Sunday, 12 July 2009

Hello again!

Oh, I know I know. I have been so neglectful of late. There are, of course, a thousand excuses but I shall spare you every one of them. Suffice to say that yesterday our choristers were 'read out' (a strange ecclesiastical term meaning that the choir is no longer required until September) and I therefore have a Sunday off. Imagine that! A Sunday without some darned 9.30 Eucharist, 11.30 Mattins and 3.30 Choral Evensong. Don't get me wrong. I love my work, at least some of the time. But one can have too much 'Cathedral' (especially the bloody clergy - don't they realise how well off they are? There are parishes out there, Mr Sub-Dean, if you don't like what's on offer here!).

But I digress. As usual. No. My purpose in writing today (for the first time in a while) is merely to inform you of the anniversary of one of my favourite composers, George Sainton Kaye Butterworth, MC, born on the this day in 1885. If you have a recording of any of his music, put it on the gramophone today. And as you listen, reflect for a moment on 'what might have been' had Butterworth lived to fulfill his undoubted potential.

He was killed by a sniper's bullet on August 5th 1916. RIP.

Monday, 11 May 2009

To blog, or not to blog...

... that is the question.

Never mind the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, any fortune wouldn't come amiss. When I began my foray into all things blog (at the behest of a cheeky young choral-scholar) I did so, I am rather shamefaced to admit, in the hope of gaining some form of pecuniary advantage. Suffice to say, this has not been the case. No extra pupils, no solo bookings, no multi-million pound book deal or advertising revenue. Nothing. Not a sausage.

Of course, having such a means of venting one's spleen does have some advantages. Unfortunately, none of them are financial. My singing duties here at Wilchester benefit from a modest stipend; I teach one day a week at a local girls' school; I have a few (generally unmusical) private pupils. That's it.

Things haven't quite got as desperate as this, however. Would one like fries with that?

Friday, 27 March 2009

What's in a name?

'A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.' So said The Bard. But I sometimes wonder, y'know. Would we be any less likely to admire our national poet if he wasn't called 'Jeremy'? And what of our assistant organist? If he hadn't been Christened 'Roger' we'd have had to change his name by deed-poll. And as for the Dean... well, suffice to say there has never been a better 'Geoffrey' since Bungle, Zippy and Co. were unceremoniously expunged from our moving television screens.

Anyone still following this erratic nonsense will recall that - last November - we admitted female choristers through our ancient portals for the first time. The boys choir continues to decline, both numerically and musically; the distaff side were forever burning their bras and banging on about equality of opportunity, and the choir school recently went co-ed. It was only a matter of time. There were those of us on the back row who expressed disquiet at the move. Rodney still refuses to sing anything lower than an 'E' when backing girls, on account of some misguided musical gentility; Drane (my opposite number on Decani) engages deputies more frequently when the men and girls are teamed up and the Boy (Roger) is allowed free-reign (rather literally) with the girls' choir on account of the fact that the DoM regards himself as 'above' that kind of thing.

But. But. If truth be told (and where else if not here?) these gels are rather good. They can actually sing. And they are an awful lot more fragrant than the farting boys. And is it, reader, a coincidence that their names are so... exotic? Here is but a small selection: Roxanna-Libby; Constanza; Emilina-Daisy; Clarissa; Grace-Olivia; Justinia and - my own personal favourite - Abigail-Louise, or Abi-Lou. What lovely, sophisticated monikas. What wonderfully evocative labels. No wonder Roger cannot keep his hands off them, with names like that to whisper ticklishly in adolescent ears.

And just compare them with the boys: Jack, William; John; Oliver, and Eric.

How can one in all honesty regard oneself as musical in any shape or form with a name as dull as that? I have no wish to cause offence to anyone thus maligned. But I fear Shakespeare may, for once, have been a little wide of the mark. Is it any wonder the traditional boys' choir is in such a sorry state?

Monday, 16 March 2009

Still here

But rather neglectful. I had considered 'giving up' blogging for Lent, but was so infuriated by the nonsense about cricket that I simply had to post. But now, mid-way through this period of abstinence, I find myself at a loose end, wondering why the DoM chooses such drivel for the Lentern Sundays music list (Sundays don't count in Lent; they are all festivals of the resurrection, therefore should be celebrated with appropriate music and not the turgid nonsense he insists on us singing). Honestly, you'd think that one of the clergy would disabuse him of his mistaken notion, but they probably don't know any better. So, what have I given up for Lent? Giving up, that's what. It's simply too much trouble.


Monday, 2 March 2009

Damned impudence!

