Monday, 6 August 2018

The Big Give Christmas Challenge

These details are taken from the Cathedral weekly notices, as they are too prolix (even in this their simplified firm) for a single tweet! Please do not contact the Cathedral Choir directly with any questions, rather use the contact details at the end of the message. Thank you in advance for your support!

Would you like to make a gift to the Cathedral’s music that inspires other people to give too? This December, we would like to take part in The Big Give Christmas Challenge, a major national online fundraising event where members of the public can donate online and see their donations doubled by match funders. Our target is to raise a total of £6,000 to fund a chorister scholarship for a year.
In order to take part, first we need to raise £1,500 in pledges by the end of August 2018.
The Big Give will then seek additional pledges of matched funding support from its own supporters. These combined funds are then our ‘total match pot’ which will be used to double all donations made by the public when the Christmas Challenge runs online from 27 November – 4 December 2018.
If you love the Cathedral’s music and would like to help, please consider making a pledge! A pledge must be at least £100 and no more than £1,500 and must not be paid over to the Cathedral until after the campaign when we have raised additional funds from the public – please do not send an actual donation as we won’t be able to use it for The Big Give!
To make a match funding pledge please visit or call Ollie in The Chapter Office on 01543 622460, who will be able to fill out the online form for you.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Britain's Cathedrals and their Music with John Betjemen: Lichfield Cathedral 18 March, 1966

From 19 November 1965 to 1 April 1966, the BBC broadcast on what would become Radio 3 a series of weekly programmes presented by John Betjemen. The programmes consist of a selection of choral and organ music performed by the cathedral musicians and details of the cathedral narrated by Betjemen.

The Archive of Recorded Church Music has made several of the 19 programmes available on their YouTube channel, and have recently passed on a copy of the broadcast from 18 March, 1966 from Lichfield.

We have made the full episode available via YouTube, and it can be heard at, or via the link below

The choir is directed by Richard Greening, and the organ is played by Robert Green. The musical items in the broadcast include

  • 0'27": I give you a new commandment John Sheppard
  • 10'11": When David heard Michael East
  • 15'23": Factum est silentium Richard Dering
  • 18:38": Agnus Dei from Mass for four voices William Byrd (in English, as Betjemen explains to listeners, as it is performed at Eucharist at the Cathedral)
  • 22'16": Hear my prayer Henry Purcell
  • 25'25": Organ: Prelude William Harris
  • 27'18": Almighty and most merciful Father Ambrose P Porter
  • 29'12": Organ: Carillon Herbert Murrill
  • 31'43": Te Deum in C Benjamin Britten
  • 39'37": Jubilate in C Benjamin Britten

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

A Homily for Evensong with the Presentation of RSCM Awards

This is the text of the homily given by Canon Andrew Stead, our Precentor, at Evensong on Sunday 13 May 2018, at which choristers from the Cathedral and parish churches within the diocese were presented with RSCM Dean's and Bishop's Awards. It is reproduced here with permission.

Today we celebrate the achievements of our young people from the diocese who have prepared for and then succeeded in their tests in the Royal School of Church Music’s award schemes. Living up to the RSCM’s motto of, ‘I will sing with the spirit and the understanding also’, the scheme not only focuses the young choristers on their musical abilities but quite properly these programmes seek to place that music into the context of the church’s worship as well as helping them understand the commitment that is needed to be a member of a choir.

With the Spirit - Spirited, in all the senses of that word, is what provides the backbone of our worship in our cathedrals and in our parish churches. Part of our national heritage musically, is the English Choral Tradition, of which the Church of England is a prominent custodian. The tradition of fine choral music praising God has been at the heart of Anglicanism and our cathedrals, collegiate churches and larger parish churches keep this fine tradition central to our church’s worship. It is also a vehicle for so much excellent work with young people in their formative years and it demonstrates the importance of belonging, of commitment, of responsibility, of hard work, of team work and it fosters confidence, the valuing and honing of skills, a love of music and, though the regular participation in performing in church, the firm foundations of faith.

