The Very Rev. Noel Thomas Hopkins (1892-1969)
Vicar and Provost of Wakefield (1933-1962)
Some Personal Reflections by John Holt
Boys who were in the Cathedral Choir between 1933 and 1962 will all have vivid memories of Provost Hopkins. To choirboys over the years, however, he was never known as Provost Hopkins but always as “Dickie”.
He was born on 3 January 1892 and attended Archbishop Holgate's School in York before becoming organ scholar at Clare College, Cambridge. He trained for the ministry at Cuddesdon Theological College, being ordained in 1915 and serving as a curate in Whitby. He was a Chaplain to the British Armed Forces during World War I. After the war, he became Chaplain at Ripon College, Cuddesdon. In 1925, he was appointed Sacrist of St Paul's Cathedral, remaining there until 1933 when he moved to Wakefield. Initially, his post was that of Vicar of Wakefield but his title changed in 1938 and he became the first Provost of Wakefield, a post he held until his retirement in 1962.
Dickie was a high churchman who placed great emphasis on standards of excellence in all aspects of worship, both music and ceremony. He was a stickler for dignified behaviour and made life difficult for choirboys who strayed from his standards. Like Quelch of the “Greyfriars Remove”, he had a gimlet eye that seemed to see everything – especially choirboys fidgeting in sermons! To choirboys, he was a gaunt and intimidating figure, especially when wearing his gaiters and, in more ways than one, he put the fear of God into generations of choirboys.
My first encounter with Dickie was at my voice trail in 1948. Dr Saunders listened to my singing – but that was the easy part. After the singing, we had to go to the Provost’s vestry to be interviewed by Dickie. Part of the encounter consisted of demonstrating that we could read the psalms fluently – quite an ordeal for an eight year old.
Perhaps my most lasting memory of Dickie is of him sitting in his stall during sermons. As the choir sang, he almost always put both hands over his ears and slumped lower and lower in his seat as if in agony. He would then make a point of saying the vestry prayer which invariably started with the words: “Pardon O Lord all faults and failings in this our act of worship….”. He was never really happy with the choirboys’ Yorkshire accents and would often follow the vestry prayer by getting us to recite such choice sentences as “the constable said to my mother, pick that butter out of the gutter”.
There were times during services, especially during sermons, when Dickie would spot a choirboy whispering or fidgeting. This would result in a loud click of the figure and a look that froze the blood. If this initial displeasure didn’t work, the next sanction was to send Head Verger, Charlie Fuller, over to the offending boy to tell him to report to the Provost after the service. This was no empty threat. Dickie regularly caned boys for recurring or especially bad behaviour. This punishment was always preceded by the words: “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you”.
Until 1961, there was no Assistant Organist and when Dr Saunders was unable to play, Dickie deputised. As a former organ scholar of Clare College, Cambridge, he had no doubt at one time been a proficient player but, by the late 1940s, he suffered very badly from arthritis in his fingers and struggled to play even the hymns. I vividly remember one evensong when, sitting on decani, I witnessed one of Dickie’s more memorable moments. At the beginning of the sermon, he decided to prepare the registration for the final hymn. He stood behind the organ stool and carefully pulled out a selection of stops. He then sat on the chair in the organ loft to listen to the preacher. Anticipating the end of the sermon, he stood up and, forgetting that he had already pulled out a good number of stops, climbed onto the stool by walking across the pedals. The resulting noise not only caused Dickie to jump several inches in the air but also brought about an abrupt end to the sermon. Perhaps experiences such as this persuaded him that Dr Saunders needed some other assistance. One of the last things he did before his retirement was to appoint me as the Cathedral’s first official Assistant Organist.
Dickie also took choir practices in the absence of Dr Saunders. These practices always started with the singing of “Cherry ripe…” over and over again. It was never made clear to us why we had to sing this song repeatedly at every practice. I suspect it was the only tune he could play without music! Cherry ripe would be followed by exhortations to imagine that we were approaching top notes like a bouncing ball and to “sing like dickie birds” – which is probably where the nickname came from.
Another feature of Dickie’s behaviour that I remember well was the way he drove his car. He was fond of telling people he had managed to get his driving licence before the advent of driving tests. To anyone who was a passenger in his car, this was an unnecessary story to tell. He was also not ashamed to admit that he had never mastered the art of changing gear. His usual practice was to put the car into top gear before setting off and then revving up like a racing driver before kangarooing down the road! This spectacular technique usually worked on straight roads but getting out of the Cathedral yard was not so easy. I remember on one occasion after evensong his car embedded itself in a red bus passing the west end of the Cathedral!
Some of the above recollections may give the impression of an unkind man with no sense of humour but this is not true. I think he found it difficult to communicate with choirboys and to understand their attitudes but, as with Dr Saunders, nothing was too much trouble when help was needed. As for a sense of humour, all I need say is that one of his party tricks was to lie on his back and demonstrate how to eat an ice cream cone by biting off the bottom and sucking the ice cream down the cone!
Bishop Treacy summed up the different sides of his personality in an article celebrating his retirement when he wrote that “he combined a strong will and determination with tenderness, sweetness and whimsical charm”.
The Cathedral owes a great deal to Provost Hopkins. He was the driving force behind a great deal of restoration work on the fabric and the provision of a new organ. He commissioned the figures on the rood screen and the “new” Christmas crib. Above all, he established standards of excellence in worship that echo around the Cathedral to this day. As standards and forms of worship change over the years, I have often heard former choristers say, “Dickie will be turning in his grave”. I hope not!
He died on 26 July 1969.
John Hindle Holt (1939-2019):
The Tribute given by Tom Moore at his funeral
John Hindle Holt began what would become a lifelong relationship with Wakefield Cathedral and its choir when he became a chorister and scholar at QEGS in 1947. Little did he, or anyone, know at that time just what an impact he would have in this place over the course of his life.
John assumed the position of head chorister in 1954, under the direction of Dr Percy Saunders – fondly known as “Doc”. Archive photos here at the cathedral chart John’s time as a chorister, and John could always remember minute details of those days. If anyone came with a query about the cathedral choir and its history, John was the person to ask. One such occasion occurred just a couple of years back with a question about a broadcast of Allegri’s Miserere. John quickly recalled that this work was broadcast from Wakefield Cathedral in 1954……… and named all the rest of the music that was sung in the service too!
John apparently not only excelled as a chorister; in doing some research through the Old Savilians and the Development Officer at QEGS, I quote two short excerpts from John’s school reports; School Year 1954-55. Form 5UA aged 16.2 ‘A splendid fellow in every way. He is shy and yet very pleasant, and a sound all-round performer’. School Year 1956-57. Form 6M2 aged 18.1 Noteworthy interests: ‘Music-an excellent bass voice and a real musician-Cathedral Choir. 1st XI vice-captain-continues to bowl with enthusiasm and intelligence. Senior prefect.’
When John’s voice broke, he soon moved into the back rows, where, for a start, he sang as a bass but soon moved to cantoris tenor. This position in the choir had also been occupied by John’s father during the 1950s, and later by his brother James. Characters came and went, but a few remained constant – Richard Haigh for example – and of course John. In 1961, at the time of Provost Hopkins’ retirement, John also became Doc Saunders’ assistant, and choristers from those years when John served in this role well recall him, and I quote, “putting the fear of God into us”. There was obviously a drive and desire for good performances on John’s part and he was going to achieve this!
John lobbied both Provost Hare and Percy Saunders to begin week day evensongs, starting with services on Thursday evenings which became part of the choir timetable in 1969. This weekday service has remained the focal point of sung weekday evensongs in Wakefield Cathedral ever since – it still goes strong.
In April 1970, Doc Saunders died suddenly, and John, along with Andrew Carter led the music department through what must have been a sad and difficult time between then and the start of September term in 1970, when Jonathan Bielby assumed the position of Master of Music. At that time, the organ was becoming increasingly played by the late great John Scott, and John Holt began to take a back seat as far as choir direction was concerned, allowing first John Scott and then numerous assistant organists to work under Jonathan’s direction.
In 1966, John was a founder member of the Wakefield Cathedral Old Choristers Association. He was secretary between 1966 and 1988, with Bill Brotherton being chair for just as long! At the time of Bill’s death, John became chairman, and although he didn’t always hold one of the positions of office in the association, he was an active member on the committee right up until his death. John also served on the committee of the national federation of old choristers and was at one point chair of this. He did much to ensure national gatherings and meetings for the federation came to Wakefield from time to time.
Personally, I always found John to be a great support to me in my positions at the cathedral, first as Assistant Organist, and latterly Director of Music. John was wise, offered great words of encouragement and advice, and was never slow to appreciate what the choir achieved. He was always enthusiastic about cathedral music and at the drop of a hat would come back to help us, even singing long term in the choir again for periods after his first retirement. In fact, we believe that John actually retired from the cathedral choir 3 times – and therefore had 3 retirement gifts from the lay clerks! The last time John retired was in September 2016; the best part of 70 years since he joined as a treble. Even then, John would come back and help out, and loved to take trebles’ practices and direct the music in services when one or the other organist wasn’t present.
Both the cathedral choir and St. Peter’s Consort, of which John was also a long serving member, sing a great deal of music composed by John over the years. These compositions will no doubt serve as a lasting testament to John, and will ensure he is remembered in our choirs. It is quite right and just that he should be remembered with affection, and for all the hard work he did over such a long time for the musical tradition here.
John asked particularly for the King James Bible to be used at this service. I end with a quote from the book of Matthew, and the verses telling the parable of the talents; “His Lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord”.
Some memories of an Old Chorister
by Peter Darkin
I joined the choir in 1943 when Newell Smith Wallbank was Organist and Master of Choristers. ‘Tosh’ Wallbank was a smallish man with thinning hair and a ginger moustache. He was of a fairly excitable nature and could be driven into a rage by repeated mistakes in the singing – seen as a challenge by some of the choristers.
At the time, I attended Snapethorpe Junior School on Broadway and having a two mile bus journey to the Cathedral was given dispensation to arrive 5 minutes late for Monday, Wednesday and Friday choir practice.
Thursday choir practices, which took place 6.30pm and 8.30pm, required rapid footwork to catch the bus home. Practice had a habit of over running often finishing around 8.40pm. The problem was that due to war time restrictions, my last bus departed from the Bull Ring at 8.50pm.
In 1943, black out restrictions were being eased a little with a few lamps illuminating the streets but it was still fairly dark making it slightly daunting for an 8 year old to be wandering the City centre streets on a winters night.
I imagine any parent allowing this today would be accused of child neglect. Things improved when I became a choral scholar in 1945.
The choir vestry was designated an Air Raid Shelter during the war. To protect those sheltering there in the event of the church collapsing on top of the vestry, a framework of RSJs was erected inside supporting some very stout planks. Needless to say this proved too much of a temptation for one of ‘Tosh’ Wallbank’s tormentors. Bostock was his name (I can’t remember his Christian name) who decided to spend one entire choir practice on these planks doing various things to distract his fellow choristers during choir practice. From memory he remained undetected.
It was usual for choir practice to be held in the morning during school holidays. I well remember the arrival of the Rev. E.H.Fiske. During practice the vestry door was flung open, everyone stopped singing as a person walked in and announced ‘I am Fiske’. There was a stunned silence but ‘Tosh’, obviously expecting the interruption, was unfazed and introduced the new Precentor.
When I joined, probationers were not allowed to sit in the quire normally sitting with a parent in the congregation. I was admitted to the choir at Epiphany 1944. Due to a paper shortage, new bibles were unobtainable. We were given used ones and I did not receive my official bible until Trinity Sunday 1945.
In June 1945 we were shocked by the sudden death of ‘Tosh’ Wallbank. During the period between his death and the appointment of Doc. Saunders, the Provost ‘Dicky’ took charge of the choir and the music. John North, the father of our Association’s Chair, took on the role of organist.
Punctuality was not the Provost’s strong point and many a choir practice was preceded by the boys hanging around the door to the crypt. One pastime was to climb over the railings and walk across Upper Kirkgate to Redmans grocers shop where a hot cheese pancake could be purchased for 2d.
Even the war had not stopped the annual visit to the pantomime but it was The Theatre Royal in Leeds that was favoured at the time. Restrictions prevented the hiring of a coach or bus so we travelled to and from Leeds by train. The train home comprised of some ancient clerestory non corridor stock. There were insufficient adults for each compartment to be supervised leaving boys on their own in some. In the compartment I was in, one of the older boys produced a packet of cigarettes and it was here that I was introduced to smoking. Instruction on how to inhale was given. The cigarette was lit and given to me. Obviously the object of the exercise was to make me sick and in this they failed but I remember not being very impressed with smoking. Being a winter’s evening, it was dark and to frighten the smaller boys someone removed the electric light bulb plunging the compartment into darkness. To be fair it was put back in just before we reached Westgate Station.
