Federation of Cathedral Old Choristers’ Associations AGM

held at Christ Church Cathedral Oxford Saturday May 6th 2017

‘There is more to an AGM than just the meeting’

By 10.30am thirty delegates with their guests representing sixteen associations registered and assembled in the McKenna Room at Christ Church College where we were warmly received by the Dean, the Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy, and the Headmaster of Christ Church Cathedral School, Richard Murray.

The Dean apologised for his later absence from the very special Choral Evensong sung by the combined choirs of Oxford’s three ancient choral foundations, Christ Church, Magdalen and New College, as he would be attending the funeral of his friend Bishop Michael Perham in Gloucester Cathedral that afternoon.

The Headmaster, Richard Murray spoke of possible common ground between the interests of the Choir Schools Association and our Federation, a point taken up by Alastair Pollard our Chairman when he thanked the Christ Church Oxford Association for hosting the Annual Meeting.  I thought I had seen Richard Murray some years before, in and around Gloucester Cathedral, only to learn from him that he began his teaching career at The King’s School Gloucester and was married in the Cathedral Quire.

The formalities completed, we moved out to visit the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments housed in the University Music Faculty building adjacent to the College.  The curator gave us a very informative and entertaining introduction to a truly remarkable historical collection of string, wind, keyboard and percussion instruments with the opportunity to ‘try out’ almost anything that was not in a glass case display. Very much a hands-on experience.

A cafeteria style Lunch was taken in College in the Great Hall, seating up to 300 people.  The Hall is the largest pre-Victorian college Hall in Oxford or Cambridge and with its magnificant ‘hammerbeam’ ceiling and its walls lined with portraits of many famous members of Christ Church it was the inspiration for Hogwart’s Hall in the Harry Potter films and was recreated in a studio for filming.

After lunch we gathered for the Tour of the Cathedral which was founded as the Saxon priory of St Frideswide in about 710 AD, refounded by Augustinian monks in the 12th century and closed by Cardinal Wolsey in 1524.  The Cardinal immediately founded Cardinal College with the priory church becoming its chapel, knocking down three bays of the nave so as to make way for his collegiate scheme.  Following the downfall of Wolsey the college became King Henry Vlll’s College, later in 1546 the institution was refounded as Christ Church combining college and cathedral.

Our guide showed unbridled enthusiasm in relating the history of the building, and its architectural structure, particularly the vaulted lierne ribbed ceiling and the 12 stone lanterns that appear to hang in mid-air.  Her depth of knowledge coupled with her humourous interludes came to the fore when interpreting the stained and painted glass, the Jonah window (1630s), the large North Transept Victorian glass St Michael’s window and the brightly-coloured Burne-Jones east windows.  The oldest glass is the medieval Beckett window (c.1320) in the South Transept.

Mid-afternoon. We, the delegates moved back to the McKenna room for the AGM whilst guests and non-delegates were able to have a conducted Tour of the College, or free time in the city.


In his Report the Chairman, Alastair Pollard – Durham Association, expressed sentiments that were well recognised as applying to individual Associations as well as to the Federation.  “  The Federation is not dying… it lives and breathes…and will do so for the foreseeable future…we live in a changing world…and must learn to adapt to continue to be relevant to our current…and future membership.  We need to find a way of encouraging new blood…and must recognise that younger people often want different things to older people. We know there are challenges, we have tried to address this in committee but we need more help.”

The Meeting accepted the 2016 AGM (Wakefield) Minutes, the year ending 2016 Accounts, and the replacement of the Executive Committee roles of Publications Officer and Marketing Officer by a Development Officer, Arnold Wills – Peterborough, and a Website Officer, Richard Watts – Westminster Abbey.

The Chairman was re-elected, as was the Vice Chairman, Nick Hodges – Warwick St Mary’s, and the Treasurer, Michael Lake – Chelmsford.  The position of Federation Secretary remains Vacant

Updates were presented for the 2017 Festival 9th-11th June at Norwich, the 2018 AGM at Chelmsford on 12th May, and the 2018 Festival at Peterborough 14th – 16th September.

Gordon Hughes –  Oxford Christ Church, outlined a 2018 Worcestershire Coach Tour with Hotel accomodation based in the City of Worcester, Thurs 26th April – Tues 1st May 2018.  Details and final costings to be announced and on the FCOCA website.

The difficulties surrounding the annual publication of the Once A Chorister Magazine (Costitution section 2.6) were well recognised and an amendment was agreed “To issue a publication in an appropriate format and to maintain a website”.

There were presentations and much discussion on Future Communications – FCOCA website and Facebook and also the Future development of the Federation and implictly its constituant Associations.

The advantages of selective use of social media and encouragenment of Facebook page links to OC Associations and Facebook group pages were outlined.  The continued introduction of Cathedral Girl Choristers Choirs and Youth Choirs was recognised and the opportunity for individual Cathedral Associations and the Federation to be inclusive and welcome them into full or associate membership could/should be considered.

The Christ Church Cathedral Association and the College were formally thanked for their organisation and hospitality, and so we moved into the Cathedral for Choral Evensong.

For hundreds of years the choirs of New College, Magdalen College and Christ Church have maintained a daily round of worship both within their own communities and in the wider world.  However on the occasion of Christ Church hosting the Federation of Cathedral Old Choristers’ Associations Meeting  they came together in a unique collaboration to sing Choral Evensong.  Their respective Directors of Music sharing the conducting.

Stephen Darlington (Christ Church) conducted the Introit ‘Dum transissent Sabbatum’ – John Taverner, the Responses – William Smith and Psalm 34.  Robert Quinney (New College) conducted the Canticles to the Setting in A by C.V.Stanford. Mark Williams (Magdalen) conducted the Anthem ‘I was glad’ – C.Hubert Parry.

The combined choirs were finely directed and responded by singing beautifully with balance, precision, and sensitivity.

Organ Music before the service was played by Josef Laming (Organ Scholar at New College, and incidently Organ Scholar at Gloucester during his gap year) and by Alexander Pott (Assistant Organist at Magdalen).  The service was accompanied by Clive Driskill-Smith (Sub-Organist at Christ Church) who concluded the act of worship with the  Voluntary ‘Flourish for an Occasion’ – William Harris. 

Visitors and tourists ensured that the cathedral was full for Evensng.  The coming together of Oxford’s three great choral foundations produced a musical celebration of the liturgical tradition that was appreciated and admired by all.

W. Colin Charter