Wednesday 1 January 2020

2019. A Review

Happy New Year!

Apologies in advance for the length of this musing, but, as last year, my review of the previous year will take place once the old year has ended, unlike other organisations who insist on doing this sort of thing whilst we're still only halfway through December or even earlier!

2019 was a very quiet year for the Rudgates as a singing group which I can attribute to a number of factors, not least me getting involved with other musical/liturgical projects, either with other singers & choirs or by myself – the latter often involving time consuming & energy sapping admin, which has left little time to do what I’d rather be doing! This is, simply, restoring sacred music to church services in its original (or as close to it as possible) liturgical setting, especially in churches and other venues where such music has rarely – if at all – been heard as it was intended. I’ve never forgotten two separate conversations with clergy friends who I have the utmost regard for, one from North-East England, the other from the East Midlands discussing the Rudgates’ ‘mission’. One even described it as an apostolate which for me, hit the bullseye so to speak. I’ve never forgotten that and I’d like to think that 2020 will bring a renewed vision of what the Rudgates and its Schola were founded to do! If this means reducing my ordinary activities for others, outside of Rudgate services, then that might not be such a bad thing, especially with our 25th anniversary looming in 2021 which will require careful planning and preparation. After all, I’m not getting any younger!

This review then, will be more of what I’ve done independently of the Rudgates than with them

Let's start back in January. The schola sang 1st Vespers of the Epiphany at our adopted home of St Mary’s in York. I’m keen to do more services like this when time (& energy) permit so next year’s review may look slightly different. J

Towards the end of January I renewed my role as Reader for the annual choral Orthodox Liturgy held at Ampleforth Abbey during the Octave of Christian Unity week. Always an enjoyable occasion, and not just for the excellent sherry and lunch which follows it!

Back to St Mary’s for Candlemas, which was marked by the schola singing 2nd Vespers of the Feast. In mid-February, I joined the Northern Cathedral Consort again to sing the weekend services at Bradford Cathedral, a venue I had only visited before & not sung in, and that was some 30+ years ago...

For some time now, I have occasionally drive down to Wakefield to sing chant & polyphony with the excellent St Austin’s Parish Church Choir. My first visit there this year was to sing a Solemn Gregorian Chant only Mass for the Feast of the Chair of St Peter. If you’re a catholic anywhere in the West Riding of Yorkshire outside Leeds, wanting decent liturgical music on Sundays and other Feast Days, then Wakefield is the place to go!

On to March, which heralded the first fully choral Rudgate service of the year in the form of Choral Evensong for the York Ordinariate Mission at St Mary’s. This was only the second Evensong we as a group had ever sung, both times for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, so we still haven’t sung Evensong for the C of E even though we have sung a number of Anglican services! Our door is always open, subject to the usual conditions of time, venue & availability of singers etc...

Later in March, the day before the Annunciation, I visited one of my former Cathedrals (St Mary’s, Newcastle upon Tyne) to attend Vespers & Benediction on the eve of the Installation of the new Bishop of Hexham & Newcastle. I’m not prepared to put into print what I really thought about Vespers as this blog, believe it or not, is occasionally read by women, children & clergy. J Suffice to say I thought it was awful, especially for a cathedral service with most of the catholic Hierarchy present. Benediction was nice though!

At the end of March, I made my first trip of the year up to Ushaw College, a venue I love, and would dearly love to go back to with the Rudgates (and other groups), for the Annual Mass in honour of St. Cuthbert. One of the advantages of me taking a back seat elsewhere will mean I can visit here a bit more often in 2020, and I’m very much looking forward to that.

Earlier in the year, I was invited to join the small choir which sings for the Russian Orthodox Community in York. As I love Eastern/Slavonic church music, I didn’t need to think about it. J In April we were asked to sing in Leeds for a Liturgy whose principal con-celebrant was the Bishop. A huge baptism of fire if ever there was one – especially when sight-reading music and transliterating from the original Cyrillic alphabet at the same time! There are occasions, particularly in faster pieces, when I just let everyone else sing because the time it takes me to work out what’s written in front of me & then sing it would be too great & I could end up being about 3 staves behind everyone else, never mind bars... It was also a little strange, singing a Russian Orthodox Liturgy in a Latin Rite Catholic church! An arrangement that works very well.

At Easter, I made the 200+ mile round trip to the Dome of Home, the Shrine Church of Sts Peter, Paul & Philomena which is under the care of the Institute of Christ the King. I had promised, rather foolishly, to help out with the chanting for the Easter Vigil, and as a promise is a promise, there I went. Despite getting stuck in very heavy traffic on the Liverpool side of the Mersey, I made it in good time & also back to York quicker than anticipated. Whether this becomes a regular occurrence remains to be seen...

