Day 1: We came flying upon the wings of the wind (London – New York)

Welcome to the tour blog for Christ Church’s 2018 tour to the USA; there will be separate posts detailing what the choristers and choirmen get up to over the next eleven days.

We met early in the morning at Albion Place, overjoyed to see each other after having been separated for the previous two days post-Easter. For perhaps the first time ever on a Christ Church Cathedral Choir trip, every single member of the party was on time (despite rumours that choral scholar Aidan Atkinson had in fact initially been under the impression that the tour began on the previous day). We soon found ourselves at Heathrow Terminal 2 for check-in, where tenor lay clerk William Anderson was grilled by airport staff about his travel plans, and, more unusually, his hobbies and favourite celebrity chef (Nigella Lawson, for anyone wondering). After hearty breakfasts (and the making of the below video, which details our hopes and dreams for the tour), we boarded our United Airlines flight to Newark Liberty International Airport; a large number of the choir were delighted to find that they had been unexpectedly upgraded to Economy Plus seating, with lay clerk Edward Woodhouse in particular having an obscene amount of legroom. Eight uneventful hours later, we landed in New Jersey, and, a mere two and a half hours after landing, we boarded the coach to our accommodation – Chris Rocker (our generous tour sponsor) nearly being hit by a bright yellow New York taxi as he flagged down the bus. ‘Don’t Rocker the boat’ remarked a nameless choir member (this is the quality of humour we have come to expect from each other).

As it was now midnight UK time, the boys and chaperones were deposited at St Thomas Choir School, where they will be based for the next few days, while the clerks continued to their accommodation at the House of the Redeemer. Some of our number dashed off to the Metropolitan Opera to see Phelim McDermott’s production of Cosi fan tutte (a show which came highly recommended by Moira Darlington, who had beaten us to the punch by seeing it in the cinema the previous week), others headed out to have their first taste of the nightlife in the Big Apple, but all had (relatively) early nights. Tune in tomorrow for news of our exciting adventures during our first full day in the USA!

Edmund Bridges

Edmund Bridges

It is with great sadness that we have to inform you of the death of Edmund Bridges, who was a Lay Clerk of the Cathedral Choir until very recently. Edmund was well known to many in both the College and Cathedral – and was a very talented musician and much-loved member of the community. There will be a short requiem mass to remember him which will be held this Friday, 9th February, at 7.15pm in the Cathedral.

Edmund had a fine high tenor voice and was a devoted Lay Clerk in the Cathedral Choir for two years, having previously been a Clerk in Magdalen College Choir. He had a palpable love for singing liturgical music and was unfailingly committed to the daily services here. We missed him after his departure from the choir last summer, and we are greatly saddened by the news of his death.

At this time I ask you to remember his parents and wider family in your thoughts. We are in contact with them, and we will be in touch when we know further details of his funeral arrangements.

The Very Revd Prof. Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church

New Organist for Christ Church

Steven Grahl

Christ Church Oxford and the Faculty of Music at Oxford University are delighted to announce the appointment of Steven Grahl as the new Organist at Christ Church Cathedral.

Succeeding Stephen Darlington, who has held the office for 32 years, Steven Grahl takes over a unique role. As well as being Director of Music for the Cathedral, and overseeing the world-class Cathedral Choir, he will also hold significant academic roles in the Faculty of Music in the University, as well as the College.

Steven Grahl is currently the Director of Music at Peterborough Cathedral, where he has been in post since 2014. He is also a Junior Fellow at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Conductor of Schola Cantorum of Oxford, and President of the Incorporated Association of Organists. In addition, Steven is conductor of Peterborough Choral Society, and the Stamford Chamber Orchestra. He was previously Assistant Organist at New College Oxford. He held the position of Organist & Director of Music at St Marylebone Parish Church, London, from 2001-2014.

At Peterborough Steven has been responsible for developing the choir of 50 boy and girl choristers, along with supporting choral and organ scholars. He has made a number of recordings, including Even You Song by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, a work that was developed as part of an outreach project he directed in local schools, alongside professional musicians, a visual artist and a poet. He has also recently premiered works by Francis Pott, Roxanna Panufnik and Toby Young.

Steven is an accomplished performer. He has given solo organ recitals in such prestigious venues as King’s College Cambridge and The London Oratory, and was a finalist at both the St Alban’s and Dudelange (Luxembourg) International Organ Competitions.

As a conductor he has worked with, among other groups, the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, Instruments of Time and Truth, the Guildford Chamber Choir, and Cambridge University Symphony Chorus.

The Dean of Christ Church, The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, said: “We are thrilled to be welcoming Steven Grahl to Christ Church. He is an exceptional musician, who will lead our Choir into the next decade, and take it to even greater heights. His predecessor, Stephen Darlington, will be a hard act to follow! But I know in Steven Grahl we have the right person for the job.”

Steven Grahl said: “I am delighted and honoured to be appointed to Christ Church and to the Faculty of Music. The opportunity to continue Stephen Darlington’s excellent work and to contribute as a scholar and teacher to the vibrant life of the University is a most exciting prospect. Whilst I am sorry to be leaving Peterborough Cathedral after four richly fulfilling years, I am very much looking forward to shaping future developments in the musical life of Christ Church Cathedral.”

Steven Grahl will begin his work with Christ Church Cathedral Choir in September 2018. He replaces Professor Stephen Darlington, who retires this summer after more than thirty years of outstanding service to the Choir, the Cathedral, the College and the University.

Across these decades, Stephen Darlington has led the Choir to achieve an enviable international reputation for the quality and variety of its work. In addition to its daily offices in the Cathedral, he has taken the Choir on tour to America and China, East Europe and the Caribbean, to give sell-out concerts to great critical acclaim. He has made more than fifty recordings with the Choir, including the recent award-winning series of music from the Eton Choirbook. He has also brought the choir to wider public attention singing the theme music for the BBC comedy series The Vicar of Dibley!

Although Christ Church Cathedral Choir is almost 500 years old, it is justly famous for the youthfulness of its sound and its adventurous musical programming. Unique in the world as both Cathedral and College choir, the intimate acoustic of its musical home – Oxford’s 12th-century Cathedral – has given it a relationship with early sacred music and the rhythm and vigour of contemporary idioms. Throughout its history, the Choir has attracted many distinguished composers, organists and singers, from its first director, John Taverner, appointed by Cardinal Wolsey in 1525, to William Walton in the 20th century. The Choir has commissioned and recorded works by such composers such as John Tavener, William Mathias, Robert Saxton and Howard Goodall.

There are 12 men (six Lay Clerks and six Academical Clerks) and 16 boys in the choir. Aside from its outstanding training of singers, the Cathedral Choir is also renowned for training many of the country’s leading organists, including in recent years Harry Bicket (Director of the English Concert), Laurence Cummings (harpsichordist, conductor, Director of the Göttingen International Handel Festival) and Elizabeth Burgess (pianist and accompanist).

For more information, contact Sarah Meyrick, Public Engagement Adviser on 07467 037634.

The Orlando Composition Prize – open to all current graduates and undergraduates of the University of Oxford

Christ Church is pleased to announce this year’s competition for the Orlando Composition Prize. The competition, open to all current graduates and undergraduates of the University of Oxford, is for an unaccompanied setting (SATB) of Psalm 150 (Coverdale text) lasting no more than five minutes.

The first prize will be £800 and the winning piece will be performed by the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral during Evensong in the Cathedral on Saturday 9 June 2018.

Please send entries (preferably produced on Sibelius) to:

Dr Stephen Darlington, Director of Music and Tutor in Music
Christ Church, Oxford, OX1 1DP

by Monday 19 March 2018

Sunday Times review of the The Gate of Glory – “Five more masterpieces…beautifully sung”

We are delighted to receive the first review of our new CD, the The Gate of Glory, Music from the Eton Choirbook, Vol. 5, which was released last week:

Five more masterpieces from this rich source of pre-Reformation sacred music, beautifully sung. There’s Robert Hacomplaynt’s rhythmically complex Salve Regina, a fascinating Gaude flore virginali by Hugo Kellyk and a Robert Fayrfax Magnificat. But it’s the rich male-voice compositions – Walter Lambe’s Gaude flore virginali and John Browne’s O regina mundi clara – that hit the sweetest spots.

Stephen Pettitt, The Sunday Times, 19 November 2017

Please click here for further details or to purchase this CD

The Gate of Glory: Music from the Eton Choirbook Vol. 5 Released

We are delighted to announce the release today of our latest recording of music from the Eton Choirbook, The Gate of Glory (Avie). This is the fifth volume in the critically acclaimed series and includes the world première recording of Walter Lambe’s Gaude flore virginali. The Eton Choirbook contains an extraordinarily vast and diverse collection of English sacred music from the turn of the 16th century and this CD features music by some of its more famous composers, Robert Fayrfax, Walter Lambe and John Browne, alongside less familiar names, Hugo Kellyk and Robert Hacomplaynt. The recording was produced by Jeremy Summerly.

