January 2019

It's a well-known fact that statistics can be manipulated with great ease in order to make a particular point; something which was brought home to me when I read an article in the current RSCM (Royal School of Church Music) quarterly magazine. The article “In Harmony or in Decline – the state of parish music” reports on an in-depth study  carried out in the diocese of
St Edmundsbury and Ipswich which covers most of Suffolk. Of the 444 churches in the diocese there was a 94% response making the 140 page report worthwhile. I seem to think we have a similar number of churches in our diocese.

The findings show that only 51% of churches hold services every week. 45% have no members under the age of 50, and 62% have no children in attendance at any services.  Choirs sing in 36% of the churches, but often these are “benefice choirs” which sing only occasionally and are shared between several churches. Only  a third of the 36% have any children in a choir, and only 150 children across the 444 churches belong to a church choir.

When it comes to organists, an amazing 96% of churches still have one; but with 50% being over the age of 70. Only 4% have an organist under 30. Over a third of organists are not church members!

As the 70 year olds retire, churches are finding it difficult to recruit replacement organists and the report suggests  that churches “should be encouraged  to think creatively about making their own music, rather than relying on the decreasing number of organists” and cites Chevington church where a recorder group has been formed as no-one was interested in playing the organ after the organist  retired.

Much as that sounds an interesting solution, I wonder how recorders , however well played, could accompany a large congregation. The organ is designed to support and encourage singing, which is why it became the standard instrument to accompany worship. Many years ago I persuaded my Headteacher to release funds for the purchase of an organ to accompany the singing in the daily assembly and as a teaching instrument.  With a lustily played piano the singing was good, but with the organ the singing was excellent, “money well spent” was the verdict – much to my relief!

The report says “ a well-played organ is a wonderful and up-lifting accompaniment to worship, so of course we want to encourage its use where appropriate. We're exploring ideas to encourage more young people to take up the organ”.  I'd like to know what these ideas might be, as at St James' we have an excellent organ, someone willing to teach, but no takers! Any ideas??

Choral Evensong was the subject of a recent article in “The Church Times” written by Angela Tilby (an eminent Broadcaster, Theologian, and Canon Emeritus of Christ Church Oxford). She was specifically referring to midweek evensongs in our cathedrals, but much of what she said applies to our more modest parish church evensongs.

The article began with reference to some Twitter correspondence  about the potential health benefits of choral evensong with the suggestion that it should be available on prescription.......It went on to say that those who regularly attend (cathedral) evensongs are rather different from the Sunday morning church-goers. “They are often people who attend church on their own. They don't want to be jollied along, made to shake awkward hands with their neighbours, or sway their bodies, or clap their hands. They are not looking for sermons or instruction in the Christian faith. They come for God, I think, relieved that no one is going to get at them”.

Canon Tilby goes on to say that the music is important, but so is the speech and rhythm of the “dignified” English, and all contained within
40 -50 minutes. I vividly remember attending Evensong at Magdalene College chapel in Oxford many years ago, and know exactly what Canon Tilby is saying in that God's presence transcended the atmosphere of the magnificent candle-lit building and the impeccable singing. For me it was a truly magical and spiritual moment which I've never forgotten. She ends by quoting a colleague who said that the miracle of choral evensong was that, no matter how flustered, furious or exhausted you were when you came in, by the time you got to the grace at the end you were a different person.

Why not give it a try? Try Gloucester cathedral (5.30pm) for the midweek experience and St James' (6.30pm) for the Sunday experience; sorry, no money-back guarantees!                                            Nigel Davies

Music for January

 6th    am    The Blessed Son of God – Vaughan Williams    Wadeley in G

13th   am    Informal Worship

         pm    Epiphany Carols at St Mark's

20th   am    Beati Quorum Via – Stanford    Stanford in Bb

         pm    Let Thy merciful ears – Weelkes, Smith Responses , 
Ireland in F, Evening Hymn – Balfour Gardiner

27th   am    Drop, drop slow tears – Gibbons      Jackson in G


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