Choir and Music
St Andrew’s Choir, in and out of lockdown
March 2021: Our Musical Director, Jane Eldred, shares with us how our choir has fared during and between lockdowns.
In Spring 2020 I updated you on what the choir had managed to set up in response to the closure of the church in Lockdown One, and I would like to give an update on our activities since, especially as those who continued to Zoom in the Autumn may not know much of what we got up to at that time –quite a lot considering!
We continued our weekly choir practices (reduced to an hour in length) all through the Summer Term. It’s been so encouraging to me that choir members have been willing to keep clicking on the Zoom link and participating every week.
At first, having been caught with our books still in the vestry when lockdown began, I tried screen-sharing all the music, but that got rather limiting in the end, so in early June Colin and I opened the church, carrying several suitcases, and took all the books home –heavy work! I then went round delivering them to members –it’s hard to believe it now, but the weather was very hot!
In the summer term 2020, the Royal Schools of Church Music gave us things to focus on – we learned the music for an online service for Music Sunday (which they use as a way of promoting church music, in June each year) and the St Albans branch organised a lockdown recording opportunity for an online Evensong, for which I recorded myself (so I appeared in a tiny window when the service was streamed).
For the last practice before the August break, we had a Zoom quiz set by me – I can’t remember who won! After the summer, things were easing and said services were beginning to resume in church. We began to make tentative plans to get back to choir practices in church and singing on Sundays. I discovered the joys (?) of writing risk assessments but this onerous task was absolutely worth it. We had all been pretty starved of music-making - except some informal sessions a few of us had participated in, in groups of six in people’s gardens –and were really quite thrilled at the prospect of being able to sing in church again.
So, after two more Zoom practices in September, we donned our masks, sanitised out hands and re-entered the building! Great was the excitement! Everyone had to find their place-name as the seating plan had had to be much-altered to keep us two metres apart. We spread into the Sanctuary and out beyond the chancel wall, where I tried not to get within two metres of the clergy on a Sunday morning.
I find it quite hard to describe the thrill of hearing the choir sing together after six months apart. They had not forgotten how! To hear a group of unaccompanied voices singing in harmony after a prolonged gap is very moving and uplifting. It was equally emotional when, after a ‘pilot’ service with music provided by just Maria, Katie and me on Sunday 13 September, the next week we reconvened in church and were reunited with David Boarder on the organ.
We got reasonably used to our new routine, where we robed up, and said the vestry prayers before and after the service, staying in our places. When singing, we all faced the congregation to avoid stray ‘aerosols’ reaching other singers – I would welcome congregational feedback one day, but I think this improved the sound projection and has led to my having radical thoughts....
The more difficult aspects were remembering to mask/unmask when not singing/singing (I frequently had my mask hanging off one ear) and avoiding ‘mingling’ (not much chance of that as I write in February)!
So, during the autumn and into December we were in and out of church almost like the hokey-cokey! We were back on Zoom for practices in November and again got caught without our books, as it so happened that Maria, Katie and I had formed our small group again on the Sunday before Lockdown 2, so the choir hadn’t been in church. I did another book delivery, this time of the Christmas carol books.
We sadly couldn’t do our usual Advent evening service, but the Zoom one was a lovely alternative, for which we could provide some music from past recordings. However, we were so glad to be able to return to the church building before Christmas. Alan and the clergy team were forced to agonise over how many Christmas services should be in church, and how much singing there should be, seeing as the congregation could not join in. Our shorter-than-usual candlelit Five Lessons and Carols was an extra-special one for us, and I’m very thankful we could do it; Maria’s and Peter’s beautiful solos added greatly to the occasion.
We posed for a photo at choir practice on the Friday before the service, our last practice of the year, and last for some time in church as it turned out. We did get a bit more carol-singing in just before we went into Tier 4, in Bircherley Green on two consecutive Saturday mornings (spread out in front of the fence by the demolition works). We had a small number of appreciative listeners both times. Hazel had the best Christmas attire, by a long way!
We were also pleased to be able to sing at the Midnight Christmas Eve service, especially as the Covid situation was getting ever more serious. There were actually somewhat more of us in the choir than usual at that service, including some of the younger generation, in defiance of any visit from Father Christmas – perhaps because we weren’t going to have to get up for a service in the morning! That proved to be our last service for a while, and we have returned to Zoom –yet again being caught out with no books at home! This time most of the choir managed to meet me in church to pick up their books, I’m pleased to say!
I should give an honourable mention to Sue Coe who, as librarian, kept track of all the music and carol sheets –no mean feat. And to all the choir –thank you for your unfailing loyalty, cheerfulness, whether in church on Zoom, and adherence to every rule – not to mention lovely singing.
Our next challenge is to produce, remotely, lockdown recordings. This project has started and I’m honing my audio-editing skills (all things digital/audio have been a steep lockdown learning curve) – I hope the results will do the choir justice! We are so looking forward to the time when we will be back in church and the congregation will be able to sing with us again – whenever that can be done safely.
Recording layers of harmony
Easter Music 2020, recorded by Jane and Colin Eldred
Jane learned how to use of special software during the first lockdown and she and Colin were able to record multi-tracks - recording things in 4 and 5 parts between us. The recordings below include the anthem that would have been sung on Easter Sunday (The angel rolled that stone away), plus some others. Christ the Lord is risen again is the anthem we might have sung on the Sunday after Easter.
Jane’s contact details:
And in 'normal' times...
Here is a little information about what you can expect under 'normal' circumstances!
Our Choir provide musical leadership and an anthem for the Sunday morning Eucharist on all Sundays except the second Sunday in the month, when for the All-Age Service we have a music group (usually consisting of flutes, clarinet, saxophone, violin, viola, string bass and piano).
While we use a good deal of “traditional” church music, both for congregational hymns and anthems, we do include modern worship songs and hymns as well. During Advent we use Celtic-style services which make more use of the piano and unaccompanied singing.
St Andrew’s Church Choir is always keen to welcome new members of any age (from 7 to 107!) who will be committed to singing with us. We rehearse every Friday during term time in the church (Junior Choir from 7pm to 8pm; Adult Choir from 7.30pm to 9pm). We sing most Sunday mornings and at occasional special services.
The young choir members up front...
All-Age Service - Music Group
Selected choir members at Southwark Cathedral in 2009.
Do you have a favourite hymn that we haven’t sung at church lately? One that means something special to you? One you would like sung on a special occasion? Alan and Jane have always welcomed suggestions as to which hymns they choose, but now it is even easier to make your choice known to them. At the back of the church (on the back pew in the nave) is a slip on which to write your choice (it doesn’t matter which hymn book it comes from) together with a ‘Love Hymn’ box to drop them in. You may also email your request to Rev. Alan Stewart (firstname.lastname@example.org).