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Bernard West – kitten of the keys

bernardwestawvWhere we lived previously, I had ended up in the church choir, and I had no intention of making the same mistake when we moved to Shipton – free weekends and lazy Sunday mornings beckoned. However, whilst waiting for our house purchase to go through, an advert appeared for a Director of Music at St Mary’s. I had a strong musical background and our new house was a mere hop and skip from the church (at least for our cats), so I felt obliged to find out more about the post.

I was surprised to find a choir in this small village church that far outstripped the one we had left in a town of ten times the size, singing a wide range of music including standard cathedral fare; moreover, a sizeable proportion of the singers were children, supported by talented and experienced adults. After contract negotiations over a pint of Hook Norton in the Shaven Crown courtyard, on a sunny afternoon, I was signed up.

The first Sunday seemed to go reasonably, but then half the choir announced that they were going to take the morning off on my second Sunday in charge. A slightly alarming start, but fortunately just coincidence. It was also useful training – an ability to cope when large numbers of singers announce, usually at the last minute, that they are ill or away, is essential.

Thus ensued sixteen years (so far) of barely a Sunday off! I inherited a marvellous choir, a well-stocked music library, a well-maintained organ, a supportive congregation, and high expectations. Quick calculations (e.g. number of hymns chosen; number of people who have been choir members in my time here; number of emails sent & received; etc.) whilst writing this article have proved most depressing; even more alarming is finding oneself playing the organ for weddings where one of the couple was one of the youngest children in the choir only a few years ago!

I am immensely grateful to all who have given up hours of their time, some of them for years on end, to help provide the most wonderful music at St Mary’s. The numbers have varied over the years, dipping down to about a dozen and rising at one point to around 30 (though we could do with a couple more singers at the moment, so please get in touch if you are in the slightest bit interested! Weekends in Exeter & Gloucester Cathedrals in 2019 beckon! There are few church choirs remaining these days, and ones that are good enough to stand in at cathedrals, as Shipton’s has for a number of years, are rare indeed. I consider myself very lucky to have inherited a choir of such a standard and to get to experience such high-quality live music every week here in the Wychwoods.

August – September 2018