For the first ever choir camp we went to Scorton, north of Preston. On the first day, not being too sure where Scorton was, a few of us descended on the village shop to buy a map. The lady behind the counter said that she did not have any maps but offered us a world globe. We declined!
The highlight of the camp was a visit to Blackpool. Few of us had ever been there before and we marvelled at the Tower but what impressed us the most was the Pleasure Beach. The fun house was my first experience of an all-in price, where after paying the entrance fee everything was free.
St. Peters Church, Scorton did not have a choir at the time so on the Sunday we were asked to sing. I am reminded of this holiday every time I drive north on the M6 because the spire of St. Peter’s appears directly in front of you before the motorway swings to the right to pass the village.
In 1949, choristers and other Wakefield people took an interest in the murder trial of John George Haigh – the acid bath murderer - who had been a choral scholar at the Cathedral. One of the servers – Eddie Blackburn – had been in the choir at the same time and remembered him as a very unpleasant boy. After Haigh’s execution some of us asked where Haigh had sat and pinned up a small plaque to his memory. It was Provost Hopkins who discovered this when showing some people round. It was removed and to his credit the culprits were never pursued.
Canon W.E.Plumbridge taught at the Grammar School and, like many school masters of the time, had a series of phrases used when boys displeased him. One of these was ‘you will end up being hung boy’. It was with great delight that the day after Haigh’s execution, he announced to our whole form ‘I always said that that boy would end up being hung’.
After the war, new cars were almost impossible to buy, the phrase ‘export or die’ being used to explain why most new cars were exported. Early in 1950, the Rev.Fiske took delivery of a new Vauxhall Velox – CHL 826. As an American citizen, his purchase was classed as an exported vehicle. I don’t think that the Provost was too impressed having to soldier on with his rather battered pre-war Austin 12.
My voice broke in 1950 and I became a server, something I continued to do until leaving Wakefield in 1972. In due course, I joined the Cathedral Youth Club. I don’t think that I had appreciated how much Rev.E.H.Fiske (always referred to as Fisky) enjoyed working with young people. He must have played a major part in organising the choir camps and he was the driving force that made the Cathedral Youth Club one of the best in the City.
I think he was a lonely man but responded well to those helping him to organise things. I have in mind the first youth club trip to Austria 1952. There was quite a lot of paperwork involved and we were to visit Yugoslavia where a visa was required for each person. To do this, passports had to be collected and then presented at the Yugoslav Embassy in London. Fisky took two of us with him the bonus for us was being allowed to do most of the driving to and from London.
That holiday will always be remembered by me because on it that I met my wife.
It was with Fisky that a few of us made our first visit to Silverstone and the British Grand Prix and it was with Fisky that occasionally a group of us would visit a country pub out of Wakefield after evensong on a Sunday. I have fond memories of him and my time in the choir.
Fifty years on – some memories
John North (OC 1961-1967)
At the end of December 1967, I sang at my last service as a treble, which happened to be the service of carols in procession. There wasn’t a service of lessons and carols at the Cathedral in those days and it always took place on the Sunday after Christmas. Throughout my time in the choir, this service began with a shortened form of evensong, followed by carols in procession as the choir moved from one part of the Cathedral to another where choir carols would be sung: in the north choir aisle; in St Mark’s Chapel; in the Lady Chapel; and the tower. The carol selection was limited! It consisted of: two carols by Leighton (“The Star Carol” and “Lully, Lulla”); “Rosa mystica” (Dale); “A spotless rose” (Howells); “Here is the little door” (Howells); “Hymn to the Virgin” (Britten); “What child is this?” (a simple 4 part arrangement of Greensleeves); “Bethlehem Down” (Warlock); and “Adam lay ybounden” (Ireland). Doc Saunders didn’t give out too many solos in those days but I did most of them for a couple of years. I remember having to sing the solos in the Leighton carols when I had a very heavy cold and being frightened to death about reaching the high notes and controlling my breathing. I managed it – just! Having joined the choir in the summer of 1961, 1967 was my seventh Christmas and the seventh time I had sung those carols!
