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Y is for…York

We’ve made it to Christmas Day!  Choristers and Songmen in York, along with choirs up and down the country, are on the homeward straight and are looking forward to a break from tomorrow onwards. Today, we are discovering how York Minster celebrates Christmas.

View our complete Advent Calendar here

In 627AD St Paulinus travelled to the north of England as part of a Roman mission sent to convert Northumbria and he brought James the Deacon, a musician, with him. Paulinus was the first Bishop of York. James’ function was to instruct those who were converted in the singing of the liturgy, and it is generally considered that this was the beginning of the choral tradition of York Minster.

York Minster from the fcm archive

York Minster from the FCM archive

By the 16th century, the Minster Choir was much as it is today with trebles and lay adult singers. In 1997 the 20 boy choristers were augmented by 20 girls. The boys and girls share the choral services, singing eight services in total each week. Occasionally for very large services they may combine. The choristers are educated at the Minster School.

Today, the Minster Choir sings Solemn Eucharist at 10.00am with a congregation of around 1,900. They then have Matins in the Quire at 11.45 and Solemn Evensong at 4.00pm.

York Minster Choir

The two services of Nine Lessons and Carols (yesterday and Sunday) had a combined congregation of around 5,000 people, and featured new carol (inspired by the late Sir Stephen Cleobury, who did this at King’s, the Minster commissions a new carol each year). This year’s is a setting of ‘The Lamb’ by Cornish composer Becky McGlade.

Even though it is so busy at this time of year, York’s choristers are clearly enjoying themselves:

I love being a Chorister, especially during Advent and Christmas when we sing some really special things, starting with Wachet Auf. It’s also lovely at this time of year because the Minster is so full and lots of people get to enjoy the music. One of my personal favourite carols is Gardner’s “Tomorrow Shall Be my Dancing Day”, with its bouncy rhythm, which all the choristers love and which we’re singing at the carol concerts this year. My favourite service is Nine Lessons and Carols – there’s a really magical atmosphere in York Minster, and all the choristers are wondering who will get to sing the “Once in Royal” solo. It’s even fun going in on Christmas morning when everyone is super excited and we share our Secret Santa!” (Mikey, Year 8)

‘I really enjoy being part of the York Minster Choir. Even though the commitment is tough, the pieces are fun to sing and the experiences we have are great. It opened new doors for me and allowed me to do things that I never could have done otherwise. I look forward to Nine Lessons and Carols and all the other Christmas concerts and services we do this time of year.’ (Olivia, year 8)

Choristers’ experiences at York stay with them for years to come. A former chorister, Finn, who has recently left the choir remembers his audition:

“I was nervous…but when it came to the assessment everything seemed much calmer. My audition piece was ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’. I still love singing this today – especially the descant. I don’t think I will be able to sing it much longer though….!”

In his last year he was one of the two choristers singing the treble solos in Bach’s Wachet Auf.  Finn also told us:

“I will never forget singing the ‘Once in Royal’ solo in front of 2500 people in December.”

Here is a flavour of Advent at the Minster:

And here is a message from the Canon Chancellor, The Rev’d Dr Christopher Collingwood:

Chris Collingwood, York MinsterBeginning with the Crib Service on Christmas Eve, some 10,000 people come through the doors of the Minster in a little more than 24 hours. Whether it’s children coming dressed as an angel – or Spiderman! – or others coming to hear glorious music or to see the Archbishop or to hear read once again the glorious Prologue to John’s Gospel, each person has their own story to tell, stories of love, loneliness, sadness, pain, joy, hope, expectation, excitement and much more. Each is drawn to the Christ-Child, welcomed and loved for who they are. Here our mission statement, ‘Inviting everyone to Discover God’s Love,’ is a tangible reality.

We at FCM wish you a very happy Christmas and a music-filled 2020.  Come back tomorrow, though, for our final entry! Can you guess what our letter Z will be?!

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