LYME Regis youngster Cecilia Davies was admitted to Salisbury Cathedral’s renowned choir during the first in-person Choral Evensong since Christmas.
On Sunday, May 2, marking a steady return to ‘normal’, three trainee choristers – also known as probationers – including Cecilia were admitted as full choristers to Salisbury Cathedral’s choir.
Cecilia was welcomed to the choir alongside Safiya Laycock-Wright and Mollie Johnson in a specially-choreographed and COVID-safe service, at which all three received their chorister medals and distinctive green robes.
This year is a significant anniversary for the Salisbury Cathedral girls’ choir. In October it celebrates the 30th anniversary of its founding, the first English Cathedral to allow girls to sing in parity with boys.
The special Evensong was followed by the traditional ‘bumping’ ceremony that is unique to Salisbury Cathedral Choir.
The boys’ time-honoured tradition involves bumping newly-admitted chorister’s heads on a special stone opposite the Vestry.
The girls’ ceremony is equally quirky and takes place in the Trinity Chapel, where girls are bumped on the head with a giant prayer book containing the names of all girl choristers admitted since 1991, when the girls’ choir was founded.
New chorister Cecilia has already made her mark as one of the choristers, hosting the cathedral’s virtual chorister tour, fronted by Alexander Armstrong.
She lives in Lyme Regis, where her parents Alison and Alex Davies run the Kersbrook Hotel Bed & Breakfast. And she has music in the genes, as dad Alex is the organist at St Michael’s Parish Church and mum Ali is a saxophonist and music teacher. Cecilia also plays the oboe and piano.
It has been a challenging introduction to chorister life for Cecilia, Safiya and Mollie. Normally, probationers spend time sitting in on services, meaning they read the music but don’t sing, and attending rehearsals as part of their training, but that has been disrupted by lockdowns and singing restrictions for over a year.
Speaking about the challenges of running a choir during the pandemic, David Halls, director of music at Salisbury Cathedral said: “It has been a tough year for all musicians, particularly those that work together to perform, like choirs and orchestras. Virtual rehearsing and performing isn’t a substitute for singing collectively.
“That having been said, both the boys and girls are singing remarkably well – perhaps it is the sheer pleasure of being together again that has got them going.”
Choir recruitment has been hard hit too. Numbers are still down despite launching the Virtual Chorister Tour as an alternative to the cancelled ‘Be A Chorister for A Day’, and the highly-successful ‘Make Me A Light’ virtual choir project that saw 58 children from across the region taking part in a special online children’s service for Easter.
Voice trials due to take place in January and February have had to be pushed back to Sunday, July 3 and the 2022 recruitment season gets underway not long after, with the ‘Be A Chorister for A Day’ event taking place on Saturday, October 2.
Mr Halls added: “We have lost a year in recruitment – no two ways about it. Cancelling ‘Be A Chorister for A Day’ was just the start and it has gone on from there.
“That’s not to say we have no candidates. Luckily, we have a promising cohort coming up for voice trials, but as the director of a choir you want to keep the numbers healthy.
“Choirs are very dynamic, particularly boys because their voices change, and like any elite team you need to have well-trained line up on the bench.”
Whilst Salisbury Cathedral choristers are among the elite, David is at pains to point out that you don’t need to be a ready-made singer to try out for the choir. You just have to have a good ear, like singing and be a team player.
To find out more about joining, email Kathy Davies on email@example.com, or call 07979 378 926.
Application forms can also be downloaded via the website www.salisburycathedral.org.uk/worship-music-cathedral-choirs/choir-recruitment