Can you believe it? I mean, I ask you - can anyone in their right mind possibly consider even for a moment that it's true? Those blasted pinkos at BBC HQ have really gone and done it now. Oh, I am utterly distraught. I cannot bring myself to even contemplate the enormity of it all. I feel the need to lie down in a darkened room with a plentiful supply of Plymouth gin, Noilly Prat and ice. Yes, lots and lots of ice.

I am utterly at a loss to even for a moment consider a rational explanation. I still cannot believe it. No, not that damned silly parlour game presided over by Mr Sneer. (Although, come to think of it, one might conclude that this, too, is a decision borne out of those limp-wristed, namby-pamby goodfornothings at the BBC. I mean - Manchester! Good Lord above.) Oh no, no, no. The source of my discomfiture, the origin of my anxst is much more serious. I cannot tell you. You will have to read it for yourself.

Bloody Belgium?

I don't believe it!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Well, well!

For just about the first time in my existence, I seem to have been ahead of events. A mere senight ago I remarked on the ferocious intelligence and lightening button-pressing of the captain of the Corpus Christi team on the television quiz show, University Challenge. And this morning - after her triumph in the competition yesterday evening - she is being feted as possibly the cleverest woman in Britain. Well, you heard it here first.

Interestingly, even Mr Paxman seems to have warmed to the young woman's charms. And the announcer-wallah's tone rose audibly as he fairly screamed the girl's name - "Corpus Christi Trimble!" - every time she won her starter for ten. And what a pleasant, modest, demure and - yes, intelligent - young woman she appears to be. Dear God, when I survey some of the half-dressed, extravagently-coiffured and utterly ignorant young ladies I have the misfortune to instruct in singing on a weekly basis, I despair. With their gum-chewing, tongue-piercing, high-heel clicking, bovine yeah-whatevah-ing manner one could be forgiven for assuming that the female youth of this city had emerged as a result of some rather unfortunate genetic experiment. A failed genetic experiment, at that.

So let us laud and magnify the fair Gail as she and her team emerge in triumph from the lair of the dragon Paxman. Let peals be rung, let poets (Laura - are you 'on your marks'?) write heroic odes and let choirs sing. In tune. And with the beat. And something that's worth singing.

Well, there has to be a first time for everything.

Monday, 16 February 2009

University Challenge

I have, again, wasted thirty minutes which could usefully have been spent financially-assisting the landlord of Ye Olde Wisdom of Solomon watching the most ridiculous so-called quiz on British, nay, world television. Whoever conceived of the nonsense of gathering teams of university students together and asking them the most arcane so-called general knowledge questions ought to be subject to a solo half-hour grilling from the archbishop of arrogance himself, Mr Jeremy Paxman. And then taken out and shot.

Fortunately, next on the moving television machine is that most erudite of shows, the Book Quiz (which I can now receive thanks to the donation of something called a set-top free-to-air receiving machine from one of the choral scholars). Ah, questions about books, and poets, and thing that matter rather than the number of digits with a common initial letter or the value of 'x' if p is equal to the square root of 7 and the score at half-time was 0-0. I mean. What possible use can such knowledge ever be? And even if it has some practical application in a dark and dismal corner of human endeavour, it should stay firmly hidden and not paraded on the television screen for all to see.

And another thing. Half the bloody teams are Irish! Who keeps letting Jonny Foreigner take up valuable space in our most hallowed groves of academe, for goodness sake? I'll tell you who. Bloody money-grabbing vice-chancellors. I am particular bitter about this at the present time, as we have had 'foisted' upon us by the Prime Minister a recently-retired university vice-chancellor as Dean-elect of this cathedral. So, expect an influx of Gaelic clergy and musicians, doing unto us what they have so successfully done to English seats of learning everywhere. Thankfully, at least a nice English team from my own alma mater - Oxford - won this evening's competition. And captained by a lovely little girl with more than a hint of the young Felicia. And, my word, is she hot on the button! I shall no doubt tune in next Monday evening to see how she gets on. But in the meantime, I have an urgent financial bail-out plan to execute at the pub. Toodle-pip!

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


Of course, when I questioned the necessity of choral conductors in my last posting on this site, I was referring specifically to our own rather talentless DoM. There may be others of that ilk who perform their duties without the histrionics, without the flailing of arms and jangling of song-school keys, without the scowls and the tut-tuts, and most importantly of all, without the complete and utter obfuscation and annoyance of the singers, who are worthy of that title (although I'm bound to say I haven't met many, and in my humble and unsolicited opinion the vast majority are no more than charlatans, poseurs and megalomaniacs, but there we are).

