I remember a conversation a couple of years ago with our then Cathedral Dean, Canon Geoffrey Hunton, who admitted it was a dream of his that one year the Cathedral Choir would join the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes. I was very much interested in the idea and 2019 felt like the right time to do it – celebrating the joint 175th anniversaries of both our Cathedral Church and the birth of St Bernadette. Once Ellie Martin had joined the music department, it became clear that opening up the opportunity to our Youth Choir members was a vital part of the trip, and so began a long period of planning, organising and, ultimately, a huge amount of fundraising, in order to make the trip happen.
Followers of our work will be well aware of the range of events that have taken place specifically to raise funds for the trip – from our Hymnathon in May (a logistical minefield in itself!) and our Cabaret Evening in June, to a whole host of cake sales, tombolas, recitals, carolling, and more concerts. The support from the Cathedral community has been incredibly heart-warming, and knowing we had such support from the home team as we made our journey to Lourdes was a huge relief. We’d like to extend a huge thank you to all those who donated towards the costs of this trip and we hope that the accounts from those who were there and experienced it first hand will be a testament to how
important this trip was for so many people.
Putting a tour together like this doesn’t come without a lot of hard work, energy, patience and teamwork. The support of Pilgrimage Director, Fr Gregory Tobin, and Assistant Director, Fr Simon Gillespie, was integral to the success of the liturgies in Lourdes. I spent a lot of time with Fr Simon to work through the musical choices, compose new psalm settings, and select a huge variety of music. The support of the Diocesan Safeguarding Team and the tireless efforts of Ellie Martin in ensuring the safety of all on the trip cannot be overstated. We are grateful too for the support of Lisa Mackenzie and Hannah Whelan throughout the tour in helping to look after our tour members.
We are particularly grateful for the support of John-Charles Tanner, a relatively new parishioner to the Cathedral, who just happened to be close friends with Alain Cherel, the celebrated trumpeter of the Sanctuary at Lourdes. John-Charles was able to act as a conduit between Alex (who speaks very little French) and Alain (who speaks very little English), to facilitate showcasing the choir at the Marian Procession, Eucharistic Procession and International Mass. He was also responsible for arranging our concerts in Abbatiale de Saint-Savin and l'Eglise Saint Jean, Tarbes, for saving the day after hearing the news about Notre-Dame and enabling us to sing Mass at La Madeleine. His support and encouragement throughout the process (including shaking our blue donation buckets at Sunday Recitals) has been crucial to the tour and we are so grateful for all his help.
As Director of Music, it’s always good to see that the choir’s work is being recognised as an integral part of the Cathedral and wider Diocesan mission. The relationship between the two seemed to be so intrinsically linked throughout the Pilgrimage. To see members of the Cathedral congregation, wider Diocesan pilgrims, and pilgrims from all over the world visibly moved by what we were doing (such as singing hymns for pilgrims outside the Baths), beaming with pride (as we sang Bruckner’s Ave Maria at the Marian Procession, or singing throughout the International Mass), or in quiet contemplation (during the Reconciliation Service), felt like a huge validation for the work we do, not just as part of the Lourdes experience, but back at home on a weekly basis. The support of Bishop Patrick throughout the trip, alongside other Nottingham pilgrims, at our concert in l'Eglise Saint Jean, Tarbes, was a particular highlight.
We are blessed by such a wonderful community, which has been enriched, and relationships deepened, as a result of this experience. I cannot thank you all enough for the role you’ve played in making it happen.
A reflection on the Cathedral Choirs' role on the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes from former Cathedral Dean, Canon Geoffrey Hunton
The annual pilgrimage to Lourdes is a significant event in the life of the Diocese of Nottingham.
This year as usual three hundred people from across the Diocese made the pilgrimage by air, coach and train.
Lourdes can and does evoke several emotions; this year was no exception.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy five-day pilgrimage there was I felt amongst our pilgrims a great sense of calm and an entering into of the spirit of Lourdes – of oneness with each other, the Lord and his Blessed Mother.
Why was that? I will leave the reader to come to their own conclusion.
A reflection on the Cathedral Choirs' role on the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes from Pilgrimage Director, Fr Gregory Tobin
Music is vital in our lives.
It can set the mood, raise morale and draw people together. On our Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes, we rely heavily on musicians to assist all pilgrims as we journey through life with the pains and loads that are ours.
This year we were blessed on our pilgrimage to have with us the Cathedral Choir of St Barnabas under the leadership of Alex Patterson.
During the preparation for this years pilgrimage Alex went to Lourdes with the Directorate to visit the Churches, Basilicas and the sacred Grotto where the choir would be singing. These few days during February, which coincided with the Feast day (February 11th) of Our Lady of Lourdes, also gave Alex the opportunity to meet the Sanctuary leads on liturgy and music, including the trumpet player who dovetails beautifully with the organ for the big occasions. In a previous life Fr Simon Gillespie spent a lot of time at the Cathedral, and so is very familiar with the personnel, including the Cathedral Choir. He was therefore able to co-ordinate the travel arrangements, accommodation and programme, together with the endless paperwork and T-shirts, which are a must for a journey of this kind.
Our first Mass was outside in the autel de l’esplanade adjacent to the rosary square, so very difficult with the acoustics, but we knew the choir would attract a lot of attention as people crossing the square were drawn over by the quality of the singing.
The following day (Tuesday) a certain sensitivity was needed with the anointing of the sick and the reconciliation service.
