H is for…Hexham
Today, 8 December, we are in Northumberland, at Hexham Abbey.
Did you know, Michael Haynes, the current Director of Music occupies probably the oldest recorded such post anywhere in the world?
The post was established towards the end of the seventh century, when St Acca of Hexham (c.660 – c.742) was sent to the Abbey, then an important Saxon cathedral, to train the singing monks. These days, rather than monks, Michael is busy training the girls’ and boys’ choirs, both of whom sing with the lay clerks, as well as directing an adult chamber choir. The choirs still maintain their connection with the monks who sang in the abbey 500 years ago by singing each week on the Abbey’s ‘singing platform’, which is reached by 35 well-worn steps – the Night Stair – which once linked the monk’s dormitories to the church.
Hexham Abbey is steeped in history and enjoys sharing its heritage with others. This short video gives a taste of what the Abbey has to offer visitors:
The choirs have had a busy year, and Advent is no exception. Today, the girls and men are singing Briggs’ Truro Eucharist and Duruflé’s ‘Ubi caritas’ at the 10.00am service and the boys and men are singing Harwood in A-flat and Redford ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway’ at 6.30pm.
If you want to see the choir in action, tune into BBC 1 at 10.40 on Sunday 15 December, where they will feature in ‘Britain’s Christmas Story’, which explores the origins of the celebration of Christmas in this country.
As well as the usual round of services, this year the choir has recorded a CD and gone on tour to Spain.
Here they are rehearsing in Palma:
Between now and Christmas the choir will be singing two Festivals of Nine Lessons and Carols and a St Lucia Service, which they describe as ‘a kind of Swedish version of a carol service’.
The choristers clearly thrive on all this activity. One told us: ‘I have made friends and opened up, allowing me to stretch and develop musically’.
Another said: ‘What I like about choir are the friendships made on the journey to hopefully becoming a professional musician.’
One hard-working student said,
‘The Abbey to me is a retreat a where I can unwind from school and the stress from GCSE work…my happy place.’
FCM has been delighted to help Hexham Abbey with a grant to fund the purchase of new robes, new music and singing lessons for the choristers. The choir told us that they got a real ‘buzz’ from our visit to present the grant: ‘It’s helped us realise that someone else is interested in what we do!’
We most certainly are interested in Hexham Abbey, and in every choral foundation across the UK.
FCM works hard to raise funds for choirs like these in Hexham. We rely on subscriptions and donations from our members and supporters and the choirs really need our help.
FCM promotes the work of choral foundations through the year. If you would like to hear more from us, please sign up to our emailing list: