Of Choristers – ancient and modern



A history of cathedral choir schools

By Anne Page, B mus

The organ and Choir
Copyright: Exeter Cathedral

"England’s oldest youth movement" — so said the late Sir Sydney Nicholson, founder of the School of English Church Music, now the Royal School of Church Music. He was referring to our unique heritage of boys’ choirs down the ages. The rest of the world is getting to know all about it through the success of the many overseas tours now undertaken by our cathedral and collegiate choirs.

"These great buildings need the music..."

Between the wars my father and I went into Amiens Cathedral in France and he asked me what I thought of it. "Wonderful!" I said, "but it just lacks something". "What’s that?" he said. "Walmisley in D minor" I replied. These great buildings need the music and the music needs these buildings.

Some thirty years later when my eldest son was Bishop’s Chorister at Salisbury Cathedral, I was invited to attend the Cathedral School sports and afterwards the tea in the school refectory, when I had the good fortune to meet the late Dora Robertson, author of the book, Sarum Close. I was telling her how I had read and re-read her book adding that my ambition was to write a book on all the major choir schools of the country. "Oh you must – you simply must!" was her reply.

It was not for another 10 years or so when my family had all left home that I managed to settle down to it, not realising what a very long job it would be, even when the late Sir John Dykes Bower wrote saying, "How splendid of you to be planning a book on the history of choir schools, it will be quite a formidable task I should think." He was right.

The author's own Rochester performance (aged eight)

Not quite the first girl singing in Rochester Cathedral, the writer was about eight years old. The Magnificat was Stanford in B flat, so enthusiastic was this young person that she burst into song with the choir embarrassing her father and refusing to stop.

That was the beginning of a life-long devotion to cathedral music and even, perhaps, of this work.