( 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…
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.
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…(!)
- 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).
- The Choir Director absails into church before the introit.
- The organist regularly plays a ‘mash-up’ of pop tunes to keep the ‘yougsters’ interested.
- We serve McD’s and ‘Red Bull’ during services and practices.
- We offer GCSE coursework-help.
- The anthem is occasionally a scriptural verse set to a well-known ‘Adele’ song.
- Regular scuba-diving classes (should be popular with Baptists?)
- Regular ‘mash-ups’ of Stanford with ‘One Direction’.
- 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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