At this point in the Church’s year we are continuing to celebrate the raising of Jesus from the dead on Easter Day, we have been singing, and continue to sing our Alleluias, and on Thursday we thought about the Ascension of Jesus into heaven and next week, as our anthem this afternoon was in anticipation of, we will celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the Christian church as God’s mission to the world. All of these feasts and festivals have their musical repertoire and our choirs help us, and it helps them, enter in to the mystery of God’s loving purposes. For those of us who attend worship week by week, or indeed for some of us here in this place, day by day, we are immensely grateful to our musicians for all that they bring to us and how for us our worship is enabled and beautified by their skill and hard work. Our spirits are often lifted beyond words and meaning to become a spiritual encounter with our Lord himself.

We are blessed here in the Cathedral with a choral foundation going back centuries. If you go on our choir’s own website you will see there the names of Lay Vicars Choral and choristers stretching back in to history who have blessed this place with their talent. Tradition here is important and the very fabric of this place not only echoes with their voices but they have left an indelible mark on it. Not least out in the Close is Vicars’ Close with some of the finest building that you will see in a small courtyard where they used to live.

In Number 6 Vicars’ Close and then in Number 7 there lived a man who was a Lay Vicar Choral here for 48 years. Predecessor to Mr Shakeshaft the present occupant of the Vicarage of Pipa Parva , John Saville arrived here in Lichfield in 1755 and died in August 1803 at the age of 67. Like Mr Shakeshaft he sang Alto but he was also able to sing the tenor part also. On the day he died he had sung two services here in the Cathedral quire. He was buried we believe in a vault in the churchyard to the south of the nave. His memorial is in the south transept and on it you will read words written by the so called ‘Swan of Lichfield’, Anna Seward, who was daughter of one of the Canons here and resident in the Palace where our present Choristers go to school.

John Saville was clearly a man of immense talent and some stature – an obituary, again penned by Anna Seward, published in The Gentleman’s Magazine read
This melancholy announcement of the loss of an excellent man, very generally known and where known always beloved will excite the sympathy of Genius and the tear of friendship. Pre-eminent were his abilities as a vocal performer from the rare union of feeling with science, of expression with skill.

His music, his learning and his skill stretched beyond Lichfield and was highly acclaimed, but the bedrock of his life was the singing of the services in this Cathedral.

Our time here in church, whether it be here in the Cathedral or in our parish churches, is the bedrock in our lives in a time which seems to lack firm foundations upon which to build. What we find in worship is sustenance and an opportunity to grow in love and in human stature as well as in devotion to Our Lord. Singing with the spirit and the understanding also, whether we be virtuoso singers like John Saville or just able to carry vaguely or even imperfectly a tune, helps us make a very different music with the whole of our lives. The final two lines on the epitaph on memorial to John Seville penned by Anna Seward reads
Sleep then, pale mortal frame, in yon low shrine, “Till Angels wake thee with a note like thine”
it speaks of a hope of resurrection that rests upon the beauty of the love of God.

Thank you to those of you here who make music in our churches and here in this Cathedral. Thank you for allowing us to benefit from your God given talent, your hard work and your commitment. Thank you for your ministry to the people of God and as you minister to us through music and also in your reverence and in your commitment to the high standards of our worship in how you conduct yourselves be assured of our prayers day by day for you. May God bless you as you sing his praises with not only the spirit but with the understanding also.


Information regarding John Saville is taken from a more extensive study of his time at Lichfield by Michael Guest, published at

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Reprimand of James Coleman, 30 July 1906

Having written about James Coleman's mysterious reprimand, I have been given a copy of the document which had been safely deposited in the Cathedral. It is a typed document, and is  transcribed here in full.

in the Chapter House, July 30 1906

I have summoned you before the Chapter to receive an official reprimand and I have written down what I have to say on behalf of the Canons and myself.

The Dean read the following -

I can recall no offence on the part of a Vicar, at least since that which led to the degradation and expulsion of the late sub-chanter, which has caused more distress to myself and the Canons than your conduct at Evensong on Saturday last and what led to it.

There was a foreshadowing of something wrong when before the beginning of the service you left the vestry in your cassock, and put on your surplice most carelessly, while the Cathedral Body were waiting; it was so unusual as to call for observation. Then during the anthem you knocked and pushed a large music book off your desk almost immediately behind a chorister who was singing a solo and might easily have been interrupted and disconcerted by the noise.

This circumstance led me to keep my eyes upon you till the close of the service, and what I saw, I felt, would make it necessary for me at once to ask for an explanation, but I saw that you left the choir when the hymn began and you did not return to the vestry till sometime after.

