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St Mary's Choirs

The Parish Church Choir in its present form has been in existence since the early 1950s and sings "to the glory of God and for pleasant recreation". We welcome new choristers (preferably with sight-reading skills) and offer a varied repertoire of church music from the sixteenth to twenty-first centuries. We are grateful to all choristers for their enthusiasm and continuing dedication to the musical life of St Mary's Church.

Junior Choir

Any child over the age of eight who is interested in singing is invited to become a probationer.

The juniors practise on Fridays from 7.00pm to 7.45pm and on Sunday mornings at 10.15am before the Parish Eucharist. They are responsible for helping to lead the congregation at the Parish Eucharist at
10:45 am. They learn hymns, psalms and anthems - both old and new - and perform one of their own anthems every week.

Many of the choristers also sing in choirs elsewhere. Learning to sing improves confidence and concentration and is a 'skill for life'. And when that life moves on, how wonderful it is to be wanted and welcomed wherever you go!

Senior Choir

The senior choir has sixteen sopranos, seven altos, five tenors and four basses. Responsibilities include singing for the Parish Eucharist and Choral Evensong each week and providing singers for weddings and funerals. The senior Choir reherarse 8:00pm to 9:15pm on Friday.

Click here for a list of music sung over the past year.

Judith Catterick MBE, Director of Music (742635) judy@beckets.eclipse.co.uk

Junior Choir: Bene't Coldstream (742288)
Organists: John Rowlands, Peter Saunders, Ken Rook and Stuart Greenbank
Mistress of the Robes: Sarah Talks
Administration: Linda Gee
Librarians: Sheelagh Bennett and Ros Neat

2017 Choir Report

The news from the choir stalls over the year is mixed; the numbers of Junior Choir members is definitely something to sing about as totals have veered between 18 to 20 on the Register throughout the year. Their Friday night rehearsals are lively, enjoyable, and well-instructed by choirmaster, Bene't Coldstream.
However, their attendance figures for Sunday morning Services do not reflect these numbers, even though most of them have been awarded their white surplices to wear over their blue robes -a mark of their ability and dedication as Junior choristers.

Notwithstanding, they have acquitted themselves well throughout the year, with new pieces being learned for Sundays and other occasions, and good showings at the Christmas Fair, and Village Carol Concert. The sweetness of their singing has been remarked upon and Bene't works very hard to hone their skills and enthusiasm. Stuart Greenbank remains their piano accompanist, and help is given at Friday practices by Sarah Talks and Sheelagh Bennett. Sheelagh and Ros Neat remain choir librarians.

It has to be said that Senior Choir numbers and attendances throughout practices and regular services have been down on recent years. Illness, unforseen absences (it is an ageing choir) and the lack of new people joining (apart from James, a new tenor) have resulted in a smaller sound than usual. The choir for Ash Wednesday's evening Communion Service consisted of just two sopranos and two altos, who remained seated in the left hand pews close by the organist, Ken Rook. Choir robes were not worn.

Sadly, Rodney Warboys , a tenor of 65 years with the choir, died during the year on March 10th 2017. He is already very much missed, as is alto Mrs.Glenys Travis who passed away three months before him. The generous gift of her Grotrian Steinweg piano to the church has many benefits for the musical life of Ashwell.

The unforseen absence through illness of Judy Catterick, Senior choirmistress, from November 2017 to the time of writing has contributed to a few difficulties with weekly practices and Services, and the lack of her expert alto voice and musical leadership is keenly felt by both choirs.

The Advent Carol Service, The Service of Lessons and Carols, The Crib Service, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were all directed by Bene't. He now has a set schedule for Friday night practices for the Festal Evensong music, which he will conduct. John Rowlands will be Festival organist.

In Judy's absence John has taken many of the Senior practices, and when he isn't available, Ken Rook steps into his shoes with Peter Saunders playing organ accompaniment. The high standard of Introits, Anthems, Canticles, and Psalms has been kept up.

A Christmas highlight - The St Mary's Voices, a mix of alumni Junior members, other young friends, and some Seniors, performed once again throughout the Service of Lessons and Carols on December 17th, coached and conducted by Bene't Coldstream. The sound and choices of pieces... some old favourites with some new...was excellent.

Faure's Requiem was performed in its entirety throughout the 5th November Service of All Souls, with Peter Noyes as guest organist, and Bene't conducting.

The 64th Festal Evensong , Sunday 28th May, was well attended, with music of a high standard from composers spanning many centuries - this to reflect the village's 11th Centenary Celebrations. In their final year of participation due to retirement, guest conductor Michael Smedley and organist Paul Bryan did us proud, and were warmly thanked during the Service, each being presented with paintings of St Mary's in recognition of their long association with the music of Ashwell.

