Category Archives: News

Bruce Mitchell

It is with sadness that we have to inform you of the passing of Bruce Mitchell, Gloucester Cathedral chorister from 1942 to 1949, and subsequently a teacher at The King’s School from 1959 to 1967.

Bruce’s funeral will take place in the Cathedral on Tuesday 21st November at 1pm. All who knew him are welcome.

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Reunion Dinner 2017 Update

The 2017 Reunion Dinner previously scheduled for 6:30pm for 7:00pm in the Parliament Room has been relocated and delayed by half an hour.  The Dinner will now be held at 7pm for 7:30pm at The Fountain Inn on Westgate Street.  The menu has also changed slightly: GCOCA Reunion Dinner Menu 2017.   The deadline for returning booking forms has now passed, but all those that have reserved places have now been contacted.  If you have yet to inform me of changes to your menu choices please do so as soon as possible.

AGM Agenda and Updated Constitution

As requested at last year’s AGM, the Committee have been busy inputting (thanks Stephen!), discussing and amending the Association’s Constitution (or Rules as they are officially known).  The Association is 60 years old next year, and the Rules had never been updated, but surprising little modification was necessary.

Please find the agenda here: GCOCA 2017 Annual General Meeting Agenda

Please find the draft constitution here: GCOCA Draft Constitution

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

2016 Chairman’s Report

It is once again a privilege to present my annual report to the AGM of the GCOCA.  This is tinged with a little sadness as this will be my last as your Chairman.  Mandy and I will be spending much more of our lives abroad in the future which will make it impossible for me properly to be able to fulfill my duties for the Association.

As is the custom, I shall look back over the past year and forward to our 2017 Reunion which will be on Saturday 16th September next year.

Your Committee has met three times since last year’s Reunion.  We have concentrated our efforts in the team, on preparation for this year’s Reunion – the  Friday night concert and today’s AGM, Evensong and Dinner at which our guest speaker will be Roy Massey, whom we are pleased will be accompanied by his wife, Ruth.

I recall that this time last year I made a plea for further help and support on the Committee.  Specific Committee support has been difficult to muster and its work has been left to the loyal few, ably and energetically supported by Jonathan Hope and the Cathedral Office team.  My thanks must be recorded here for them.  Additionally, my sincere thanks go to Elvin Young, John Heywood and Alan Iles for their continuing support and assistance on the Committee.  But looking ahead, I would be failing in my duty if I were not to state my real concerns regarding the Association going forward.  I know there are many Old Choristers who are within “working age” who would genuinely help if they had spare time in their lives and recently, good friends such as Matthew Cann and Andrew Douglas have been most supportive and engaged.  So, what of the future?  We all know how busy and full-on our lives have become.  Work demands more of our time and energy than ever before and family demands on top of these almost totally rule out time for extracurricular activities.  So, again I appeal to all Old Choristers who may now have more time on their hands to re-engage with the Association and help encourage the next generations of boy and girl choristers to become part of this Association which for over 50 years has supported the Cathedral and its music.

Communication, which includes marketing and PR will be key to growth and it is really encouraging to report that we have had very positive responses from young Old Choristers and their parents, some of whom will attend Evensong and Dinner today.  We will all make them most welcome.  The future of the GCOCA will depend on members who can find time to help by “doing things” to keep the Association afloat and fulfilling its objectives as set out in the original terms of reference which still need to be reviewed.

Thanks are also due to Colin Charter who has attended the National Federation events this year and given us splendid reports which are on our website for all to read.  The Association owes so much to Colin and of course, to his wonderful wife Alison, who sadly passed away during the past year.  Alison was such a rock for Colin and did so much for the Cathedral, the Choir and our Association.  She is greatly missed by us all, but we keep alive so many fond memories.

Last evening, the Cathedral Choir put on a beautiful recital for our Association.  We all recognise how much effort must have gone into the preparation for this and those of us who were present showed our appreciation most whole-heartedly.  Thanks must go to Adrian Partington, Jonathan Hope, the Lay Clerks and Choristers for a tremendous performance with Parry’s “I was Glad” being, for me the high spot.  Timing, dynamics and diction were simply perfect and the final chords were allowed to roll around the acoustic for a good ten seconds before our vigorous applause!

