Welcome to Hexham Abbey, a new corporate member
FCM is delighted to welcome Hexham Abbey, its newest corporate member.
Hexham is a moderately small market town in rural Northumberland, located just a few miles from Hadrian’s Wall and from the Roman town of Corstopitum (modern day Corbridge). The town’s ancient abbey was founded by St Wilfrid in AD 674, and in Saxon times it was a highly significant cathedral, noted as one of Europe’s finest. Towards the end of the seventh century, St Acca of Hexham (c.660-c.742) was sent to train the singing monks. With its origins reaching this far back in history, the Abbey’s post of Director of Music may be regarded as one of the oldest of its kind anywhere in the world.
The Abbey boasts glorious medieval architecture to its north, east, and south. A replacement nave was built in 1908 by the English architect Temple Moore, an austere homage to the original nave, lost before the Reformation. The Saxon foundations still remain partly visible, and the Saxon crypt is largely intact.
The Abbey is noted for its ‘Night Stair’, which once linked the monks’ dormitories to the church, and which the monks descended each day to sing the offices. These well-worn 35 steps were built in the 13th century, and are the only surviving example of a Night Stair in England. At the top is a spectacular singing platform, which is still used every week.
Today the Abbey is simply a Parish Church, but with a special place in the heart of rural Northumberland, bedecked with a painted medieval rood-screen, and a magnificent organ. The organ, dating from 1974, was built by Lawrence Phelps from Pennsylvania. It was for a long time the only USA-built organ in England. The eminent recitalist, Dame Gillian Weir is one of its greatest champions. She has made several fabulous recordings on it, and has given many wonderful recitals, including concerts for the instrument’s 10th, 20th, 30th, and 40th anniversaries.
The Abbey boasts a choir of boys’ and men’s voices, a separate girls’ choir and an adult chamber choir. The boys sing Evensong on Wednesdays, the girls on Thursdays, and the Sunday morning and evening services rotate between the choirs. There is no choir school – the boys and girls come from a variety of local schools. The Abbey aims to keep standards high within the constraints of a very small budget, and a tiny amount of rehearsal time. Support from various benefactors has allowed occasional vocal coaches to visit, and the choirs have sung all across Europe. They have recorded three CDs with a fourth in progress during 2019. Many former trebles have become professional singers, music teachers, academics, organists, orchestral players, and composers.