I asked the Canon in Residence, who sat near you, if he observed your irreverent behaviour, and be said that he had and that it as very marked and that he could not doubt that you were under the influence of drink.

I [then] found you outside the building and requested you to follow me to the deanery. I saw immediately that the Canon was right and after speaking of your behaviour I said you had been drinking. Now if you had admitted it, as it was a first offence, I should have been contented to deal with you privately and personally.

But what followed was so serious that official notice became necessary. In the first place you denied that you had been drinking, not only once but twice, though I begged you not to increase the offence by falsehood; and only when I told you that I had incontestable evidence from your breath as you passed me at the door, you confessed that you had met a friend and had been taking Brandy and soda, but that you had only taken two glasses, that you had been under a doctor for 3 weeks and supposed that being very weak it had affected you. You had forgotten that only 2 days before when I had asked you how you were you said, without hesitation, "OK! Quite well now, I am going to begin lawn tennis again".

All this was very unsatisfactory but what followed was almost worse. "Why," you asked, "do you single me out for drinking, when there are other vicars far worse than I am? I know that they are. I can prove it. I know one who has taken 8 brandies and soda though I have only taken 2! I am had up while they are left alone".

To try to exculpate yourself by bringing a secret charge against your brother vicars behind their backs shewed me yet more clearly in what state you were. You could only have done it under the influence of drink. I am thankful that it did not happen that you were put down for a solo; the result must have caused a scandal and with that large congregation, a "public scandal".

We have been unanimous in our wish to deal with you as leniently as we can consistently with our duty to the Cathedral Body and the necessity of your brother vicars knowing that you have been officially reprimanded. God grant that you may lay these words seriously to heart and be able to recover that good opinion which for the time you have forfeited.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

James Coleman (Lay Vicar 1900-1942) and The City Music Publishing Co., Lichfield

Included with the memories that George Greaves sent was a copy of an anthem by James Coleman, published in 1934, who George remembers being the Senior Lay Vicar. This small detail led to a little further research, and two strands to this post. Firstly, about James Coleman, and secondly about the anthem and its publisher.

James Coleman was born in West Bromwich in 1876 and came from Southwell to Lichfield as Lay Vicar in 1900, where he remained until Sunday 20 September 1942 when he died suddenly on his way to the Cathedral.

Beyond the record of his installation into the Lay Vicar's Stall belonging to the Prebend of Eccleshall on 13 July 1900, and a note in October 1919 that the absence of a third Bass Lay Vicar - or his deputy - meant that £14-11-0 should be paid to both Mr J Coleman and Mr H Parker to recompense them for the extra work they would have to have done, Coleman appears to have drawn little attention from the Cathedral authorities. This may be down to the story behind a note in the Chapter Act books from 28 September 1906 which records that "The Dean reported that he had been obliged to summon James Coleman, a Vicar Choral, before Chapter to receive a formal reprimand; the circumstances are embodied in a document contained in a sealed envelope deposited with the Muniments of the Chapter".

A colleague, Frederic Hodgson, describes Coleman's voice as a "real basso-cantante, rich and voluminous" and his singing as being "refined and polished", and outside Lichfield, he was well known and his name appears nearly monthly in The Musical Times, in round ups of local performances and in the listings of singers available for work. His advertisements are regularly more extensive than others, and quote glowing reviews of his performances from both national and regional newspapers. There are around a hundred of these in the archives of The Musical Times and are too extensive to reproduce here. However, The Musical Times did print his obituary in November 1942:
JAMES COLEMAN, a baritone well known in the Midlands, aged sixty-six. He was vicar-choral of Lichfield Cathedral from 1900 to his death. During the last war he conducted the Whittington Garrison Choral Society, and recently he directed the newly-formed Lichfield Operatic Society.
Alongside his performing, he also appears to have been a prolific composer as the final page of the copy of the anthem he gave to George Greaves shows. The copy of the anthem, a setting of the first two verses of Psalm 139, O Lord, thou hast searched me out, includes an inscription reading 'To Master Greaves, with the composer's best wishes, Oct. 10/34'. It is possible download a scanned copy of the original printed anthem, and a clearer typeset edition for the musically curious.

Moving away from Coleman himself, the last page of the scan mentions that the score was published by "Lichfield : The City Music Publishing Co.". My immediate (albeit cynical) assumption was that this was some manner of musical vanity press, but a little exploration online - courtesy of library catalogues and Google - suggests it was a more significant establishment, although I am told that Coleman was involved in music publishing... The searching is, in no way, exhaustive, so any further information about the company would be welcome.