Every Wednesday in Lourdes we have an international Mass in the underground basilica (capacity 25,000) with all the pilgrimages in Lourdes at that time from the world over, coming together liturgically. The choir were resplendent as part of the larger Basilica choir and were given the opportunity to sing a motet. All 269 pilgrims from Nottingham were bursting with pride!
Each evening at 9pm there is torchlight procession for an hour. It is a spectacular occasion with the candles, thousands of people and of course the music, which is amplified around the domain. During our pilgrimage we participated twice in the torchlight procession and led it on the Wednesday. The choir took a lead with the Sanctuary leads, and again were give the opportunity to sing an impressive solo piece.
Our garden party gave everyone the opportunity to share their party piece in a sunny relaxed venue. How lovely to see and hear the choir sing some witty ditties to great effect. A nice change from the formal fare.
A concert in a local abbey was enjoyed by all who made the journey up the mountain and was an ideal foretaste for what was to come in Paris.
You expect the Cathedral Choir to be technically perfect and professional in their delivery. What I enjoyed was the moments between the musical performances when the members were just part of the Nottingham pilgrimage engaging with the sick and lifting their spirits.
Music is indeed vital to our lives. The presence of the Cathedral Choir on this year’s Diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes brought musical perfection and beauty in a place that challenges us all to excel in all that we do.
Fr Simon Gillespie writes:
Lying in the bottom (forgotten?) corner of Lincolnshire, cheek-by-jowl with Northamptonshire and the Unitary Authority of Peterborough, it’s not often that Stamford feels as though it’s part of the mighty Diocese of Nottingham. But all that changed one sleepy Sunday in September, when no less a person than Alex Patterson, Director of Music from Saint Barnabas Cathedral, visited St Augustine’s parish, together with some of the Cathedral Choral Scholars. Their purpose, as well as admiring our beautiful Stone Town, was to enhance the 11.00am Mass with music not heard in these parts for many a year. Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices lifted the hearts and souls of the Sunday morning Mass-goers, inspiring the congregation to sing the Missa VII de Angelis with renewed enthusiasm. More delights awaited, with the Gifts being presented to the accompaniment of Pitoni’s Cantate Domino and Holy Communion received to the strains of Croce’s O Sacrum convivium. Small wonder, with the talents of Grace Bale (soprano), Leah Smith (alto), Hayden Elves (tenor), and James Farmer (bass), that the Catholics of Stamford were floating on angels’-wings as they were sent out into the world that morning, after the glimpse of heaven that they’d seen and heard.
Not content with music for the Mass, after a short break for lunch, parishioners spent the afternoon in three workshops, led by Alex and the Choristers, looking at ways in which the parish music might be augmented and developed. The first workshop was a guide to singing the plainchant of the Mass, starting with the Missa VIII which was relatively well-known, and moving through some numes and quilismae, to the unfamiliar Missa XVII. Within an hour or so the hitherto mysteries of plainchant notation were deciphered, and whilst parishioners might not be quite rivalling the Vatican’s choristers (yet...) nevertheless the aura around those strange squares and diamonds on the four-line stave had been dispelled, with plenty of good fun and humour along the way.
The second workshop moved into parts singing, and this was really where Grace, Leah, Hayden and James came into their own. Although some of the parishioners were able to sight-sing, a recurring difficulty was the combining of various voices whilst keeping each cohort singing their own distinct line. Four solid voices leading the sopranos, altos, tenors and basses made short work of keeping parishioners in line, and with confidence solidified smiles broke out on faces previously pensive to make too much noise “in case someone hears me”.
Our final workshop of the afternoon was a prelude to choral vespers, an initiative which the parish had been undertaking for some months, but which certainly needed a lift. Work was done on the way in which psalms can be sung, and lines broken up or combined, as well as understanding how the psalm tones relate to the syllables in each stanza. Some of the parish vespers is sung in English and some in Latin, and the relationship between the four- and five-line stave notations was explored,
before practically applying this newly acquired knowledge to actually singing from the Psalms, the ‘hymn book of the Old Testament’.
When five o’clock came round, and other parishioners joined for vespers, the difference from the previous week was obvious for all to behold. Clearly, five singers of Cathedral standing helped . . . but the members of the newly constituted parish choir were able to hold their own, singing with a new-found confidence and conviction, and allowing their God-given voices to soar to the rafters.
Six months on, choral vespers is still celebrated every Sunday afternoon (at 5pm, if you’re ever in the area), and the choir, whilst still small in number, continues to grow its repertoire and its confidence. The liturgies of Midnight Mass at Christmas, and the offices and services of the Sacred Triduum, were more beautiful than ever, and the 4.30am Easter Vigil, with a darkened church and solo voices singing the seven psalms by candlelight, truly drew back the veil between man and God.
Our first Diocesan Youth Singing Day was designed as an exciting opportunity for children and young people aged 8 - 18 from across our Diocese to come together and sing for a day at the Cathedral. The event took place on Saturday 10 February 2018 and was led by Ellie Martin - her fun and enthusiastic approach to singing made the day most enjoyable for those who were able to attend.
The children spent most of the day learning gospel and spiritual songs such as ‘This Little Light Of Mine’, ‘Elijah Rock!’ and ‘Didn’t It Rain’ which Ellie taught aurally. They then gave an informal performance of these songs (from memory and some including actions) to family and friends before a mega Gospel medley which included fantastic audience participation.
Feedback from the children and parents was overwhelmingly positive with some parents highlighting the importance of such events considering the lack of regular choral singing in the more remote areas of the Diocese.