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Dr Allan Wicks


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John Birch certainly. At the height of his career he was an outstanding player (and probaby still is). His choir at Chichester achieved an incredible restrained, subtle blend and attention to detail and his boys sang with a lovely pure tone which now seems to have been abandoned there. I gather that since he moved back into the Close at Chichester, and whenever he is in residence, he attends Choral Evensong and gives great support and encouragement to Sarah Baldock, as does Alan Thurlow. Last autumn on his 80th birthday he was allowed to conduct the choir at Evensong.

 

In the mid-70s it was worth the journey to Chichester and back on a Saturday to listen to the fine choir, watch JAB conducting and listen to Roger Greenacre thundering through the First Lesson.

 

Malcolm

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John Birch was born in 1929, and together with the late Allan Wicks, Arthur Wills, Noel Rawsthorne, et al born in the 1920s, is arguably in the second row of 'elder statesmen' organists. The members of the 'old fraternity' mentioned earlier in the thread were all born in the first two decades of the last century.

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John Birch certainly. At the height of his career he was an outstanding player (and probaby still is). His choir at Chichester achieved an incredible restrained, subtle blend and attention to detail and his boys sang with a lovely pure tone which now seems to have been abandoned there.

Malcolm

 

When did cathedral/college choirs get so LOUD? I went to hear one of our very top choirs yesterday and the singing was fantastic. Beautiful, sensitively-shaped psalm. The canticles were a big sing and they certainly got it (almost to the point of unpleasantness) - but with almost the same number in the back rows as the front the poor trebles were (to my ears - brought up on the old treble-dominated sound) swamped in the lower register. Even the Tomkins anthem, though beautifully sung - a little blip, apart - was sung, it seemed to me, in a rather inauthentically robust style, especially from the back rows.

 

That is not a criticism of the superb choir, more a comment on changing tastes and, perhaps, my ageing ears.

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Whether or not one prefers the traditional English "pure" head-tone of boys or the more continental tone is a matter of personal preference and the arguments for both have been rehearsed ad nauseum both by those who do and those who do not know what they are talking about. Chichester is a small cathedral and the kind of tone that John Birch and Alan Thurlow produced was ideal for that particular building. Hearing the Psalms sung at Choral Evensong whilst sitting in the Quire as a member of the congregation was always a joy and inspiration. Perhaps much larger buildings such as Westminster, Liverpool (I've never been there so don't really know) and Winchester demand a fuller, more open sound.

 

As well as enjoying Chichester in the past, I also enjoyed very occasionally listening to John's under George Guest and I happen to think the Winchester choir is currently one of the finest in the country. A choral sound that works for one building may not work in another. Also, repertoire has changed and that has a relevance to the sound that a choir needs to make. If a choir is any good these days they will sing the Masses of Palestrina, Vittoria, Mozart and Haydn instead of those by Darke, Ireland, Wood and Sumsion. On occasions when I do choose to listen on a Wednesday afternoon at 4 pm I am more often than not horrified by the standard of singing in general and Psalm singing in particular.

 

Malcolm

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Whether or not one prefers the traditional English "pure" head-tone of boys or the more continental tone is a matter of personal preference and the arguments for both have been rehearsed ad nauseum both by those who do and those who do not know what they are talking about.

Malcolm

No I'm not talking about head tone (though if any singer, of whatever age or sex can't find their head voice for the higher register they don't know how to sing.)

I'm thinking more of the altos, tenors and basses singing louder and louder. I don't want to go back to the days when balance was all and the back rows had to sing in an excessively restrained fashion. But in George Guest's days (since you mention him) the choral scholars certainly sang with passion but they were also capable of great delicacy and the top line was never drowned by self-indulgent altos, tenors and basses ( well - rarely!)

 

What I heard yesterday was superb, but rather one-dimensional and, to me, lacking balance. Unless you have a lot more boys than men, if the men don't sing quietly some of the time the boys will either over-sing or be drowned in the lower and middle registers.

 

Where are the boys who sing with the flexibilty, sensitive phrasing and beautiful tone of the choirs of Thalben-Ball, George Guest, Christopher Robinson and Barry Rose (especially at St Alban's), for example? George Malcolm's boys at Westminster Cathedral certainly used a more continental tone than others at the time, but they were capable of great delicacy - for example their recording of Britten's Missa Brevis.

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Where are the boys who sing with the flexibilty, sensitive phrasing and beautiful tone of the choirs of Thalben-Ball, George Guest, Christopher Robinson and Barry Rose (especially at St Alban's), for example? George Malcolm's boys at Westminster Cathedral certainly used a more continental tone than others at the time, but they were capable of great delicacy - for example their recording of Britten's Missa Brevis.

Apologies for the digression: to this list should be added the choir of Stanley Vann at Peterborough. It, and Christopher Robinson's at Worcester, were more than equal to King's (and John's) in the 1960s.

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Guest Roffensis

A riddle for Roffensis:- "Take a straighter stronger course to the corner of your life." Affirmative band?

 

Ah! Canterbury Choral....excellent of course!! Particularly your Beethoven Missa Solemnis, of which I have a copy on CD! :D

 

I agree totally concerning David Flood, who has indeed carried on the excellent Choral Tradition at Canterbury, and which flourishes as a result. Happy days!! I know what you mean about Wicks attention to detail (as echoed by DF). I heard Canterbury Cathedral Choir scores and scores of times in the late 60s up to 1979 when I moved away. I still regularly "haunt" the place. I wish someone had recorded them doing Dysosn in D, Wood in F and Psalm 136 (Lloyd chant) which all were broadcast in the mid 70s, BBC Choral Evensong. I never have heard those works bettered, and would love to hear those performances again.