The Senior Choir were augmented by ten or so visiting ex-choristers on this occasion.

Easter Services were attended as normal, with Compline sung by the men of the choir during Holy Week.

Visits to St. Vincent's, Newnham, by the choir took place at Harvest and Christmas.

On January 22nd a promotional video for the Church of England was made in the 10.45 Morning Service, which featured the Juniors and some Senior choir processing down the aisle.

The Seniors are currently in weekly rehearsals for the coming Festival.

Appeals for more choristers are regularly made in the Village News, and a gentle approach is employed to evaluate new and interested parties. It is most apparent that the Senior choir would benefit from several additional voices. Most pieces are sung in four parts, and some of the store of music is no longer chosen because of lack in numbers to execute them properly.

Hopefully the current situation will improve over the coming months.

Marjorie Fitt.

2016 Choir Report

The report announces a slight loss of numbers for the Senior Choir- it is now down to 29 members, and a marked increase in Junior Choir levels to a record 20 members registered!

All practices continue as usual on Friday evenings with Bene't Coldstream as Junior Director, and Judy Catterick MBE  leading the Seniors in her 53rd year as choir mistress. John Rowlands remains principal organist, with two understudies to be called upon on in his absence, and Stuart Greenbank continues as pianist for the Junior Choir. The Librarians remain the same, namely Sheelagh Bennett and Ros Neat.

Very sadly 2 Senior Choir members have passed away during the year, namely alto Glenys Travis on December 12th 2016 and tenor Rodney Worboys on 10th March 2017. Their Memorial Services took place in the church and both will be very much missed.

Notwithstanding the latter two unforeseen events, it can't be over-stated enough that sadly the Senior choristers are in decline in their membership, and despite repeated advertising attempts to recruit more voices, the numbers have not been significantly swelled. This is a worrying trend, though through the grapevine one hears that Ashwell is not alone in this and quite a few local choirs are shrinking. Caroline Evens is most welcome as a continuing member, as is Sue Densem.

Happily, all church Services were fulfilled throughout the year and the 63rd Music Festal Evensong in May was very well attended, and of the usual high standard in choice of pieces sung. Michael Smedley, a great favourite with the choir, was guest conductor, and Paul Bryan played as guest organist. The choir has been informed that reluctantly 2017 will be the last festival for them both, as they are retiring from these roles.

After the Easter Services which fell towards the end of March 2016 and the singing of Compline during Holy Week, the choir sang at a Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving to mark HM the Queen's 90th birthday, on Friday 10th June. They sang 'Lord Keep Elizabeth our Queen', composed in 1578 for the Accession of Elizabeth 1st.

May 21st was the wedding of Judy's granddaughter, Lizzi, to which all the choir were invited and several of them helped out with the post- service refreshments in the church. A delightful thank-you in the shape of an afternoon tea was later organised by Judy and Anthony Catterick.

Two other notable events for the choir were the All Souls Service on October 30th, when Faure's Requiem was woven throughout the service, and on November 20th -The Service to Commemorate the End of the Battle of the Somme. Here they sang 'Greater Love hath no Man' composed by John Ireland. Christmas Services all went ahead as planned and were very well attended.

After quite a difficult year, plus winter bug health problems with choristers (which were not helpful), the choir has begun rehearsals for the  Festal Evensong, 6.30pm, May 28th.

Marjorie Fitt


2015 Choir Report

St. Mary's choirs can report a busy year once again under the directorship of Judy Catterick MBE for the Senior Choir, Bene't Coldstream for Juniors, and Michael Smedley as Festal Evensong conductor in May 2015, with Paul Bryant being guest organist on that occasion. Michael Smedley also conducted the Faure Requiem which was sung as part of the Service on All Souls night.

In December 2015 Bene't Coldstream gathered together a special Christmas choir of ex-choristers, now named The New Ashwell Singers, who undertook an ambitious programme of music for the St Mary's Service of Lessons and Carols on the evening of Sunday December 20th.

This service was hugely popular and was well received by a large congregation, with all present being invited to stay on afterwards for refreshments.

John Rowlands continues as St Mary's principal organist, supported by Peter Saunders, Stuart Greenbank and Ken Rook.

We have two librarians- Sheelagh Bennett and Ros Neat, and the Village News Choir Notes are penned by Marjorie Fitt.

Senior Choir numbers stay around the thirty mark, with the Juniors currently a commendable fourteen - both choirs still attending separate practices on Friday evenings. Sunday Morning Services are attended by some Senior choir who support the Juniors where necessary.