Consider just a few examples:
Mr Harry Christophers, conductor of 'The Sixteen'.
When not swishing his crimped coiffure from side to side, this chap seems to regard conducting as a series of arm-swirling whooshes, rather in the manner of those Chinese dancer-chappies with their ribbons. No wonder members of his choir don't look at him. But then, he doesn't know that. His eyes are always closed.
Mr Stephen Aloysius Cleobury.
Another whirling dervish of a choir director, although of necessity rather more retrained than Mr Christopher. And why does he look so bloomin' miserable? The man has the cream of English choral youth at his disposal (not to mention the English clergy) and yet his lugubrious expression and drooping jowls give the impression of someone trying desperately hard to stay awake, or at least hold back the tears. And we are not, gentle reader, referring here to tears of joy.
Dr Philip Moore.
Actually, Philip Moore is alright. But what of that other chap, John Scott-Whitling? Has anyone ever looked so uncomfortable conducting? Actually, yes - our DoM (who must remain nameless) but enough of him. It seems to be that Richard Scott-Whiteley should remain in the organ-loft, along with the rest of them. Apart, maybe, from one.
Rodney. Ah, dear Rodney. I told you that my comments weren't a blanket condemnation of the entire profession. Rodney, Rodney, Rodney. Latent homosexual, snooker fan and conductor - par excellence - of the Wilchester Choral Society. Rodney knows how to wield a baton! And I would, of course, be honoured to be following his beat in their next performance - of Vaughan-Williams Sea Symphony. Now that takes some conducting skill.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

A spot of Bother

First of all, my thanks to all of you for your for your recent good wishes. My voice is now 'in the pink' as-it-were, and I am fully functioning in my duties as cathedral musician. Which is a good job really, as getting hold of deputies (many of whom live several miles away) in the recent inclement weather would have been a real problem. In fact, the snow even created problems for the regulars, myself included. What? I hear you cry. But you live within spitting distance on the great west doors, do you not? Indeed I do, dear reader, but I also occupy a basement flat, accessed by a small flight of ancient stone steps, and the subterranean space which makes up my front entrance was buried up to a depth of several feet when I awoke on Tuesday morning!

Oh yes, we have certainly 'had the snow' here in Wilchester. But did we close the cathedral? Did we cancel evensong? Did we fail to 'show up' for work? Actually, several of us did. Drane telephoned on Tuesday morning to insist that he would be incapable of turning up that evening, the boy was clearly 'holed up' somewhere with some girl or other (his flat was empty, and his car-parking space unoccupied) and even Rodney cried off, citing some concern over his aged mother. All of which was grist to my mill, as it meant I got the bass solos. We did Stanford in G, too! So you see, every cloud has a silver lining (even though the DoM was in a foul mood having been forced from his usual prancing perch before the choir to the anonymity of the organ loft. We seniors (dec and can) conducted - in as much as any of us needed it - and the effect was a considerable improvement on the norm, though I do say so myself. Well, there we are. A conductor-less choir. No more than some of us were used to in days of yore. In fact, talking of silver linings, it is my fervent hope that this credit recession will finally persuade the Dean and Chapter to see sense and dispense totally with the Director of Music. As long as there is somebody to play the organ, and others of us to sing, what possible use is there for somebody to wave his arms about and distract everybody? And given the rather high proportion of wrong notes evident at evensong on Tuesday, it would not be our young and talented assistant who would 'get the boot', but our older and rather more expensive Director of all things Musical who would 'cop it'. In fact, I feel duty-bound to suggest it to the Dean, in my capacity as Senior Lay-Clerk. And I shall 'keep you posted' as to the outcome.

In other news someone - apropos my last post - wants to know how virgins can be purified. (All I can say is, try finding one these days! They're hardly an abundant commodity here, even in the serried ranks of the cathedral girls choir, by all account. But then, the assistant organist has probably taken personal responsibility for that.) Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, Candlemas! First, the name comes literally from the 'blessing of candles' which took place on that date; second, the purification of the BVM refers to her ritual cleansing after childbirth (of course); and the third name for the festival - presentation of Christ in the temple - refers, quite obviously, to the presentation of Christ in the temple. Any other small doctrinal matters anyone wants explaining?

Friday, 30 January 2009

Occupational Hazard

Of course, it's alright for an organist - or indeed, any instrumentalist come to that. But my prolonged absence from the blog-o-sphere has coincided with an enforced absence from the choir-stalls thanks to bloody laryngitis or vitus gerulitis or whatever the quack wrote down instead of 'sore throat'. Honestly, these medic-Johnnies seem hell-bent on the complete obfuscation of the masses through means of archaic and exclusive language. But that's another story. This one is about my inability to sing (which the beastly Director of Music sarcastically suggested was an on-going problem when I telephoned to inform his of the Doctor's diagnosis. Honestly, the man's a cad!). 