I was 15½ when I left and had been head boy for the previous year, having taken over from David Noble, a good friend in those days, He went on to become a TV producer, his name often occurring in the credits of ITV programmes. On leaving, my voice still hadn’t broken completely so I joined the back row for a year, singing alto first before joining the basses when I presume my voice had finally broken!! I sang bass in the first West Riding Choirs Festival (Bradford, Sheffield and Wakefield in those days) at Sheffield in 1968.
The week’s schedule consisted of 4.15pm practices on Mondays and Wednesdays (also on Fridays when we were young choristers) which finished at 5pm and Thursday practices in the choirstalls from 6.30-8.30pm, with the men attending from 7.15pm. All those practices to sing at two Sunday services (three for my first six months in the choir when the boys used to sing plainsong Matins at 10am). When we arrived for services or if we arrived early for a practice, you would usually find Doc sitting in the Crypt corridor opposite the choir vestry door. He would smile and nod his head as you passed him but he hardly ever came into the vestry apart from when he robed or just before the beginning of a practice. He left the senior choristers in charge of the younger boys, leaving them to deal with noise and behaviour. Shortly before service he would make his way to the organ to play while we would wait for the electronic bell to sound, rung usually by Charlie Fuller, the Cathedral’s long-serving verger, from his room upstairs, which meant we needed to put our surplices on and be on our way to the north choir aisle. Self-discipline was the order of the day!
Although the music list wasn’t huge compared with the present one, we did learn and perform works such as Vaughan Williams’ eight-part Mass in G minor, Britten’s morning canticles in C (we sang the popular Jubilate for the first time at Canon Pare’s installation and induction as Provost in 1962) and we began the annual performances of Bach’s St John Passion in Holy Week. We also performed Leighton’s “Crucifixus pro nobis” alongside the Schütz “St John Passion". I mention those works because it proved we had the ability to learn more taxing music. We tended to learn new music over a number of weeks. I can remember beginning to learn the Leighton piece in January for a Holy Week performance. The whole piece doesn’t last twenty minutes! It wasn’t as though we were short of singers. In the years I was in the choir, the number of trebles at any one time ranged from 30 (when eight probationers joined in 1962) to no lower than 20. It was usually around 24. In the back row, I can remember at one time there were at least 16 choirmen (not called lay clerks in those days!).
During the school holidays, we still sang the services. In August, there was one service with only four boys in the stalls as the others were on holiday. Practices in the holidays began at 9.30am, and followed the same weekly pattern as term time. After practice, a group of us would often walk round the shops and go to a coffee bar for a drink – we knew how to live it up! Sometimes, there would be invitations to spend the day at a boy’s house. Friends such as Pat Hanson, Stephen Gledhill, Richard Belt and David Noble come to mind. Those of us who became copy boys (no adults to sort out the music in those days) would sometimes spend a day sorting out copies in what is now the crypt kitchen where all of the music was stored. As copy boys, you had to arrive early for services - not to practise, heaven forbid – but to put out copies in the stalls and then to go back to the stalls after service to collect them and put them away – no individual choir folders!
I was lucky to sing on ITV on three occasions (in 1962 and twice in 1964). The 1962 service was a long ordination service which began at 11am and ended just short of 1pm. The whole service was shown – no cutting short religious broadcasting in those days! I remember the music we sang – Wood in the Phrygian Mode and “O Lord increase my faith” (we thought it was composed by Gibbons in those days) – not the most inspiring choices! The last hymn was “Bright the vision that delighted” where Doc gave us the opportunity to sing a descant. It was the only one I ever sang at the Cathedral and we never repeated it! As regards the radio, we never broadcast a BBC Choral Evensong but we did record a BBC service, which was broadcast later on the World Service. Another inspiring choice of music for the recording: “God be in my head” (Kitson)!
We were never able to see the TV broadcasts (no video recorders) and I never knew there had been a recording made of anything we sang until, in the 1990s, a retired priest, who I believe was called Canon Pearson, brought a tape to an OCs’ event. The recording was of the choir giving the first performance of a Mass composed by John Joubert for the Diocese. Joubert came to a choir practice to listen and comment. He was a lecturer in Music at Hull University in those days. We gave its first performance at a special concert when there were also contributions from other parish church choirs in the diocese (Barnsley, Halifax and Huddersfield performed – I think they were the only ones.). We also sang the Mass on one of the 1964 broadcasts. It wasn’t one of Joubert’s better works. It was good to hear the tape but you then realised that we really weren’t so good!
