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Choir Tour to Exeter

Tuesday 8 September 2015

From 17-23 August the choir was resident at Exeter Cathedral, singing seven services in six days and performing a concert at Sidmouth Parish Church. The tour has now become an annual fixture in the choir calendar at St Matthew’s and it was a particular delight this year to be able to take many choristers with us who have been in the choir for a relatively short amount of time, some for only a few months!

Early on the morning of 17 August we departed from the Parish Centre on the 200 mile drive to Exeter. Following a couple of stops along the way of a relatively trouble-free journey, we arrived at our home

for the week, Exeter Cathedral School, which is only a stone’s throw from the cathedral itself. There was no time for a rest or even to find out who was to be sleeping where, though, as our first engagement at the cathedral was that very evening. The choir adapted quickly to the new surroundings and the obvious challenges that singing in a building much bigger than St Matthew’s brings, and Evensong set the bar very high for the rest of the week. After dinner we began to find our way around the rabbit warren-like school, and soon (for the younger members of the party) it was bed time.

Tuesday began bright and early with breakfast and a rehearsal at school, which was to become our regular pattern. A guided tour of the cathedral followed with many astonished by the things which surrounded us as we sang. After lunch in the sunshine on the cathedral green we set off for the bowling alley where various grudge matches could continue from previous choir tours. Soon it was time to return to the cathedral to prepare for Evensong where a large congregation waited to greet us. After dinner a fiercely contested game of ‘Piggy in the middle’ took place in the school playground with the rules severely bent by some.

Wednesday morning came and heralded what was to be an extremely wet day. After the morning rehearsal we donned our raincoats and set off for Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum which houses many artefacts regarding local and national history. The younger members of the party used ‘Explorer Packs’ to navigate their way around the galleries, and were particularly delighted to be able to dress up in period costume. An afternoon of free time in the city centre followed, with plenty of money being spent at a fudge shop. Evensong was not affected by the damp weather and neither were further games outside after dinner.

Thursday was another fine day and we had no commitments for singing at the cathedral that evening. After a lie in, a short morning rehearsal took place and then it was off to the beach at Dawlish Warren for the day. Some members of the party spent the whole time digging for Australia whilst others enjoyed the sea and a game of rounders. To give the caterers the evening off the group enjoyed an evening meal out in Exeter before heading back to school for an early night. We were delighted to learn of many of the choristers’ excellent GCSE results, and record our warmest congratulations for their achievement.

Friday was an early morning, with a short rehearsal at school before loading up music and cassocks and setting off for Sidmouth where we were to perform a lunch time concert in the Parish Church. We sang seven pieces from our repertoire to a large audience and even managed to sell some CDs! An afternoon visit to the Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary delighted everyone (even though it was misty!) and soon we were back at the cathedral for Evensong. Tired faces had begun to appear and so early nights were welcome for many of the party.

Saturday dawned to blazing sunshine, and after a morning rehearsal in the cathedral to get our bearings for Sunday morning’s service we were off down to the quayside to ‘Saddles & Paddles’. We hired bikes and cycled around 6 miles in 3 hours, including a stop for lunch. Some members of the party preferred to take a boat down the river Exe and the canal and met us en-route for lunch. An excellent time was had by all with only one fall into a patch of nettles to dampen the spirits. Evensong took place earlier in the day today and following the service we were delighted to be provided with a Devon cream tea courtesy of the cathedral. As our trip was drawing closer to its conclusion dinner was followed by presentations for all the members of staff who had done so much to make the week run smoothly.

Sunday morning brought with it torrential rain and a quick dash to the cathedral in our Sunday best to prepare for the Eucharist. There were close to 300 people in the nave for the service and we were delighted to meet some of them and hear their comments over coffee. Then it was back to the school for lunch and to pack up the vans with luggage before one last visit to the fudge shop and cathedral shop. Following Evensong the younger members of the party received certificates from the cathedral to help remember their week singing there. We were pleased to be able to share two of St Matthew’s commissions with our new friends in Exeter on Sunday: William Mathias’ Missa Brevis (1973) at Eucharist and Philip Stopford’s O How Glorious (2014) at Evensong. After the service it was time to pile onto the bus for the journey home, arriving at 10.30pm at the Parish Centre.

It would not be right for me to omit to mention a few people here who made a significant contribution to the tour week. Most particularly I should like to thank Jane Roberts who masterminded the catering for the week (two choristers were heard to mention they would miss the food the most!), along with Rachael Drouet, Lizzie Linney, Linda and Barry Moore who undertook much of the care of the choristers, amongst many other tasks. Also thanks to all the members of the choir for such commitment and excellent singing, and especially those who gave up a week’s holiday from work to come on the trip, and to Tom Moore and Jonathan Starmer for their playing of the organ all week. The musical standard that was achieved was far beyond that which should really be expected of a Parish Church choir and many at the cathedral commented as such. I hope that those who travelled from Northampton to support us in Exeter did so with pride and found it a rewarding experience.

Roll on Chester in August 2016!

Please find below a selection of photos.


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