This week Fr Martin Magill visited St Anne’s Cathedral for a traditional lessons and carols service. A highlight of the service was the singing of a new cross community choir with students from three schools in North Belfast, established in October by St Anne’s. As a Church of Ireland press release explained at the time:
All three schools are to have one or more of the Cathedral’s professional singing teachers in the school virtually every day; teaching singing in every class in each school every week. The Cathedral offers this musical outreach into the community not only to train boys and girls to sing to such a standard that some will have the opportunity to sing in the Cathedral Choir, in due course, but to give of the Cathedral’s musical expertise to the community, of which it is a part, such as would be done by the Ulster Orchestra and Belfast School of Music.
Dean of St Anne’s, The Very Revd John Mann, says: ‘I believe that St Anne’s should not only have an open door to the people of Belfast, but an intent to take what we have been given in abundance to share with everyone – and especially with children. The Choir School project is close to my heart and will happen because of the vision of our musicians, the enthusiasm of the schools and the faith and courage of the Cathedral Board to resource it.’
It sounds as if the choir’s first public performance was a resounding success, and citizens of Belfast can look forward to their performances in the new year.
Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing: Lessons and Carols in St Anne’s Cathedral
I was drawn to St Anne’s this weekend to support the cross community choir which the cathedral had set up earlier in the year. It is made up of boys from the parish primary school Sacred Heart Boys’, Cliftonville Integrated PS and Edenbrooke PS. Before the service began, The Lord Mayor walked in with the Dean John Mann. Dean Mann welcomed us and gave a few words of explanation about the first hymn.
We began with a procession during which the choir sang ” Torches, torches, run with torches” and members of the choir carried torches. We then sang the opening Advent hymn “O come, O come Emmanuel,” which was then followed by bidding prayers and the Our Father. The Dean prayed for various needs of people of the city and beyond. We then sat as the choir sang: “I wonder as I wander…” which was described in the Order of Service (OOS) as “Spanish traditional”.
Canon Denise Acheson read the first reading from the prophet Isaiah 11: 1-9. The choir then sang “Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen,” an anonymous 16th century German hymn. This was followed by a prayer. According to the OOS the next reading from Isaiah 40:1-9 was read by Stanley Hawkins. We then stood to sing: “Love came down at Christmas”. This was followed by another prayer.
Again following the OOS, the next reading was read by Marion Gibson and came from Luke 1: 26-38. The choir then sang: “There is no rose of such virtue…” a 15th century English hymn. We then stood to sing “The angel Gabriel from heaven came”. The choir at the 11am Mass had sung this same hymn which ended with the line: “most highly favoured lady”. This was followed a prayer which included praying for those whose “lives are insecure”. The choir then sang; “O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum…”.
The next reading from Luke 2:1-7 was according to the OOS read by Mervyn Hempton. It was at this point, the boys choir processed in – the months of effort put in by Catherine Harper and David Stevens paying off.
I found it moving listening to the boys choir – it sounded very beautiful – and I was aware that a lot of work had gone into making this possible.
In a BBC interview, Dean Mann had said he didn’t want St Anne’s to be seen as elitist. The boys choir certainly seemed to catch the imagination of many of us within the cathedral. Some of the children then read prayers. The boys choir then processed out and the service continued with the choir singing a Ukrainian melody. We then stood to sing Silent Night and then said another prayer which included a remembrance of refugees as well as praying that wisdom, justice and righteousness would be alive in us. According to the OOS Jean Barber read from Luke 2: 8-20.
We then stood to sing: “While shepherds watched their flocks by night…” During this hymn a collection was taken up and this was followed by the next prayer. The choir then sang “Little lamb who made thee?” The Dean then read from the Prologue of St John and we stood to sing the final hymn: ‘Hark the herald angels sing’, after which the Dean pronounced the blessing and we stood as the choir and clergy left the sanctuary.