The earliest reference to The City Music Publishing Co is a book by a W Kelly, entitled Blackpool, published in 1913. However, the earliest musical references are a copy of a song, My hope by Isabel Ashforde, published around 1915 and In a Sylvan Glade, a "caprice for the pianoforte" from 1916 by Samuel Bath; it is worth noting a female composer being represented in 1915. One Caroline F Boddy is also listed amongst their publications as the principal composer (alongside a H Brearley) of a song entitled The Happy Little House in 1918. A 1920 piano work, Floramyne by Gilbert Stacey, includes an address for the company at 7 Southampton Row, London, WC1.

There are various records of Coleman's work listed against their publications, but the most significant inclusions in the company's catalogue (especially in the Cathedral Music world) are various editions of the Durham Cathedral Chant Book by Philip Ames and Conrad Eden, published between 1939 and 1962. The City Music Publishing Co. does not, therefore, appear to have been solely for the promotion of local talent or restricted to the early part of the century.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Memories of Life as a Chorister 1934-1937 from George Greaves

It is always delightful to be contacted by individuals with their own memories of their time at Lichfield. Aged 95, George Greaves got in touch a few months ago to share his experiences as a chorister from the age of 11 in January 1934 to August 1937. His recollections are reproduced here as sent.

I was a boarder and shared a dormitory with five other boys in the care of Mr C R Bailey and his wife in a house in Dam Street opposite the West end of Minster Pool; Mr Bailey was the only teacher. The private choir school was also in Dam Street, behind the boarding house, and consisted of a classroom on the ground floor, a playroom on the first floor, and a recreation area outside. There were approximately 24 day boys, but the boarders were the backbone of the choir; I became head boy and No. 1 Cantoris.

We sang at services each morning and afternoon on weekdays, apart from Tuesday afternoon, with occasional exceptions for Feast Days and Festivals. There were full choral services on Saturday and Sunday. The three hours' worship on Good Friday was shared between the boys.

Of the 30 or so choir school boys, weekday services were only attended by six on each side, Decani and Cantoris, along with three Lay Vicars of each part; Mr James Coleman was the Senior Lay Vicar during my time. The choir boys were selected by region-wide voice trials which were open to all.

Bank Holiday services were especially well attended, and the congregations were treated to show pieces anthems from oratorios including Messiah and Israel in Egypt.

On weekdays, purple cassocks were worn, and red cassocks were worn on Sundays and Feast Days.

The choir was regarded as one of the country's best, and broadcast on the National Service in February 1934.

Practices were held most days for the boys, and for the whole choir on Fridays. Thursday Evensongs were unaccompanied, with notes being given on a small harmonium.

The Precentor was Canon Moncrief, assisted by Canon Hardy, the subchanter, 'the voice'. The Organist and Choirmaster was Ambrose Porter, FRCO, who lived in Darwin's old house on the border of the Close.

The boys' school day from was 8.00am until 5.00pm with a half day off on both Tuesday and Saturday.

Boys' practices were held in the Song School in the North-West corner of the Close. Although there was the "Cottage" organ there, a piano was used to accompany the rehearsals. The "Cottage" organ was a constant source of fun for the boys, and annoyance to Mr Lott (one of the visiting organists) because of the interchangeable pipes. The other visiting organists included Mr Morgan, a fiery Welshman, and Mr Pettigrew, who was later heard of in the army in Africa.

When I first started, the Bishop was the Rt Rev Kempthorne who was succeeded by Bishop Barnes. The Bishop selected two of the choristers to hold his bejewelled robe, for which they were given a shilling; I was lucky enough to be chosen on a couple of occasions.

There were small Christmas parties for the boarders (as we never went home at Christmas, unlike the day boys), and these were given by the Precentor, Subchanter and others. Canon Hardy gave us a rhyme about someone putting up shutters and sitting in the shop, which he would recite at breakneck speed with us all waiting for him to get the vowels wrong.

Most of the choristers were the exact age to be called up - in my case, to volunteer for service - in the Second World War, soon after leaving. I served in the Royal Navy from August 1941 to August 1946.

I do remember a memorial board in the classroom at school with the names of the choristers who had served in World War One, with Maltese crosses beside the names of those who had did.