I was delighted to meet the Cathedral’s new Precentor last evening, who, having been in post for almost one week, expressed his best wishes for our Reunion and who very much would like to continue involvement with the Association.  I have also been in touch with Richard Latham and Mark Wildman who send their apologies for this evening along with their best wishes for a super event.

This year, we return to the traditional timing for our Reunion Dinner and it is encouraging to see that numbers are up on last year’s Lunch by 25%.

In conclusion, thank you for giving me the chance to serve the Association for the past three years:  we wish you all well for the future and many new and exciting beginnings for this much loved Association.

With all our best wishes.

John Balsdon
September 2016

A Review of the 2016 FCOCA AGM

Many thank to Colin Charter for attending the AGM on behalf of the Association and providing us with a most detailed report.

FCOCA. Federation AGM 2016, Saturday 7 May

This year the Wakefield Old Choristers’ Association celebrates its Golden Jubilee and held a celebratory Choral Evensong and Dinner in the Nave of the Cathedral on the Friday evening prior to the Federation AGM on the Saturday. An invitation was made to all Federation members attending the AGM to extent their visit and join the WCOCA Reunion on the Friday evening. This was an opportunity not to be missed as I and my daughter could venture north a day earlier and include visits to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park at Bretton Hall, Nostel Priory and the Wakefield Hepworth Gallery.

The Golden Jubilee Evensong was sung by the Senior Boy and Girl Choristers and Lay Clerks and included the Introit: To mercy, peace and love by Richard Shephard, the first performance of Preces and Responses set by John Holt a founder member of the WCOCA and Lay Clerk, and Canticles to the setting in D minor by Percy Saunders, Organist and Master of Choristers when the Association was formed. An Anthem: ‘Sing a song of Joy’ was composed for the Jubilee by Simon Lindley, also included was the Anthem: ‘Behold O God our defender’ by John Scott, a former Wakefield Old Chorister and Assistant Organist, Director of Music at St Paul’s Cathedral and St Thomas’ Church, Fifth Avenue, NY. John Scott’s life and untimely death were remembered in the prayers. The service concluded with the Organ Voluntary: Allegro Maestoso – 1st movement, Sonata No 1 in G by Edward Elgar.

In the Cathedral, Project 2013 had seen extensive renovations in the Nave, where the Victorian pews had been removed, the floor completely re-laid with under floor heating and incorporating a stone labyrinth following the pattern of that in Bayeaux. Project 2015 saw the redevelopment of the east end and the Crypt with the loss of use of the Quire, the high Altar and the cathedral Organ. This work had just been completed but it was now found that the organ could not be used due to dust having accumulated in the blower system. However the electronic replacement organ was still on site and so was put to good use.

So after the Voluntary we then adjourned to the refurbished Crypt for a Drinks Reception before returning to the Nave for the Golden Jubilee Dinner. More than eighty former choristers and guests were served a superb meal and were suitably entertained by the guest speaker, Neil Collier, the managing director of Priory Records. The cathedral choir had recorded CDs for Priory in each of the two preceding years.

The programme for those attending the AGM on the Saturday started with Registration and refreshment in the Crypt, then a guided tour of the cathedral followed by a Drinks Reception and Welcome by the Dean before Lunch, served in the North Quire Aisle. Delegates then adjourned to the St Mark’s Chapel in the refurbished Crypt for the AGM whilst those visitors not attending had transport provided to go to the Wakefield Hepworth galleries.

The main issues arising from the AGM were:

  • There were no nominations for the positions of Secretary or Publications Officer both who were stepping down. All other officers were re-elected. The Chairman and Vice Chairman will deal with secretarial matters for the current year.
  • Michael Barry, the Editor of the Once a Chorister magazine had died during the year, (Memorial Service at Guildford Cathedral 17 September 2016).   This year it is planned to produce a magazine but to put it on the website so that it can be downloaded and printed locally for the numbers required. Cost could be lower. The Federation would not pay for printing and posting, and would lose the income from sales ~ £1400 in 2014, ~£1200 in 2015.  Richard Watts, Westminster Abbey dealing with the website and compiling the magazine.
  • 2017 Festival at Norwich Cathedral 9th – 11th June. See FCOCA website
  • 2017 AGM at Christ Church Oxford 6th May.  A provisional programme includes Lunch, a visit to the University Museum of musical instruments, the AGM, and the combined collegiate choirs of Christ Church, Magdalen and New College singing Evensong at 6.00pm.

