Keith Charter - fifty not out
Sunday by Sunday, without fail, Keith continues to lead the Choir into worship as its Crucifer and sit in the far reaches of the Decani bass ranks nearest to the altar. This apparent paradox of prominence and modesty belies Keith's contribution to the musical life of St Peter's over 50 years. His loyalty, commitment and devotion to duty are unparalleled. Keith's talents are not just those of a musician; he is also a consummate administrator and diplomat. He acts as liaison between the Choir, Director of Music, Clergy and congregation. Generations of choristers (of all ages) have looked to him for welcome "pocket money" in the guise of choir pay. Under Keith's careful eye we have travelled to Cathedrals far and near; transport, accommodation and refreshment all taken care of without a hitch and seemingly without effort. We all owe an immense debt of gratitude to Keith and join with him in celebrating with joy his half-century of making music to the greater glory of God.
When asked to write this article on my fifty years in the choir (and at St Peter's) it at first seemed a daunting prospect. Having now sat down to begin, it has become more so! Firstly, though, I have to thank the Rector, Kendrick Partington and others for their kind remarks in recent weeks, particularly during the special choir lunch after the Coffee Break Concert on 18 October. This was certainly an occasion to remember and I would like to thank all those who contributed to the provision of food and particularly June Lord for organising that side of the day.
The whole feel at St Peter's is being involved with an ongoing community stretching over the centuries and that is part of the 'attraction' for want of a better word. However, it goes without saying that St Peter's was a different place fifty years ago, but how much different?
To look briefly at some of the similarities first: The times of the Sunday services were the same as well as some special services such as the 4pm Carol Service on Christmas Eve (although it then took the form of carols within a pretty standard evensong). Annual Church Meetings were held, Electoral Rolls were revised annually, annual accounts presented (although in a much simpler form!) and income tax reclaimed on giving. A Mr Lord and a Mr Riley were among the names of the sidesmen! Choir recruitment was a problem then as now, this fact being highlighted in the August and November 1953 magazines, the latter expressing a preference for "children whose parents have some connection with and affection for St Peter's." [I hope that wasn't a reflection on my situation having just joined St.Peter's from the Methodist Albert Hall as a result of an advertisement for choristers placed in either the Evening Post or News.] Canon Angus Inglis was Rector for 31 years from 1948-1979 so that in itself brought great continuity assisted as he was by a succession of curates, supplemented by staff from the Department of Theology at Nottingham University.
Turning to changes over the years: At the main 10.45am service there has been a gradual move reversing the 1953 service pattern of Morning Prayer being the norm, Holy Communion only being celebrated on the first Sunday, at which the Merbecke service was sung. I won't go into the various changes that have occurred in the form of the Holy Communion services over the years! The three-hour devotion on Good Friday from 12 noon was preceded at 10.30am by what was described as a Family Service but in reality was more a traditional one of Morning Prayer. This left about 20 minutes during which the junior choristers were refreshed with hot cross buns and orange squash. Fortunately (for them) the choir was only required to sing for the first half-hour of the 3-hours before retiring through the conveniently placed door in the chancel - the very low one on which countless choristers have struck their heads! The magazine had a different feel about it in 1953 with virtually all of it being written by the Rector, that is apart from the Diocesan News (with Bishop's letter) and 'The Church Abroad' both incorporated as supplements. No requests or pleas as now from editors for contributions nor feelings of anguish (by editors) and guilt (by contributors like this one) for stretching deadlines!
Many memories surface in writing this article of the 'Cathedral' visits over the years, started (or perhaps revived) by Kendrick Partington - Beverley Minster, Bristol, Coventry, Derby, Ely, Gloucester, Hereford, Leicester, Lichfield, Lincoln, Peterborough, Ripon, Sheffield, St Alban's, St Edmundsbury, St Paul's, Tewkesbury Abbey, Worcester, York. Not forgetting numerous visits to the beloved Southwell Minster, that in the early days entailed catching a steam train to Southwell (changing at Rolleston Junction) on or around St Peter's Day, packed lunch and bowls or cricket on the park, rehearsal and evensong, tea in an upper room in the Crown or Reindeer public houses and, finally, back to the train. Also certainly not forgetting (how could anyone) the week arranged by Andrew Teague at Chichester Cathedral, many staying 'in residence' in dormitories at the Prebendal School; the visits that week to the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth Harbour and its Historic Shipyard and nearly an overnight stay on a deserted Havant Station! A number of the present choir had had a similar, but shorter, experience when Kendrick arranged for them to sing a weekend of services at St George's Chapel, Windsor with some of us staying overnight in St George's School.
Of less status but of equal importance were visits to smaller churches in the Diocese with little or no recent choral tradition; Whatton, Clumber Chapel; St.George's in the Meadows come readily to mind and of course we now enjoy revisiting All Saints' since it became part of our united parish.
The choir has always been extremely grateful for the support received from both the clergy and members of the congregation. All four Rectors I have known, Angus Inglis, Malcolm Goldsmith, Leslie Morley and now Andrew Deuchar have all been fully supportive of the choral tradition.
The names of Choirmasters, organists, and choristers come flooding back from the past. Douglas Madden took charge of the choir in 1953 followed in turn by Kendrick Partington (who served for 37 years to June 1994), Gary Sieling, and more recently Andrew Teague. Prior to Kendrick taking up post, the legendary Vincent Trivett returned for a short period. Among the past assistant organists were Leslie Jenkins, David Page (now enjoying retirement as a coach driver!) and Nigel Day. The tradition continues, of course, with Philip Collin and Mike Leuty ably supported by Peter Siepmann as Music Associate.
In 1953 there were eleven regular adult choristers (we still have the adults register!) and names like Wilf Farmery, Harold Little, Ernest Mayfield, Frank Maslen, Archie Shipley and Vernon Jennison will be remembered now only by a few. Then more recently there were Matthew Bultman, Vernon Claridge, Ian Watson, Philip Ball, Lewis Mason, Leonard Webb and Nigel Bateman to name but a few. A Miss Satchell's name appeared in the register for a brief time in 1948 a reminder that the choir has been well served by ladies and girls over the years. Lady sopranos, including June Lord and Sheila George, and then girl trebles sat in the 'girls' benches at the east end of the front pews dressed in crimson robes and black hats. Over the years, the sopranos 'disappeared' from the choir although for a period there were two or three lady altos, including Jean Baldwin, (still in the crimson robes) seated for a trial period alongside the Decani basses! There was a time when it was a male-only choir until Kendrick reintroduced girl trebles, this time merged with the boys and wearing identical robes. Another change from earlier years is that as well as the hour and a half practice for the full choir on Fridays, the junior choristers were required for an additional practice on Tuesdays.
Getting back to my own life in the choir, it has been a challenging, but rewarding experience to be involved in the administrative side as Choir Secretary/Treasurer; helping arrange the Cathedral trips, pantomime visits, choir hikes; organising Choir Pay, the Choral Bursary Scheme and the Vincent Trivett Scholarships; preparing annual reports and dealing with a host of other requests from Rectors and Choirmasters over the years. In his kind article last month, Christopher Kent referred to another of my duties, that of being crucifer (extended once to carrying the heavy, silver cross at Southwell Minster for a Diocesan service) which I took over from George Thompson when he left the choir in 1959! In conclusion, as I suggested earlier, being a member of St Peter's gives you the feel of being linked back through history with an ongoing community and for me it continues to be a privilege to be involved with the musical tradition that has been so much associated with the worship here over the years.