Bordeaux on the afore-mentioned Lloyd's stag do. A fairly restrained affair considering what you see in York most weekends, but it was still accompanied by ample quantities of excellent local food and (particularly) drink! A particular highlight of this trip was of 3 of us attending Sunday Vespers in the church of St Eloi and the startled look on the faces of the Schola (akin to rabbits being caught in car headlights – and not the first time I've observed this in France) You can imagine the conversation they were having amongst themselves along the lines of “Mon Dieu, there are people in the congregation who actually know what they're doing!” One of the singers actually walked down the church and presented me with a copy of their choir-book opened at the pages they were using. :-)

July was the one month of the year I think when I didn't have any 'official' singing to do outside of one Ordinariate-Use Mass in York and Compline which continued more or less weekly throughout the year sung by a group of Rudgates and friends, so I was able to take in some other services and events elsewhere.

One of these, at Ushaw College, annoyed me intensely. Billed as Gregorian Chant Vespers, whilst sung well, it turned out to be (as far as I'm concerned) an arty-farty reconstruction/recital which had been made up for that particular performance. It *was* sung well mind, but to call it Vespers was to my mind a great deception, being that it was sung in a Catholic chapel. It was disturbing enough to have the antiphons sung in Latin from the Roman Breviary but the psalms sung in English from the Book of Common Prayer! It got worse. There were readings, two of them, from the Gospel of James – not even officially sanctioned scripture! There were other things included to make it look like an actual service, which it couldn't possibly have been. I got the feeling that is was designed to look like a service and that no-one would be able to tell that it wasn't – well I certainly could! I'd go so far as to say that this kind of performance (albeit well sung) shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a Catholic place of worship, or indeed an Anglican church/chapel too for that matter.

What I find particularly upsetting about this, is that the Rudgates having sung Gregorian chant Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary in October 2017 (the real deal, not an artificial reconstruction!) hadn't been invited back to Ushaw despite initially positive email correspondence suggesting that we could possibly have a minor role in singing a service sometime in 2018 as part of the 450th Anniversary celebrations of the original founding of the College. Despite speaking to one of the event organisers, as well as a couple of follow-up emails and also contact via their social media page we heard nothing else about it. To say that I'm disappointed is the understatement of the year so far!

On a more positive note, the arrival of August meant the wedding of the year, that of Lloyd and his lovely wife, Katie, in Hexham. Despite 11th hour planning trying to find (successfully) extra singers for the main choir as well as a sub-deacon for the Nuptial Mass, everything proceeded without a hitch. On the day itself, I had three different 'hats' to wear being one of the Ushers, the Sound & Video Technician and also Director of the Schola, complete with costume change from Ushers Morning dress for before the service and the Wedding itself, into choir robes for the Nuptial Mass which followed, and then back into Morning dress for the reception! A lovely time in Northumberland, marred (only slightly) by the torrential rain on the Saturday night which obscured what would have been a wonderful sighting of the Perseid meteor shower.

The weekend after the wedding took me to Derby, where I was part of the Eldon Singers who sang all the cathedral services that weekend. The Eldon Singers are a group who come together each year to sing in a cathedral (Anglican, so far) during the month of August. Under the direction of Tim Knight, who is a very fine fellow – despite what he jokingly calls me from time to time (!) the weekend consists of high quality singing, good food, drink and company, and is well worth going to either as a singer, or just to support those who are singing. On top of all that my overnight accommodation was in a Real Ale/Cider pub just a few hundred yards away from Derby Cathedral. :-D

To finish August off, I had 3 different services in three different locations across Northern England over the Bank Holiday weekend. First off was singing Vespers from the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary in St Mary's Bishophill as part of the Yorkshire Medieval Churches Festival in conjunction with Church Explorers. This is an event that I've supported for two or three years now, and long may it continue. Event two, was driving over to Blackburn Cathedral (via Manchester) to sing Evensong with the Northern Cathedral Consort, and finally, back on the right side of the Pennines, reprising BVM Vespers in Castle Howard Chapel. I'm willing to bet that it's (probably) the first ever time that a Catholic Office has been sung there!

September brought me back to St Austin's in Wakefield for the wedding of one of the choir members Thomas and his wife Rosalind, swiftly followed the following weekend by the first Ordinariate Use High Mass to take place in Leeds Cathedral, for which the Rudgates provided 4 singers to sing Merbecke, the Proper and some quality hymns. I was told afterwards that the standard of singing (aided by a very enthusiastic congregation) was so good that nobody had realised that we didn't have an organist...

Then it was off to Manchester on the 23rd to sing Choral Evensong followed by Benediction with the community there in honour of Our Lady of Walsingham. The party which followed in the newly refurbished church hall was super. Plenty of food & drink, a band hired for the occasion and also being treated to a 'clerical' rendition of some classic Bob Dylan songs. I'm sure there'll be at least one video of 'the evidence' floating around the cybersphere somewhere, so go and look for it! A truly wonderful community and if I lived in the north Manchester area, I wouldn't go anywhere else.

At the end of September, Michaelmas day dawned, and despite having been in our calendar for ages, too many singers not being available, or pulling out at the last minute meant a complete change of programme for the Rudgate's Sung Mass in Wakefield. Fortunately I had a Plan 'B'. (Plan 'B' is always very useful to have – don't leave home without one!) and had prepared a chant only alternative which saved the day. I know one or two people were disappointed (as was I) at the lack of a full polyphonic Rudgate turnout, but in the end the quality didn't suffer apart from one minor blip during the Gloria of the mass which changed key, Eurovision style, towards the end!