Thankfully thing are at long last 'on the mend' (as we lay-men say; no doubt the quack would want to tell me that the symptoms are abating, or somesuch drivel). But no work means next-to-no pay (not that there's much of that to start with) so I feel a return to the stalls approaching. And this Sunday's music isn't bad; it's Candlemass - one of the oldest of Christian festivals - and we're doing a lovely little mass by Oldroyd and an anthem by one Otto Goldschidt. Nothing too heavy, in terms of singing. I shall exercise my vocal chords a little later on today and find out if they're up to it! Toodle-pip! 

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Land of Hope

The trouble with choral scholars, I find - apart from the fact that they can't hold their drink and are permanently skint - the trouble with choral scholars is, and I am telling you nothing I wouldn't tell them, nay, haven't told them to their faces - no, the trouble with choral scholars is that they are too enthusiastic. They are like a litter full of restless puppies, bouncing up and down behind the song-school super-desks and bobbing up and down in the choir-stalls as keen as mustard. They make anyone with slightly older bones look tardy, jaded and cynical. And call me what you like, I am certainly never tardy. (My punctuality is second to none; it helps, of course, living within a gnat's crotchet of the cathedral, but no matter.)

We have two new choral scholars this term. I shall call them Ben and Michael, chiefly because those are their respective names. Now let me say here and now, once and for all, that the two aforementioned striplings are perfectly decent fellows. They are fresh of face and sweet of voice, clean-shaven of cheek and modest of coiffure. They are also wet behind the ears. And damned keen.

For a start Michael has assumed responsibility for giving out and taking in the music. You might recall my mentioning in a previous post that this is customarily a task incumbent upon the newest lay-vicar. But Michael volunteered, first to help and thence to do the job completely. And Bernard Wiggins, Decani Alto II, was hardly likely to demur. And as for Ben, if there are pages to be turned in the organ loft, he's your man. Or boy. Because, dear reader, it is most definitely a sign of age when choral scholars start looking younger. You can forget the grizzled old faces of the county constabulary here in Wilchester; take one look at a cathedral choral scholar and it's like looking at a beaming, fresh-faced third-former, which is of course what most of them were a mere twinkling of an eye ago.

Now they are perfectly decent fellows, the sort any father would happily allow escort his youngest daughter to the local tea danson, or for a bite to eat at a Lyons Corner House. I myself, if I were blessed with female progeny, would happily allow either one of Michael or Ben (or is it Ben and Michael, for they are deuced difficult to tell apart from one another?) to accompany my daughter to a showing at the moving kinematograph. I have nothing whatever against either one or both of them personally, musically, socially, or bibulously. No. But if only they would refrain from beaming so ecstatically whenever the Organist announces he would like one of them to do a solo; if only they wouldn't drool over the music list; and if only they wouldn't spring up like be-cassocked jack-in-a-boxes whenever it's time for us to sing. But then, I suppose, if they struggled to their feet at the first chord of the hymn, if they cursed the appearance - yet again - of Dross in D for evensong and if they rolled their eyes at the thought of the extra (unpaid) work required in some interminable Restoration verse anthem, I suppose there would be little to distinguish them from your own correspondent. And as he relies on them to be technically savvy, perhaps he'd better not complain too much. After all, we were each of us young once I do believe. Even Can Bass had his salad days. Oh yes. And he could tell you a thing or two about them, too. But not now, dear reader, not now. For it is time, I fancy, for a little nap. Because the real problem with other people's enthusiasm is... it's so damn tiring.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year!

Well, we've had Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the Feasts of both Stephen and John, the first Sunday of Christmas, Holy Innocents and today, Christ's Circumcision. Only Epiphany to go, and then things will return to normal. And I, for one, will be glad. At times like this one can get heartily sick of the cathedral (having practically lived there over the last fortnight) and possessed of a yearning for anything other than Christmas bloody Carols. Lest anyone should misunderstand, let me here and now point out my deep and heartfelt love of this most ancient form of devotional music. But, like the Christmas turkey, one can have too much of a good thing. Once January 6th has passed and we have sung the Wise Men to and from the manger, we can return - musically speaking - to normal. And I can return to my normal frequency of blogging. I have neglected this poor site over the festive season, of necessity, being extraordinarily busy. But as I consult my new Shinglers of Sutton 2009 Ecclesiastical Robes diary, I find the blessed pages bereft of appointment, bookings, concerts and other engagements and filled only with such gentle and uplifting entries as...
  • Jan 1 1970: the half-crown ceases to be legal tender in the UK (boo!)
  • Jan 2nd 1946: King Zog of Albania deposed
  • Jan 3rd: Lord Haw-Haw born, and
  • Jan 4th: Donald Campbell killed on Coniston.
I think you get the picture.
Happy New Year!