For over 180 years there has been a Choir or rather singers at St Mary’s, very little is known about the early history of the music in the old church (founded 1247); one can only imagine the changes which would have taken place after the Reformation, during the Commonwealth and the Restoration. In 1829 an inventory of singers’ books was taken which listed 12 Hymn Books including a copy of Kent’s Anthems and Cheetham’s Psalm Tunes.
Prior to the dedication of the present building in 1871, an appeal was made in the Parish Magazine for “new” singers; this was to enlarge the existing choir of men and ladies “as befitting the new building”. It was then, or soon after, that the composition of the choir changed to wholly a male voice choir with between 30 and 40 members, of which 20 to 30 were boys.
The first significant choirmaster was William Clarke Ainley (1874 – 1904); another was Joseph Ernest Allott (1924 – 1955) who had a window dedicated to him in recognition of his long service.
As result of H John Atkins, LTCL (1978 – 1981) position at Morley High School, the choir, in 1979, made an exchange visit to Siegen, Germany. The Siegen Choir returned the following year under their choirmaster Mannfred Wehn. Head choirboy at this time was Richard Chambers who gained a place in the finals of the Rediffusion “Choirboy of the Year” competition in London.
Other notable organist/choirmasters were Martyn Syers, FTCL, ARCO (1973 – 1978) who added considerably to the reputation built up by his predecessor Leslie G W Mathews, ARCO, (CHM) (1955 – 1973 and 1981 – 1985).
Up until 2003 St Mary’s had been fortunate in being able to continually attract choirmasters/organists. For approximately the next two/three years the post of organist was filled by visiting organists from around the area, while the post of Director of Music was filled by Mrs Rachel Firth, who had joined the choir some years earlier, assisted by her father a choir member of many years standing. Our present Director of Music, Scott C Senogles, BMus (Hons) MA was appointed in September 2005.
In previous years the choir had made quite frequent visits to various cathedrals and churches such as Leeds Parish Church, Wakefield Cathedral, York Minster and both Liverpool Cathedrals (Anglican AND Metropolitan).
However, by 1997 numbers had dwindled to such an extent that ladies were invited to sing contralto, but this did not yield a huge response, so the appeal was widened to welcome ladies and girls who could sing soprano even though there was quite a strong treble (boys) section at the time.
The main purpose of the choir is to enable the congregation, of which it is a part, to worship more effectively. Music is recognised as being an important ingredient of worship which reflects the seasons or themes of the Church’s year.
The choir has several roles to play:
It leads the congregation in both the spoken and sung parts of the service.
It sets the mood at various times by the use of appropriate music.
It sings anthems and other special pieces which are in part the choir’s own act of worship, providing the congregation with a time for reflection.
Each member sings to the glory of God.
In addition to the weekly Eucharistic service and the monthly Evensong there are the special services held during Holy Week and Easter, at Harvest, Remembrance and, of course, during Advent and at Christmas, with the Carol and Christingle services. The choir will sing at weddings and funerals, as requested by the families concerned.
The Choir, or rather the church is affiliated to The Royal School of Church Music and occasionally attends events that have been arranged throughout the area. The RSCM offers help and support to choirs of all abilities.
Choir practices are currently held on Saturday afternoons commencing at 2.30pm until 4.00pm, during the winter, and 4.30pm until 6.00pm in the summer, these times will be amended if the choir is required to sing at a wedding; any change of time will appear on the weekly notice sheet.
It is hoped that all members will endeavour to assemble with sufficient time to robe up, collate their music and receive instruction regarding the service which is about to commence. It is necessary, at times, to attend a pre-service practice – due notice will be given.
All adult members should obtain a Certificate of Enhanced Disclosure from the Criminal Records Bureau – our Child Protection Officer can help and advise on this free and simple procedure.
Choral Scholarships with music tuition are available to boys and girls who can sing on a weekly basis.
St Mary's Organ