 

Now I have to sort your riddle out!!.........oh YES!!

 

All best wishes,

 

Richard

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Guest Roffensis

[ On occasions when I do choose to listen on a Wednesday afternoon at 4 pm I am more often than not horrified by the standard of singing in general and Psalm singing in particular.

 

Malcolm

 

Well said. I agree. I cringe so much that I usually purposely avoid CE unless I know the Choir to be decent.

 

Another excellent Choirmaster for us to remember, Conrad Eden.

 

As to Chichester, a beautiful, pure, unforced, framed sound, well matching both the building and fine organ. I have not heard them since Birch and Thurlow though. Are they still the same?

 

Richard

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As to Chichester, a beautiful, pure, unforced, framed sound, well matching both the building and fine organ. I have not heard them since Birch and Thurlow though. Are they still the same?

 

Richard

 

 

To me they now sound like an above average parish church choir but I gather that quite a lot of people like the new, more open tone.

 

Malcolm

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Hello again,

It has been announced (on the Canterbury Old Choristers website): that there will be

a Service of Thanksgiving in memory of Dr Wicks to be held in Canterbury Cathedral on Friday 21st May at 2.30pm.

 

There is also an extensive obituary in Friday's Church Times by Philip Moore - Organist Emeritus of York ( & assistant at Canterbury 1968-74)

Regards

 

PL

 

Perhaps I can add two further points on the life of Allan Wicks. Looking back as a choirboy, one was conscious of his attention to detail in the singing of the Psalms. Other canticles too of course, but the Psalms with their vibrant descriptive language are what I remember. Whether it be a few short ones or the 15th evening they were a joy to sing.

 

 

I am pleased to report that David Flood continues this attention to detail and should also mention- as this is an organ forum- how important and sympathetic the role of the organist is in accompanying the Psalms

 

 

The other point I would like to record is that for many years he was Conductor and Director of Music for the Canterbury Choral Society (with whom I still sing). We were/are a lucky choral society to have had him as conductor and the Cathedral as our performance venue. Massive works such as Mahler 8, Bach B Minor mass or Gerontius went hand in hand with gentler works such as Fauré's Requiem.

 

A riddle for Roffensis:- "Take a straighter stronger course to the corner of your life." Affirmative band?

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To me they now sound like an above average parish church choir but I gather that quite a lot of people like the new, more open tone.

 

Malcolm

 

That is a pity. I can well guess what you mean by the more open tone. What about the diction? Many these days don't even bother with that it seems.

 

Richard

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That's an interesting point. Perhaps we are all striving so much to obtain a musical line, and insisting on a good legato, that consonants are in danger of falling by the wayside. I keep telling myself 'constant aural vigilance' but often fail to heed my own advice in the heat of the moment. Not that diction + legato should be an impossible dream!

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That's an interesting point. Perhaps we are all striving so much to obtain a musical line, and insisting on a good legato, that consonants are in danger of falling by the wayside. I keep telling myself 'constant aural vigilance' but often fail to heed my own advice in the heat of the moment. Not that diction + legato should be an impossible dream!

 

 

And not just the consonants, which need to be very clear, but for pities sake!!.... take a listen to some modern choral vowel tone!! It beggars belief. It seems to me that so many simply sing as they speak normally, and then there is the obviously diliberately taught (no one speaks that way) "twisting" and "mangling" of vowels as well. E becomes ii ( hard and incisive), and rather than being in the head, is at the back of the throat, with mouths straining wide enough for a Chocolate bar to go in sideways. As I said, I avoid Choral Evensong unless I know the choir to be decent. It seems the country has lost its way choir wise, a lot of which I attribute to Cathedral Organists getting their positions based on playing ability, with a lot of choral technique simply not being handed down. Listen to recordings of even 20 years ago, the difference is often startling. And it is hard to do all this work in a practice, yes.

 

Richard

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Guest Roffensis
Being a bit of an outsider this sad news has only just reached me.

 

His recording of 565 will live for as long as there are human ears to hear and the machinery to listen to it.

 

 

And how. I have never heard 565 played that way before or since. If any recording of that piece deserves reissue it is his on HMV, absolutely unique. The pace, colour, and later "roll" in the Fugue is magnificent, and the Toccata is very unusally played, very musical, not in the least overblown or dramatised.

 

Richard

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When I was a cheeky young boy of about 12 I remember bouncing up to AW when he emerged from the organ screen steps at Canterbury, and asking if I could see the organ. I imagine he was thinking of getting away and having a nice quiet drink, but charmingly and enthusiastically invited me up to the (then 4 manual) console. Pressing a "full" general piston, he said "let's give the tourists a fright" and played a huge and horrific few chords of some Ridout work with a gleam in his eyes.

 

He then jumped off and said - have a go then. I had nothing with me so proceeded to play the tune to Eternal Father strong to save. Allan stood on the screen singing in full voice. An experience I will never forget.

 

He left me thinking that maybe Cathedral organists could be fun and were not all grumpy and dusty!

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Allan Wicks was included in this week's edition of Last Words on BBC Radio 4 - I was listening on my way home from work sat in a traffic jam within sight of Canterbury Cathedral so it somehow all seemed rather apt. You can listen again for the next 7 days by going to BBC iPlayer Last Words Radio 4 and forward though to the last 5 minutes.

 

Steve

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AW inspired me enormously- and other non-professionals like me - merely in the course of one week while at the RSCM course for overseas church musicians at Adding ton in 1981. I have put up a small tribute to a great man here "You won't forget him in a hurry" using the diaries that I wrote at the time - now I cringe at the naivety of what I wrote then but it may convey something of what AW did for the ordinary person.

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