The first three volumes in the Music from the Eton Choirbook series, More Divine than Human, Choirs of Angels and Courts of Heaven were all on the final shortlists for Gramophone Awards and Volume 4, The Sun Most Radiant, was Editor’s Choice in Gramophone on its release last year.

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Christ Church Cathedral School wins Oxfordshire County Music Service Award

Christ Church Cathedral School (CCCS) is the first winner of a County cup which recognises contribution to community music. The Oxfordshire Community Hub Music Award was given to the School in recognition of its Cathedral Choristers’ Outreach work over the past decade.

The Oxfordshire Music Hub Cup, donated by Councillor Lorraine Lindsay-Gale, was presented to Stephen Darlington, Director of Music at Christ Church, at a formal ceremony on Saturday night, attended by county councillors, mayors and local politicians, along with a large audience. “I am thrilled that all the Choristers’ hard work in visiting so many local primary schools over the past decade has been recognised,” said Dr Darlington, who praised CCCS’s Director of Music, Sophie Biddell, for her flair and commitment to the project.

The CCCS Outreach project began as part of the government Sing Up campaign. When funding was withdrawn, CCCS undertook to keep the project going. More than 50 local schools have now been involved in the project, which aims to encourage singing in primary schools as well as provide training for music teachers.

Richard Murray, Headmaster of CCCS, thanked the Oxfordshire County Music Service for the award. “It is such a privilege for our boys to be able to travel round the County helping to introduce the joys of singing to so many boys and girls,” he said. “It is one of the joys of my job to attend the termly concert in the Cathedral where a number of schools come together to share their new-found passion for music.”

Musical talent at CCCS was also recognised at Saturday’s ceremony when Bernardo Mercado, a Form 7 pupil and Radley Foundation Scholar, received an award for the Most Improved Junior Player of the Year.

Schools sing out to celebrate 10th Anniversary Outreach Concert in Christ Church Cathedral

Six primary schools from across Oxfordshire joined pupils from Christ Church Cathedral School and the Cathedral Choristers for the 10th Anniversary Outreach Concert in the Cathedral.

A record number of people attended this year’s concert on Monday, which celebrated the fact that more than 50 local schools have been involved in the project over the past decade.

The children performed two pieces of music written by composer John Madden for the occasion.

Christ Church Director of Music Dr Stephen Darlington said: “When we first started this project ten years ago, we could not have imagined the huge number of children who have since been involved.”

The Outreach project is a joint venture between Oxfordshire County Music Service and Christ Church Cathedral School. It is funded by Christ Church Cathedral School and aims to encourage more singing and instrument playing in primary schools and provides training for music teachers.

The schools involved this year were Appleton, North Hinksey, New Hinksey, West Oxford, St Francis, Botley, and Christ Church.

Pete Hughes, Oxford Times, 28 June 2017

Please click here to view this article on the Oxford Times website.


Former Christ Church chorister receives literary award and glowing reviews for “The Matter of the Heart”

We were thrilled to learn that one of our former choristers, Thomas Morris, had won an RSL Jerwood Award and has received critical acclaim for his book The Matter of the Heart. After completing his time as a Christ Church chorister, Thomas went on to Winchester, then returned to Christ Church to study for a degree in Music. He had a long career as a BBC radio producer, spending his last five years at the BBC as producer of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time, before leaving to write full-time.

His book tells the story of cardiac surgery in eleven landmark operations, and demonstrates how a pioneering generation of doctors in the early twentieth century overcame a longstanding belief that the heart was out of bounds to the scalpel. Please click here for further details.

Thrilling… The “dizzying” story of heart surgery is every bit as important as that of the nuclear, computer or rocket ages. And now it has been given the history it deserves…

Sunday Times

Thomas Morris does for the history of cardiac surgery what The Right Stuff and Hidden Figures did for the space race… The book is – appropriately – pulse-thumpingly gripping and will be enjoyed by anyone who, in any sense of the phrase, has a heart.

Mark Lawson

Tremendous. An exhilarating sweep through ancient history and contemporary practice in surgery of the heart. It’s rich in extraordinary detail and stories that will amaze you. A wonderful book.

Melvyn Bragg

Crammed full of compelling characters and dramatic scenes, this book gets to the heart of a fascinating matter and demonstrates why it matters so much.

Thomas Wright, author of Circulation