During May, I made the first of a number of trips up to Tyneside to sing with the really rather wonderful Westland Singers directed by Paul Dewhurst. This was a Requiem for Terry Middleton, who I had got to know quite well as a result of my regular jaunts up to what I fondly call Toonside, although the church most visited is St Joseph’s,Gateshead, which is of course on the south of the river & therefore not part of Newcastle at all! On the train up to Newcastle I noticed someone who looked vaguely familiar, but couldn’t place where I had seen him before. It was only when he was getting off the train at Darlington when the penny dropped. The legendary (in these parts) Glen Durrant, 3-time back-to-back BDO World Darts Champion, now plying his trade with the PDC. If you’re not a fan of the arrows – tough. J Just move along now...

At the beginning of June I swapped roles, putting my liturgical photographers hat on and venturing into curry-land (also known as Bradford) acted as unofficial photographer for a Pontifical (Ordinariate Use) Solemn Mass at St Joseph’s Church. I found this disappointing for a number of reasons. The Mass itself was beautiful, with appropriate music, but the congregation must have numbered only about a dozen people, half of whom I think were only there because of the presence of the Ordinary (Bishop in all but name.) I was also put off by overhearing disparaging remarks made by one of the choir about both the Ordinariate & the Catholic church in general, both of whom he’d just sung for!! Let me just state for the record that that will NEVER happen with the Rudgates, whose members come from several different denominations (or none at all) & whilst respecting each other’s differences, would certainly not indulge in what I could only perceive as denominational snobbery of the highest order! OK. Rant over. J
Later on in the month, I was back in Wakefield singing the Chant for Solemn Vespers of Pentecost Sunday. Even Later on, back in York at St Mary’s, the schola provided the singing for the First public Mass of the newly ordained Fr John Konstantin Tee, whose ordination had taken place in London the week before. Both services were very moving occasions.

In July, I was back at Ushaw College for a very special occasion. An Extraordinary Form Mass which was the final act of an academic conference held at the college & the University of Durham. Entrance was restricted to ticket holders only (I did have a ticket) & I was left rather bemused afterwards wondering what the delegates  would have made of it all. The Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria etc,) was a setting written by Mgr Charles Newsham, a previous rector of Ushaw, but the chant propers & Salve Regina at the end were incomprehensible to me, being so sllloooow. I can’t believe, having taken part in medieval chant reconstructions, also on academic basis, that the chant at Ushaw in the 19th century would have been taken so slowly. But there you go...

On the 20th, I was at a brand new venue for me, St Joseph’s Church, Longsight in Manchester. This was for a wedding which I and any of the other singers (from St Austin’s, Wakefield)   weren’t going to be involved in at all initially! Prior to the wedding, there had been a number of messages on Facebook asking for a schola or choir to sing, as the original singers could no longer go. Once this was brought to my attention, I made some recommendations regarding singers in the region, with a note to the groom (Michal) that if he was really stuck to come back to me. Well, as you now know, a promise is a promise, and other singers not being available, I volunteered and made enquiries which yielded the wonderful singers from Wakefield who also came and helped out. We even provided polyphony as well as the chants of the Mass of the day.

In September, the schola sang a Missa Cantata at St Mary’s for the York Ordinariate Mission. A significant occasion, as it was believed to be the first sung catholic Latin mass to have taken place there since the reformation! Some of us then visited the Manchester Ordinariate Mission to help with the singing at Evensong & Benediction for the Solemnity of Our Lady of Walsingham

In November I sang the first memorial Requiem mass (for All Souls) to take place there for centuries, where I was joined by some excellent singers from the University of Durham. Earlier that day, some of us had visited the lovely people at the Manchester Ordinariate Mission to sing a very different All Souls’ Mass in the Ordinariate Use.

On 7th I returned to one of my other previous cathedrals (Leeds) to sing with St Austin’s again. This time it was Solemn Pontifical Vespers with the Diocesan Bishop on the occasion of the visit of the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham to the cathedral. Moving on to the 20th November, a small but perfectly formed group of Rudgates sang for the Pilgrimage Mass to commemorate the 450th Anniversary of the Rising of the North at Markenfield Hall. At the end of the month, the Rudgates returned to Manchester to sing the Advent Procession. An event that is also now fixed into our calendars each year!

Onto December, and yet another historical service, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I went back to Gateshead to sing with the Westland Singers for the first Pontifical Mass celebrated by the Ordinaray Bishop in the Diocese of Hexham & Newcastle for over 50 years. It was lovely to see a very full church too to mark the occasion. The following week, I was back in Wakefield with St Austin’s chanting Vespers for the 3rd Sunday of Advent. This brings us back almost full circle, which can never be completed before our now annual Carol service with the community of St Mary’s Church. It was lovely to a much higher turnout (both singers and congregation) this time and equally lovely to receive so many compliments afterwards! This is always one of the highlights of the Rudgates’ year, and long may it continue. As last year though, it wasn’t quite the end of my year, as I was once again proto-psaltis (principal cantor) for the Greek Orthodox Liturgy (also held at St Mary's) on Christmas Day Morning!

There were many other concerts & services that I managed to get to during 2019, principally involving the Clerkes of All Saints, York Cantores & the Ebor Singers. If I mentioned them all here, this post could well end up being twice as long!

What will 2020 bring? You will find out here. J Meanwhile, can I take this opportunity to once again wish you all a very Happy New Year!

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