We never expected to tour. Our ‘tours’ were to give concerts in Pontefract Parish Church, Thorne Grammar School Hall and an annual pilgrimage to Silcoates School where we gave a concert in the school hall and were then served a two course meal. The annual choir trip was in a coach to the Bradford Alhambra pantomime which would be followed by a party organised by the choir parents. Another annual event for some of us was the staging of the annual nativity play, which was always produced by two Cathedral stalwarts, Messrs Blackburn and Rishworth. A number of choristers would join other Cathedral young people on Friday evenings in the Chapter House to rehearse, Our producers always found good plays and there usually at least two performances. The most memorable for me were the ones given for the old folk at the County Hospital, where the stage was created on the floor of a hospital ward and the wings were formed by mobile curtain screens, and the ones given for the patients of Stanley Royd Hospital, where the stage was the choir of the large Victorian Hospital Chapel. The audiences were always very appreciative even if their appreciation was often shown at inopportune times with “oooo…” “don’t they look lovely..” and “I need to go to the toilet..” as the acting was taking place! Another annual event was the early service on Ascension Day when Eucharist was sung at 7am! After the service, we would walk round to The Raven pub for a huge cooked breakfast before walking up to school. You didn’t mind the early start after that!
One year, a Passiontide play was read by members of the congregation (I think it had previously been broadcast on radio) to the audience in a darkened Cathedral and a small group of us had to sing a number of Bach passion chorales during each performance (I think we gave three evening performances). It was the first time I’d ever used a tuning fork. Readers and singers sat in the tower while the audience sat in the pews listening to us. I can remember vividly the sound effects (just like The Archers!). The performance was then taken to Wakefield Prison where we performed the play for the prisoners from behind a curtain in the Prison Chapel. My memory fails me at this point but I presume and hope that the lights were left on for safety reasons and the warders were present!
Another highlight that comes to mind was the visit of Berlin Cathedral Choir. We gave a concert with them in the Cathedral and met socially for a pre-concert tea. Apart from those in the choir who were learning German, we realised that the language might be a barrier. A few of us, who weren’t learning German, decided we needed to learn a very useful question. We used our best German accents to ask, “Sprechen sie Englisch?” The only reply was “Nein”. That was the end of that and the pen-friends we had hoped for didn’t materialise!
I suppose my most memorable event was to be part of the processional choir at a RSCM festival service, held at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965. Three choirmen (Tom Jessop, Bill Brotherton and Jack Copley) along with three trebles (David Noble, Stephen Gledhill and myself) travelled to London by train, had lunch at what seemed to be a “posh” restaurant and then made our way to the venue for a long practice followed by a long service, with a number of anthems being sung. It was the first time I sang the Rose responses. We were one of a number of cathedral choirs who made up the processional choir. On the stage and around the organ was a vast choir of 800 in different coloured robes. The Hall was packed and the Queen Mother was present. It was a tremendous occasion! The RSCM made a double LP of the service which I still have. We then had to make our way back to the station and arrived home after midnight ready for a good sleep. Thankfully, we had been given permission to miss morning school.
Back at the Cathedral, high standards of behaviour were always expected with Charlie Fuller, whose seat was in front of the Provost’s (now the Dean’s) stall, always ready to correct any misdemeanours, especially made by cantoris trebles during services! He would sometimes, if he thought our processions were looking untidy, take us into the Cathedral at the end of a choir practice to make sure we processed in straight lines and with an arm-length gap between choristers. On those occasions, he was like a sergeant-major. Doc always left issues like that for others to sort out. In fact, I don’t think Doc ever really showed us his true personality. However, we did know when Doc loved our singing as you could see a tear in his eye when he was conducting (he rarely came to thank the choir after a performance or to thank you after singing a solo). When he came to conduct us in an unaccompanied anthem, we would turn our backs on the congregation as Doc had his music stand by the screen entrance on the north side near the altar. He positioned the stand there as he played the organ for the services, giving the chord for the anthem and then coming round to conduct.
Whenever I meet others who were in the choir with me, the talk is always about the wonderful years at the Cathedral and our respect for Doc. It really showed at his funeral in 1970 when a whole group of us who had been in the choir together, asked for permission to leave school to attend the service. We just had to be there. Being in the choir was time consuming but I will never forget that period of my life. I hope today’s choristers and those in future years will never forget their time in the choir and the experiences gained and friendships made. Hopefully, they will also look back fondly fifty years later with as many memories as I have.