Sunday Evensong times were changed to an earlier start of 5.00pm when the clocks went back in October 2015, meaning earlier service rehearsals at 4.15pm, but the Service time reverted this Easter (March2016) to the more convenient 6.30pm start.

From the beginning of the September 2015 term we were fortunate to gain another soprano, Mrs.Caroline Evens, wife of our new Rector, Robert.

For his Collation on April 18th 2015 the Senior choristers sang the Mallotte setting of The Lord's Prayer and also the Anthem 'I was glad' by Parry. The Junior Choir greeted our new Rector with a lyrical setting by Alan Naplan of a Jewish maxim, which when translated means 'The world is established upon three things: truth, justice and peace'. The Rt Revd Dr. Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans presided.

The much anticipated 62nd Festal Evensong towards the end of May was another high note in the calendar, and the Night Office of 'Compline' was performed by the male choristers of Ashwell on several evenings during the Festival period.

July 19th saw the choir sing at the Patronal Festival of St Mary Magdalene, Caldecote, and choral support was given for four wedding ceremonies during May, July, August, and September at St Mary's.

The Deanery Choral Evensong followed hard on the heels of the August break, when visiting choirs from the Deanery joined us for Evensong on September 6th. This was a most enjoyable occasion for all taking part, and the choir finally numbered around fifty voices. It is hoped this formula of choir liason can be repeated.

November 8th was Remembrance Sunday with the choirs taking part in morning and evening services including music from Douglas Guest ('They shall grow not old') plus Ireland's 'Greater love hath no man' and Vaughan Williams ''Let us now praise famous men'.

And finally, the Christmas calendar worked our choristers extremely hard starting with Advent on November 29th, then the Christmas Fair, the Village Carol Concert, Lessons and Carols and Christmas Eve and Morning Services.
Visits were paid to St Nicholas, Hinxworth, and St Vincent's, Newnham at harvest time and over the Christmas season.

There is a wide span of choral music undertaken at St Mary's, ranging from 16th Century Renaissance composers to those of the present day, as will be demonstrated in the approaching Music Festival this year.

It would be gratifying to think that the challenge of this expert selection of music would attract more choir members, as they are much needed, but choir numbers have been virtually static for some years now. It is widely acknowledged that choir membership needs to be boosted to carry on the extraordinary musical traditions of Ashwell.



2012/13 Choir Report

Both Junior and Senior Choirs at St. Mary's have continued with strength and commitment throughout the last twelve months.
Currently the Juniors number ten choristers, and the Senior Choir stands at thirty .
For special services, and the Ashwell Music Festival, the choir takes on board several chosen supporting voices and ex- choristers, plus voices from the Catterick family.
Musical Director for both choirs - Mrs. Judy Catterick MBE.
Principal Organist - John Rowlands, and we are also fortunate to have four others who can be called upon to play, viz. Ken Rook, Stuart Greenbank (Junior Choir accompanist) Brian Williams and Peter Saunders.
The Sunday morning services continue to be a Junior Choir requisite, accompanied always by some Senior members.
Juniors practice for 45 minutes on Friday evenings, learning chants to accompany psalms, canticles, anthems, carols, and a large selection of hymns.
The Senior repetoire consists of the finest from English sacred music from The Renaissance to the present day, and it is regularly performed for Evensong each Sunday.
Choir attendances have been good, outnumbering the evening congregation on several occasions!
The gentlemen of the choir also sing Compline at various times, such as short evening services during Holy Week and during the Ashwell Festival.
The Festal Evensong last year, Sunday May 27th, the 59th, was popularly received with Michael Smedley conducting, and Paul Bryan on organ.(Organist to the Ely Cathedral Octagon Singers.)
On November 4th 2012 the choir sang the whole of Faure's Requiem during Evensong, again conducted by Michael Smedley, with Paul as accompanist.
On additional occasions throughout the year, the choir has sung by request at weddings and funerals, most notably the funeral of Allan Budgen, our late Reader Emeritus, whose memorial service was on Mon. 28th January 2013.
Christmas Services and the village Carol Concert all went ahead smoothly, as well as the ever popular carols sung by the choir during the morning of the Chritmas Fair on December 1st.
The choir has a social side and meets up at various member's homes for special occasions, and also regularly helps out with the village At Home in August. It looks forward to this year's 60th Anniversary of the Ashwell Festival in May, for which rehearsals have begun.
The life of the choir has been recorded for several years in The Ashwell Village News , by Claire and Brian Williams, Ros Neat, and latterly by Marjorie Fitt.