The photograph is of me in January 1934, when I was aged 11, when I started in the choir. I got in by the skin of my teeth, as I was born in February 1922 and had I been 12 years old they would not have taken me!

George Greaves, aged 11 in 1934 (Chorister, 1934-1937)
George Greaves, aged 11 in 1934 (Chorister, 1934-1937)

Sunday, 4 March 2018

A thirteenth century Alleluya for Chad rediscovered

The cover page of MS Rawl. D. 1225
Earlier this year, our organ scholar, Maks Adach, discovered a fragment of plainsong in the Bodleian Library in Oxford which would have been sung in the Lichfield Diocese before the Reformation. He has transcribed it and created a modern performing edition which was liturgically heard for the first time in five centuries on St Chad's Day (2 March), 2018.

His editorial introduction is reproduced below, and there is a link to download the new edition and to hear the performance recorded during the St Chad's Day Eucharist.

The subject of this critical edition is a fragment of plainsong found in the Bodleian Library. It is one of several musical items (the work of numerous scribes) found in MS. Rawl. D. 1225, a large codex containing the Martyrology of Usard. The MS is a medium-sized codex measuring 245x175mm and is 134 folios in length. Judging from the handwriting style, the MS was written in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It belonged to St Chad’s Church, Shrewsbury, as it contains an inventory of that church’s feretory. This included the right arm of Chad, the hair-shirt of Thomas Canteloupe, and the spear that pierced Christ’s side. The Crown of Thorns is listed as missing. The Martyrology’s calendar contains the obiits of Parish benefactors and rectors. The text itself contains many additions in the margins. Among these is a substantial entry for Chad (f.35v) and one for the Dedication of Lichfield Cathedral (f.16v). The presence of these confirms that the MS was written for use in the Diocese of Lichfield.

Marginalia denoting the Dedication
Feast of Lichfield Cathedral in the MS
The plainsong fragment in question is an Alleluia Proper in honour of Chad. It is found with other items in the endleaves of the MS. It is one of three items penned by the same scribe in black, thirteenth-century square notation on red staves. The other items are all either in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary or St Edward the Confessor. Aside from one two-part, polyphonic antiphon (f.132v), the musical items are all examples of monophonic, liturgical chant. They were almost certainly intended for use at masses at St Chad’s, Shrewsbury and are, due to the destruction of the historic collection of the Lichfield Cathedral Library in the Civil War, rare examples of the plainsong and early polyphony used in the Diocese during the pre-Reformation era.

A copy of the Alleluya (which includes a reproduction of the original manuscript) can be downloaded here, and the performance recorded on St Chad's Day 2018 can be heard here.

If you want use the edition in any way, please do contact Maks; although he is keen for it to be used more widely, it constitutes a part of a larger research project concerned with the plainsong fragments in the manuscript.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Roland James Cook: Lay Vicar 1923-1967

Roland Cook was one of many Lay Vicars to have been part of the Cathedral's choral foundation. However, his death - fifty years ago today - on 16 February, 1968, aged 73, is particularly significant as it marked the death of the last member of the Corporation of the Vicars Choral to hold freehold office. This meant that once he had been appointed, he was entitled the income from the lands owned by the Corporation of Vicars Choral until his death, even after his retirement on 12 January 1967 following serving at Lichfield for 44 years.

There is a noticeboard in the Lay Vicars' vestry today which commemorates him:
The inscription reads,
'Placed here in 1969 to commemorate the former corporation of the
Vicars Choral, following the death of Roland James Cook, the last member
to hold freehold office under statutes dating from the 13th century'.
(with apologies for the poor photograph)

Before coming to Lichfield, Cook had been at Canterbury Cathedral and during his 44 years at Lichfield, he had a distinguished career as a singer. His son has been in touch and sent a photograph of his father as young man:

and a photograph from 1934 in which Cook is a part of a group of BBC Midland Singers in a studio in Birmingham:

His son comments that "the only others in the picture that I know are the musical director Edgar Morgan, a dapper man on the right hand side and the small lady in front of Dad, Margery Westbury as in Paul Temple. Edgar Morgan lived in Handsworth and was a deputy organist at the Cathedral, but I knew him as the music teacher at the Grammar School who only came in on Mondays and Fridays".

If you can offer any information about any of the other singers in this photograph, please get in touch!