In October, a few of the Rudgates were back in Manchester again to sing Byrd's Mass for 3 voices for the Patronal feast of St Margaret Mary Alacoque – another splendid evening. I sang the Proper for this Mass from the Plainchant Gradual, which is essentially based on the Graduale Romanum, but sung in English. A very weird experience as most of the music was familiar with just a few minor tweaks here & there, the text and subsequent word pointing was very different. It's a good exercise to do this occasionally (where circumstances permit) as it definitely keeps you on your toes..

At the end of October, I was at Ampleforth Abbey, swapping one chant (Gregorian) for another (Carpatho-Rusyn) for the bi-annual Orthodox Liturgy that takes place there. For some time now, I've gone specifically to chant the Epistle while the rest of the Liturgy is fully choral, provided by local Ryedale choirs under the Direction of the Monastic choir master Fr Alexander, who has (directly & indirectly) taught me so much about Gregorian Chant. As for the Carpatho-Rusyn, I have my Ukrainian friends to thank for that. I'm obviously doing something right, because immediately after this service, I was booked for the next one which takes place later this month on the 26th January (The Saturday during the octave of Christian Unity.) Another good reason for going is that the after-service sherry and subsequent lunch is legendary!

If you're Catholic, you'll know that November is the month of the Holy Souls, and on the 2nd, All Souls' Day, I was in Wakefield singing a Solemn EF Requiem Mass with St Austin's choir. Gregorian chant and Victoria's Requiem for 4 voices. The following day, I was back at Ushaw College, for the corner-stone event of their 450th anniversary celebrations. Now, for such an important event, whose Principal Celebrant was no less then the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, you'd have thought there would be a blaze of advance publicity on their website and beyond wouldn't you? Wrong! At less than 48 hours notice before said event, I did at least get an email telling me it was happening, which was just enough time for me to re-arrange my plans for the 3rd of November. I had a very good conversation about this with my own Bishop (+Middlesbrough) who was astonished, as it had been in his diary for months! And this, don't forget, comes to you from a paid-up Friend of Ushaw, who at the very least, should be receiving advance notice of important events such as these. Well, it simply isn't happening! The only services I saw outside of the weekly said Mass given proper publicity were the Remembrance Service and Carol Services in December. I'm coming around to the opinion that the organisers would like to turn it into just another Ecclesiastical Theme Park. If anyone from Ushaw College sees this and would like to contact me to reassure me that this is not the case, I'd be delighted to hear from them.

Mini-rant over, on Remembrance Day itself (the centenary of the Armistice of course) I was back in Bishophill Jnr, but this time listening to a Concert of Remembrance performed by the Heritage Singers directed by Tim Knight, with readings about some of the local people from that area of York who died during the conflict, including the last known fatality of the war who was killed just 90 minutes before the ceasefire. A very sobering experience and a lovely concert. The Heritage Singers, are, like the Rudgates, a choir whose primary focus is liturgical performance, and so are very dear to my heart. Tim reminded me afterwards that he would like to collaborate with the Rudgates at some point in the future, so we'll see if we can make it happen this year!

On the 20th, two of us (thank you Nicola!) made the trek to Markenfield Hall near Ripon to provide the music for the Annual Pilgrimage and Mass to commemorate the Rising of the North. To find out more about this moment of our history, and Markenfield's place in it and why this event is always held on the 20th November without exception, then follow this link. It will tell you everything you need to know. :-) This year is the 450th Anniversary of the Rising, so I hope we could do a bit more to help. Given enough notice, we might even get a full choir there.

And so we arrive in December, the 1st seeing a small but hardy group of Rudgates back in Manchester singing for the Manchester Ordinariate Mission's Advent Procession. This is the third time we've been involved with this, and it's always a lovely occasion, one that is now well and truly established on our calendar! Following a Solemn Ordinariate-Use High Mass at Bishophill on the 8th, I dashed up to Middlesbrough Cathedral the day after to provide the Bass voice for a Charpentier Magnificat sung during Vespers by the Cathedral Consort. Later in the month, The Rudgates (albeit severely depleted from last year) sang for the annual Traditional Carol Service for the Parish and Community of St Mary's Bishophill, something we've done now for well over 10 years. Although depleted this time, for various reasons, we were still able to have a fully choral Carol Service which was very well received by the congregation. One person told me afterwards that he couldn't believe how we could be so consistently excellent each year – so I'll quite happily settle for that! The Carol Service is always a wonderful way to end the Rudgates year, although I wasn't quite done as I ended up being proto-psaltis (principal cantor) for the Greek Orthodox Liturgy (also held at St Mary's) on Christmas Day Morning!

This brings me back to DOH – sorry Epiphany – from where we began this time last year. This time I'm not venturing too far, as I'm chanting 1st Vespers of the Epiphany on Saturday at St Mary's BHJ here in York. I have secured the services of a priest Celebrant though, so I don't have to wear two hats and officiate at the same time. :-) I'm sure there will be more to come from the Rudgates as 2019 progresses, but if you're at a loose end on Saturday, do come along to St Mary's at 6.30pm. It would be lovely to see you! Meanwhile, can I take this opportunity to once again wish you all a very Happy New Year!

No comments: