Rupert would love to sing in your church choir…… but we can’t do Sundays

( All conversations and illustrations are, as ever, based on the sad truth but are somewhat exagerrated in order to help my therapy! )

SFX – Phone rings

‘stmarysorganist’ wrestles the ‘phone out of the hands of ‘stmarysorganist-five-year-old-boy’ (who has already answered and told the caller that “Daddy is on the toilet…”) and I attempt a professional answer…

“Hello, Good evening – how may I help you?”

“My boy, Rupert has come home from school today saying he would love to join your church choir”

“Oh that is GREAT news, you see we’ve been doing a large recruiting campaign throughout all the local schools and..”

“..the trouble is – we can’t do Sundays”

“Oh, I see”

” Rupert does scuba-diving every 3rd Sunday of the month, and on the others he alternates between yachting and kick-boxing. But he’s really keen on the idea of being in the choir – you couldn’t change the day for him, could you?”

“Not really, you see – being a church choir we have a tendency to sing on the Sabbath”

” Only Rupert’s friend, Fergus goes to the “Stars-in-the-making” Stage Academy, and they do Saturdays, which would suit us better…”

“I’m afraid we really can’t change the Service times to a Saturday – there are profound reasons why not – it’s not something that I could possibly change without a fundamental shift in the entire liturgical doctrines of the Church of England – it’s more than my job’s worth…”

SFX – Phone dialling tone…

choir1906

St Mary’s Choir in 1906 – with 26 boy choristers…

So HOW in this age of children having at least 12 different ‘extra-curricular’ hobbies, can we hope to continue with the glorious tradition of the English Church Choir?

It doesn’t seem that long ago since I first visited St Peter’s Church in Wolverhampton – and from that moment my life took a massive detour! I guess it doesn’t matter that the reason I went, was that my elder sister fancied one of the boys in the choir, but from the moment I saw the choir process in – I knew I was HOOKED!

So, amidst much sisterly pleadings to my slightly reluctant parents – I was allowed to join (aged 7), provided my sister was there to look after me! It was a win-win situation for us both!

Yes, times have radically changed – the only legitimate nocturnal activity for boys of my age in Wolverhampton at that time was the Cubs, the Sea Scouts, Football, mugging – or the Church Choir.

St Peters

St Peter’s Choir, Wolverhampton (early 1970’s) – there is a prize for spotting ‘stmarysorganist’…

It was with this bunch of people that my musical future was begun!

So with these legions of boy choristers evident in 1970 – how do we convince the youngsters of 2016 that the Church choir is for them, both now and in the future?

Many potential recruits (as highlighted by young Rupert, above), have incredibly diverse and valid interests. Many of them are communal and involve regular committment, so I am not harping on about ‘computer games’!

Parents now are expected to shunt their children to stage school, football, rugby, martial arts, model airplanes, swimming, scuba diving, stage choirs, dancing, orchestras, bands, cubs, guides, beavers, brownies, scouts, air cadets, sea scouts, army cadets, girl guides … need I go on?

We have a very proud history of maintaining a boys’ and gentlemens’ choir at St Mary’s, with claims going back as early as the 15th century. We have started a girls’ choir too – but that is not enough for a 21st century child.

Our main recruitment drive has been through school visits, where 2 of our gentlemen basses (retired teachers), have developed a ‘roadshow’ to introduce our boys & girls choirs to the local schools.

It is difficult, though, to convey the enormous benefit of regular choral singing to a 7-year-old, so we are also looking at new ways of speaking purely to the parents, and highlighting the educational benefits of regular group music-making that is being starved in so many of our schools.

So – here is my plan for a successful recruiting campaign to attract children to sing in our church choirs…(!)

  1. We have ‘flexi-time’ services, not necessarily on a Sunday – as that is too restricting for a ‘modern family’, (you might need to check this with your Vicar, Bishop or ArchBishop first).
  2. The Choir Director absails into church before the introit.
  3. The organist regularly plays a ‘mash-up’ of pop tunes to keep the ‘yougsters’ interested.
  4. We serve McD’s and ‘Red Bull’ during services and practices.
  5. We offer GCSE coursework-help.
  6. The anthem is occasionally a scriptural verse set to a well-known ‘Adele’ song.
  7. Regular scuba-diving classes (should be popular with Baptists?)
  8. Regular ‘mash-ups’ of Stanford with ‘One Direction’.
  9. New Choir robes – maybe in glittery lycra?

In the meantime though, let us rejoice in the Cathedral, College and Church choirs that we do have.

We are all having the same difficulties with sustaining our rich choral heritage – but if one reader can present me with a boy or girl for one of our choirs at St Mary’s – you can claim a prize from me….

… a signed picture of St Peter’s Choir Wolverhampton…(from the 1970’s)!!

 

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13 thoughts on “Rupert would love to sing in your church choir…… but we can’t do Sundays

  1. Under ‘alternative use for baptismal font’ our church could (almost) add : Goldfish receptacle. An extended family wanted to use our church for a wedding, and goldfish in the font was one of their requests. The wedding was not held in our church….

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  2. Dear Mr. Marple,
    If I may, I’d like to offer you a chorister. Our family is moving to Bury St. Edmonds from the U.S. this summer, and my son (who is a part of an RSCM choir in the U.S.) watched your recruitment video 3 times before I sent him to bed this evening. He would like very much to join your choir if he may when we arrive. Is there a way I might contact you or that you might contact me?

    Best wishes,
    Emily Brown

    P.S., Choir is his only extracurricular activity (he, like you, was hooked from the beginning) and he adamantly does NOT do glitter, but I’m certain that if you somehow managed to get him to drink a Red Bull the parents would be deeply entertained!

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  3. Thank you all for your comments. I should point out that we do have a girls’ choir at St Mary’s, also a Ladies’ Choir. We are situated right next to St Edmundsbury Cathedral which also very successfully runs several choirs for the townspeople of Bury St Edmunds.
    Our recruiting will continue to be hard work and worthwhile – if nothing else it introduces children to the idea of ‘church’ and ‘choir’ in the schools, which otherwise may not necessarily happen. Now would be a good time to pay tribute to the families at St M’s ( and all chorister families), who DO teach their children of the value of duty and commitment. They are increasingly rare these days – hence the article!

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  4. I not sure of the answer for recruitment but I can tell you how my Choir Mistress took our small church of maybe 150 families and created a junior choir (boys and girls) of 40 children in 3 years (in 1970). She created an after school program where the chjildren went immediately from school to the Church Hall, where they were immediately fed a decent/sustaining snack (free), then choir rehearsal, then afterward there was help w school lessons (free) from high school students who were fulfilling community service requirements for graduation. Also, musicians from the area offered instrument lessons there at the church during tutoring time as well (not free). This allowed parents of school age children to keep working without paying childcare costs. The Bonus?…..attendance at church went through the roof and with it financial support. Everyone won. The choir. the instrument teachers, the kids, the highschool tutors, the church, the parents, the community….everybody. And, it was a lot of fun!

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  5. as a Baptist can i say that under current BU guidelines – alternative uses for baptistry, scuba diving is no longer permitted and has been replaced by water polo.

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  6. Your post made me chuckle. GCSE coursework help is not unknown, I’ve certainly given plenty of choristers assistance with music related coursework. Am loving the idea of an abseiling choir director, but think Health and Safety issues would be even more complex than moving Sabbath worship from the Sabbath! Good luck with your recruitment campaign.

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  7. Perhaps the answer may be found in the solution adopted by many of the City of London churches, which are closed when their potential congregations and choirs have retreated to coast or countryside. They do mid-week services. How about Choral Eucharist wednesday evenings and Evensong on Friday afternoons straight after school….?

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