Tea and cakes were then provided in the Treacy Hall before attending Choral Evensong. The music included Preces and Responses set by John Holt, Canticles: Wood in F ( Collegium Regale) and the Anthem: O clap your hands, Vaughan Williams, and the final Voluntary: Carillon Sortie by Mulet.

Colin Charter
May 2016

2016 Newsletter, Concert & Reunion

The 2016 Reunion and Admission of Old Choristers is fast approaching on the weekend of September 16th & 17th 2016, starting on the Friday evening with the Old Choristers’ Concert with the Cathedral and Youth Choirs. It’s not too late to get involved; those wanting to participate should get in touch with the Secretary or post in the facebook group as soon as possible.

The 2016 Newsletter and Booking form are now available and both contain more information about the reunion weekend:

GCOCA Newsletter 2016

2016 Booking Form

Federation Festival Report – Wells 2016

The Federation of Cathedral Old Choristers’ Associations held their annual Festival at Wells this year. We are delighted to be able to publish a report on the event by Colin Charter below.

FCOCA. Federation Festival 2016, Friday 29 April – Sunday 1 May

The Wells Cathedral Choir Association hosted the Festival at relatively short notice and I joined the more than eighty FCOCA members and guests from twenty-one OC associations who attended. It was an opportunity to re-visit the smallest city in England, population just over 10,000, with undoubtedly one of Britain’s most imposing Cathedrals and one of the foremost choirs in the country. Boys first sang there in 909 and the full choral tradition dates back over 800 years. Today the choir consists of 18 boys and 18 girl choristers (two separate choirs), and 12 Vicars Choral.

FCOCA registration was conveniently at The Swan hotel, where I, along with many of the delegates attending, had booked to stay. All events were within very easy walking distance and I had opted to start the weekend with a tour of the Cathedral, leaving the adjacent Bishops Palace and gardens for the following day. The iconic view of the 12c Cathedral is of the magnificent early 13c West Front with its galleries of medieval sculpture. Inside, ones attention is immediately drawn the strikingly massive modern looking Scissor Arches, they are in fact a mid 14c solution to sinking tower foundations. The medieval clock in the North transept, the Jesse window in the east end of the Quire, and the climb up the well-worn steps to the stunning Chapter House. So much to take in on a short tour.
Back to the hotel for Tea and a formal Welcome, and then to the Cathedral for Choral Evensong sung by the Girl Choristers and Vicars Choral under the direction of Matthew Owens, Organist and Master of the Choristers. The service featured music by Gabriel Jackson, the Preces and Responses, his Canticles: Truro Service and the Anthem: Justore animae, which was commissioned to celebrate the 1100 th foundation of the Diocese of Bath and Wells. Evensong was followed by a Chapter Reception and Welcome in the N- transept by the Vice-Dean, interrupted on the ‘Quarters’ by the Wells Clock and its jousting knights tournament.
We moved back to the hotel for Dinner before returning to the Cathedral Lady Chapel for Compline with Festival delegates invited to join the singing of plainsong and the Vicars Choral, directed by Matthew Owens, singing the Nunc Dimittis by Richard Gough and an Anthem by Franz Bielb

