In the choir, St Mary's, Warwick
PUBLISHED: 09:23 17 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:18 20 February 2013
The best things in life are free. Among them, the outstanding musical education on offer to choristers at St Mary's Collegiate Church in Warwick. And, the uplifting music they make, discovers Marsya Lennox.
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything. Plato
Boys have been turning up to choir practice at Warwicks church of St Mary for very nearly 900 years. While wars, fire, pestilence and politics shaped the wider community, its castle and its rulers, the music of St Marys continued to echo round the medieval masonry, a precious thread linking past with present.
On Christmas Eve 2011, men, boys and girls will cram into the choir stalls to delight the capacity congregation at one of the years biggest events, Midnight Mass.
Already they will have led the carol singing for 3,000 participants at Warwick Castle to benefit a host of local charities.
And resplendent in their scarlet robes, they continue as the lifeblood of one of this countrys greatest traditions.
Astonishingly, not everyone knows about St Marys, its choirs and the supreme opportunities on offer for both youngsters and the general, music-loving population.
It is the best kept secret in Warwickshire, said Jessica Semple, mother of 13 year-old Bill, a pupil at Kenilworth School and a keen chorister for the last three years. Every service is a free concert for anyone who wants to come.
And, at St Marys, some of the best things in life are truly free, notably a superb musical education for the youngsters who see whats on offer and choose to give it a try.
Anyone familiar with the small screen efforts of Gareth Malone and his quest to build choirs, with boys, from scratch, will delight in the knowledge that boys can sing, will sing and love singing. Here at St Marys, the inspiration is channeled through the Director of Music, Thomas Corns, who came here three years ago following time as organ scholar at both St Pauls Cathedral and Jesus College, Cambridge.
He drives the hugely challenging music programme: boys rehearsals Tuesdays and Fridays after school; men on Fridays; girls rehearsals on Mondays and evensong on Wednesdays plus Sunday services, morning and evening.
Outside this normal term time commitment for choirs and director, there are the special Christmas and Easter services, the concerts, weddings, special events and choir tours.
Last year, the boys went to Truro and sang the services at the Cathedral for a full week. We went on trips to the beach and lots of other places every day it was amazing, said Bill. This year, a week was spent at Wells Cathedral.
Being a chorister is not all hard work. We spend some great times together socially. Sometimes we go out bowling and have pizza afterwards, he added.
The young choristers enjoy a rare glimpse of life as it might have been for them at cathedral school but without having to leave home. They attend schools across Warwickshire, in both sectors, and, after the school day, they converge on St Marys from all corners of the county including Coventry and Stratford-upon-Avon.
Its a lot of fun for them being in the choir and meeting other children from different schools and backgrounds, said Thomas Corns. Choir forms the grounding for many firm, even best friendships while providing important training for life.
It is one of the only things children can do where they are on a quasi-professional footing with the adults.
He added: They know its a serious business and they want to do well.
Dedicated volunteers and fundraisers keep the whole, finely-tuned music machine running smoothly, many of them parents.
But the rewards are also great. The musical education for your children is so fabulous, said Jessica Semple.
Currently, St Marys is keen to invite boys from across the county to find out more about the choir and consider joining. While girls have long queued up to join, boys are not as easy to recruit.
There is end of term pocket money as one small incentive. And for parents of boys attending Warwick Junior and Senior Schools there are valuable choral scholarships available.
The choir is open to anybody who enjoys music and singing, said Thomas Corns. We are looking for potential. It helps if they play an instrument but it is not necessary. There are a lot of children out there who dont know they are musical and can sing.
The current choir members and the fortunate congregations at St Marys know very well the high standards achieved - every day.
A CD recorded last year was very well reviewed by BBC Radio 3, among others.
How wonderful to discover that that gorgeous performance was given by singers from Warwick, said one critic, broadcasting earlier this year.
Very calm and beautiful, said another, and: The choirs are all capable of committed, full-voiced singing . a bright shiny sound .
St Marys choirs, its church community and music lovers from all over Warwickshire can look forward to another bright, even sparkling Christmas of special events.
In whatever capacity, as congregation, audience or musician, those involved will be playing their part in a worthy tradition stretching back to 1123 when the first choir was founded here.
We are very lucky to have such a beautiful and historic church. There is a real sense of history and of our responsibility to see that the tradition continues, said Thomas.
Thomas Corns is very pleased to meet prospective choristers and their parents, boys aged from 8 and girls from 11. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org . Also see www.stmaryswarwick.org.uk.
The latest CD, Music for our Lady is available from St Marys Collegiate Church gift shop, priced 14.99. Sale proceeds go towards supporting the work of the choir.
The church website gives a complete run down of each months services with the details of all the music. It is a big undertaking, up to cathedral standards, and gives a clearer understanding of the huge amount of work, every week, that goes to produce such an impressive repertoire.