York Minster

After our concert at Sheffield Cathedral as guests of Worrall MVC we prepared for our second Cathedral concert.

A choir committee member had attended a concert at York Minster and thought “could New Mill stage a concert there?” After a deal of research and with the knowledge that only a very small number of applications were successful, it was decided to give it a go. A carefully prepared application was submitted and accepted so Steve Flynn’s dream was now a reality. We were going to sing in one of the most magnificent buildings in the country/world and a place dear to all Yorkshiremen.

Cathedrals are by design, imposing. They take up a vast space, have a great effect on the space around them but still manage to convey a feeling of ‘spacelessness’. The expanse contained within the colossal structure does not seem to be trapped inside, but seems to go on forever. This architectural perception can be daunting to the casual visitor and evokes a feeling of humility and insignificance relative to the larger scheme of things.

How should we project our feeble voices without being overwhelmed by the environment? The natural inclination is to lower your voice to a whisper as soon as you crossover the threshold. Alan fortunately had prepared us well by requesting us to be particularly diligent in watching his directions for how long we should hold the notes and when to stop. This would enable us to see and hear the effect on the day. We rehearsed ‘Let All Men Sing’ as a voice test and were reassured without feeling overconfident about the time it took for the sound to reverberate back. The visitors to the Minster seemed impressed: a number enquired about the concert and bought tickets.

Carl Deis’s arrangement of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ is a relatively recent addition to the choir’s repertoire: the first airing was at Huddersfield Town Hall in 2009. It was reported as the highlight and has remained as an inspiring favourite in subsequent performances. Carl Deis’s arrangement starts almost at a whisper and builds ever so gradually with small rises and falls to an intense volume for ‘Thine is the Kingdom’ toward the end, finishing with a gentle ‘amen’.

The experience of singing the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ at Huddersfield Town hall was one of filling the whole auditorium with sound. Would we be able to manage a similar feat at the Minster? It was much more difficult to assess the effect of the complex acoustics from the steep-banked choir stage. However the positive looks and reaction from the audience made it clear it had been a rather special sound.

I am not sure how long it was planned before, or even if it was a last minute inspiration, but for the start of the second set, we were instructed to line up in two columns and proceed to either side of the nave and then stop and face each other across the isles. We then sang the raucous shanty ‘Johnny Come Down to Hilo’ to the surprise and obvious enjoyment of the audience.

We are privileged to have Stephanie Ball and Sarah Ogden as regular guest sopranos at New Mill MVC organised concerts. At York their solos and duet filled the Minster with glorious sounds when they performed individually and together – ‘Wow’.

‘My Lord What a Morning’ is another choir favourite. My Lord what a day would sum up our York Minster experience.