Terry Cass (OC 1948-1953):
With A Voice Of Singing
In June 1948 a ten year old boy walked hesitantly down the steps into the crypt of Wakefield Cathedral to join the choir. It was the beginning of a lifetime of singing and listening to choral music.
In the next five years I sang and came to love a wide variety of religious music under the guidance and direction of Dr Saunders whom I respected and look back on with great gratitude. We had to learn plainsong for the Lenten services of Tenebrae and Compline, which I regarded as a choirboy’s Lenten penance. The composers whose music I loved singing covered the centuries from Gibbons and Tallis to Wood, Darke, Stanford and Vaughan Williams to name but a few. That is not to forget the weekly staple of hymns and psalms.
The services I remember vividly are the broadcasts of Evensong and the Enthronement of Bishop Wilson – the sense of anticipation as we waited for the red light to indicate we were ‘on air’. We always looked forward to Midnight Mass and singing Christmas carols as we processed round a packed Cathedral with just a slight smell of beer emanating from the congregation mingling with the incense. Then off home to open the Christmas presents.
The other service that made a lasting impression was the ecclesiastical theatre of the Lighting of the Paschal Candle. After the dark and drear weeks of Lent and of the first part of this service the Cathedral was bathed in light and we sang the first hymn of Easter ‘Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem’.
While Doc Saunders was our musical mentor, no one writing about these years could fail to mention the gaitered figure of Noel T. Hopkins (Dickie), the Provost. He kept a sharp eye on bored and temporarily unemployed choirboys during sermons. A penetrating click of the fingers meant that he had spotted some misdemeanour and that the perpetrator might be called to the Chapter House for a caning. This was a badge of honour for the choirboy concerned and the caning was of the ‘this will hurt me more than it hurts you’ variety. He occasionally stood in for Dr Saunders and took the evening practice when he tried to round our West Riding vowels by getting us to sing scales to the words ‘Roast Beef’ and ‘Can a fat man stand in a grandstand’. If I could listen now to my contemporaries I suspect I would find he failed miserably!
Other highlights of my time in the choir were the Christmas visits to the pantomime at Leeds Grand organised (and I think paid for) by our American Precentor Father Fiske. We were delighted at the pre-arranged mention of our presence during the performance by the likes of Norman Evans or Albert Modley. Just after I joined the choir we were taken for a week’s camp to Robin Hood’s Bay. We were accommodated in the primary school and as a gesture of thanks sang Evensong in the parish church. On a very different note the whole country was horrified by the trial of John George Haigh, the acid bath murderer. He came from Outwood, went to QEGS and was a choirboy at Wakefield Cathedral. When his trial was being held in a blaze of publicity in the national papers I remember going to sing a Sunday service and sitting down to see a very neatly written card pinned to the choir stalls which said ‘Here sat John George Haigh’ followed by the dates when he had been in the choir. I have no proof who put it there but have some suspicions.
I left the choir in 1953 and singing became a thing of my past until 1977. I was living in Whakatane, a small town on the Bay of Plenty coast in North Island New Zealand. A friend told me he was a member of a choir in an even smaller local town, Edgecumbe, and that they were practising the Fauré Requiem and I should come along. Like the 10 year old boy I hesitantly went and I have been going ever since.
The Edgecumbe Choir was started 60 years ago in the Presbyterian Church mainly by dairy farmers and their wives with a 22 year old conductor who had played the violin at school and who reluctantly agreed to do the job. It is an all comers’ choir – it was decided early on that if they tried to audition people there would be no choir. An attitude of ‘if music has been written to sing we’ll have a go at singing it’ has meant that I have been able to sing many of the choral classics over the years. There have been one or two interesting performances. In my early days we sang Handel’s setting of ‘Dixit Dominus’ which bore only an occasional resemblance to his music though I think we all finished at the same time. Mostly however through sheer hard work we are content and sometimes elated by our performances.
In recent years we have performed music by John Rutter, Karl Jenkins, Adele and Freddie Mercury as well as American composer Moreton Lauridsen. However we now look forward to finishing our 60th Anniversary year with, of course, The Messiah. I hope that when we get to the final great Amen I will be able to look forward to celebrating in 2018, 70 years since I walked down the steps and into my first practice at Wakefield Cathedral.
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