Church Choir 1931-61
This is an edited extract from a booklet of reminiscences by the Rev’d Joseph Holt, Vicar of St Oswald’s from 1934-1961
It appeared in the Parish Magazine, December 2010
“Village churches are not usually blessed with musical geniuses, but are supplied with men and boys who render faithful service in a humble way.
When the old [organ] was removed, the space was designed and utilised as a Lady Chapel, a plan we had in mind and hoped to complete. This space originally was used as a Clergy and Choir vestry for more than 50 years, and was referred to as ‘behind the organ.’
A curtain separated this space from the body of the Church. One Christmas Day, at the Evening Service, only one choirboy attended, except a few of the faithful. The boy amused himself by occasionally peeping through the curtains and telling us of each arrival. When I told him I had not expected him because it was Christmas, he said he had come because of visitors at home and there were not sufficient chairs for them all.
Choirboys are noted for their abnormal behaviour. I was once presented with a book, entitled “Those Dreadful Choirboys”. It is true than when robed some do look cherubic, but on the whole they are human and as such have mischievous traits. For instance, who would expect such a boy getting rid of chewing gum by putting it between the pages of a Service book? Under the desk, yes!
It is a common practice of such boys to swop surplices or ruffles when their own is soiled or missing, not to mention Choir Books. When I came to Preesall [in 1931, as curate] the Choir robes were evidently the remnants of bygone days and were somewhat threadbare. We decided to renew them and so the Ladies of the Guild and Sewing Class bought a quantity of royal blue material and made cassocks for the men and boys. These, together with new surplices and Eton collars, completely transformed the choir as they processed from behind the curtains.
Not all choirboys are dreadful or peculiar! There were, of course, exceptions. Bishop Herbert once said ‘Boys will be men’, and in my own experience of 50 years with boys of all ages, this dictum has proved to be true, especially with choirboys, some of whom have become good men.
At one period in our story we had an elderly lady as organist, who played well, but was very nervous, especially at the change of Chants in the Psalms, and the music of the Communion Service. At that time I tried to improve the morale of the choir by saying we must carry on whatever happens to the organist, because I always felt that a choir should lead the congregation, and not the other way round.”
50 years on, and still the odd organist is nervous, and choirboys (and girls, now) are still ‘on the whole human’, some even becoming good men (and women)! There is a great deal more fascinating social history and unintentional humour in Rev’d Joseph’s booklet. Perhaps we should reprint it in 2011, in memoriam.