O Croft, rebuke us not

Well, we have worked our way through William Croft’s apparent eccentricities in O Lord, rebuke me not and have decided that, in all but very few cases, he really did mean what he wrote. And for me it was encouraging to hear choir members say ‘It’ll be worth coming to this concert just to hear that piece’. So do join us on March 19th.

Croft’s little masterpiece is but part of a survey of the glorious repertoire that has been inspired by our wonderful cathedrals and their choirs. It is impossible to exaggerate the contribution that they have made to our national life. Many notable musicians, and not just singers, have learned the basics of their trade as boy/girl or adult choristers; the training of an organist/choirmaster develops skills that several leading conductors such as Sir Andrew Davis have been able to take further; Alexander Armstrong’s speed of thought might well reflect his musical training as a Choral Scholar (and he also plays the piano and oboe); and even Alastair Cook, England’s cricket captain, attributes his ability to concentrate for long periods to his training as a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral. He still plays a mean saxophone.

But the current excellence of cathedral music is not the inevitable result of an unbroken tradition. Although the choirs have always been there standards have fluctuated wildly over the years. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries choral matters were often a shambles and it took energetic work by visionary reformers such as SS Wesley, Frederick Ouseley and John Stainer to lay the foundations of modern choral excellence. They were determined to rectify a situation in which indiscipline and lack of commitment were so rife that, at the coronation of Queen Victoria for example, only a third of the adult choristers supposed to be present actually turned up! It goes without saying that determination remains a prime characteristic of those who continue their work today.