The following morning I joined a tour of the Wells Cathedral School, founded 909, one of only four specialist music schools in the country. The 700 girls and boys are evenly integrated from Nursery through to Sixth Form. Students attend as Day students or as Boarders, with Cathedral Choristers receiving bursaries. The highlight of the tour was to go inside what will be the new world-class music and arts venue. A £9.4m purpose built concert hall featuring a 350 retractable-seat auditorium with exceptional acoustic properties, state of the art visual and sound recording facilities, teaching and observation rooms, and an ability to link performances and classes with other venues word-wide. A resource that will benefit many primary age children through the School’s community outreach programme.
Before lunch a group Year 10 students provided us with a Showcase Concert in the current Concert Hall. Piano, cello and flute soloists performed St Francis walking on the wave – Liszt, Cello Suite No 2 and a Prelude – Bach, Danse de la chevre – Honegger. The cellist and the flautist, sisters, then combined to play three short compositions of their own, the concert finishing with a young mezzo soprano singing three pieces from Frauenliebe und –leben, Op. 42 by Schumann. Amazingly talented and confident students illustrating the benefits of a specialist teaching environment.
In the afternoon we were treated to an Organ Recital by Jonathan Vaughn, the Assistant Organist who played compositions by Christopher Tambling, Hubert Parry, Herbert Howells, Percy Whitlock Cuthbert Harris and Edward Elgar. Then back to the Concert Hall for Tea.
Evensong was to be sung by the combined Boy and Girl Choristers Choirs, the Vicars Choral and Old Choristers from Wells and visiting Associations. There was a closed rehearsal in the Quire before the Service which featured the Preces and Responses – Richard Ayleward, the appointed Psalms for the day with chants by John Bertalot, Christopher Robinson and C. V. Stanford, Canticles: Stanford in C and the Anthem: Hallelujah (from ‘Messiah’) – G. F. Handel. A mighty sound under the masterly control of Matthew Owens. The retiring Voluntary was Fantasia and Fugue in G – Hubert Parry.
Good music and good food and good company are always major features of a Festival so now is was off to change for the Pre-Banquet drinks and Civic Reception at the Town Hall. After being directed by the Town Crier we were warmly welcomed by the Mayor of Wells and then suitably entertained by the Senior Choristers, boys and girls, directed by Matthew Owens. We then enjoyed an excellent dinner, locally sourced and generously served. Two verses of the National Anthem were then sung following the Toast to HM The Queen. The guest speaker, Dr Barry Rose OBE admitted to having passed the age of 80yrs and proceeded to humorously relate his progress from a church organist and choir member to a Choirmaster and Cathedral Organist. His experiences leading to Guildford, St Paul’s, the BBC and St Albans kept us, an appreciative audience, well entertained.

Those Old Choristers who had offered to sing the challenging Messe solennelle – Charles-Marie Widor with the Boy Choristers and Vicars Choral at Sunday morning Eucharist had an early start, Rehearsal in the Nave at 9.00am. The service, at 9.45am was very well attended and included the Motet: Surrexit a mortuis – Widor , and the Voluntary: March on a theme of Handel by Felix-Alexandre Guilmant.
After the Nave service refreshments for the entire congregation were served in the transept. Thanks to the host Association were extended and farewells exchanged. A small number of Old Choristers, including myself, who had a relatively short journey home, stayed for Matins in the Quire sung by the Girl Choristers and Vicars Choral. The music included the Gabriel Jackson- Preces and Responses, and The Festival Te Deum in E and Jubilate Deo in E flat by Benjamin Britten with the Anthem: Easter (from ‘Five Mystical Songs’) – Vaughan Williams.

And so my Festival experience came to an end, it was all that I had expected and much more. We were fed a feast of good music from the superbly balanced and blended voices of the Wells Choirs and the talented performing students from the School where in such a well-founded environment all the musicians have access to exceptional opportunities and experiences. The fellowship enjoyed with old choristers from a variety of choral foundations coupled with the English choral tradition being maintained at a level that could only be admired will encourage me to go to the Festival in Norwich in 2017. (9th – 11th June)

© W. Colin Charter 2016.

A Concert of Classical Choral Singing and Instrumental Music

Old Choristers Josh Saunders and Alex Stefanyszyn, with the assistance of Gloucester Cathedral’s organ scholar William Peart, are giving a concert of classical music this Saturday 21 November 2015 between 11am and 12 noon in the Chapter House, in aid of raising funds to undertake volunteer work in Borneo.

Further details can be found in their poster here.

Their programme of music currently includes tenor pieces from Caccini, Handel, Schubert, and Purcell, with violin pieces from Massenet, Brahms, Vivaldi and Abreu.

There will be refreshments available with any ticket purchased.