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Here We Go Again!


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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk

It is possible that some of you have not heard. Forgive me if you have and are already tired of the subject.

 

As is pretty well-accepted nowadays, the BBC have little time for organs or organ music. One reason is certainly that paying engineers to set out from base camp in order to set up expensive equipment on suspect territory is a burden. That and, apparently, nobody likes to listen to organ music - forget the huge market for CDs, of course. No doubt these are all purchased as presents for foreigners since nobody here in the UK can actually want to listen to such unsuitable music!

 

Anyway......

it has been recently announced that the great institution Choral Evensong is to be moved from Wednesdays to Sunday afternoons. Not a bad idea at face value, but since these are (in theory) supposed to be real services, mostly broadcast live there will be several logistical problems with the move. Cathedrals who are on the CE circuit have little problem modifying their live service time midweek, but on a Sunday afternoon?

 

Of course, quite a few of those who might like to listen will be occupied with their own devotions on a Sunday, or rehearsing. One of the members of the Cathedral Lay-Clerks Forum has suggested that part of the BBC angle might be to make use of more amateur choirs who could adapt their schedules (and be cheaper to employ!).

 

Apparently (according to the same forum) there has been practically no discussion with the people who actually take part.

 

I'm not against the use of a bigger pool of talent per se, but the effect of the proposed change might well be to reduce the general standard, impact (and integrity) of something which is currently the envy of church musicians around the world. The Opus Dei is all about working for the very best that we can do..... it's a sad day if this isn't good enough reason to leave such a well-prized thing alone.

 

If the BBC wants to maximise their CE audience, surely an extension to the Listen-Again facility would help. The question that bothers me is, are they moving it in order for it to gain a smaller audience and thus help justify shutting it down? After all, this has been done before with other programmes!

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It is possible that some of you have not heard. Forgive me if you have and are already tired of the subject.

 

As is pretty well-accepted nowadays, the BBC have little time for organs or organ music. One reason is certainly that paying engineers to set out from base camp in order to set up expensive equipment on suspect territory is a burden.  That and, apparently, nobody likes to listen to organ music - forget the huge market for CDs, of course. No doubt these are all purchased as presents for foreigners since nobody here in the UK can actually want to listen to such unsuitable music!

 

Anyway......

it has been recently announced that the great institution Choral Evensong is to be moved from Wednesdays to Sunday afternoons. Not a bad idea at face value, but since these are (in theory) supposed to be real services, mostly broadcast live there will be several logistical problems with the move. Cathedrals who are on the CE circuit have little problem modifying their live service time midweek, but on a Sunday afternoon?

 

Of course, quite a few of those who might like to listen will be occupied with their own devotions on a Sunday, or rehearsing.  One of the members of the Cathedral Lay-Clerks Forum has suggested that part of the BBC angle might be to make use of more amateur choirs who could adapt their schedules (and be cheaper to employ!).

 

Apparently (according to the same forum) there has been practically no discussion with the people who actually take part.

 

I'm not against the use of a bigger pool of talent per se, but the effect of the proposed change might well be to reduce the general standard, impact (and integrity) of something which is currently the envy of church musicians around the world. The Opus Dei is all about working for the very best that we can do..... it's a sad day if this isn't good enough reason to leave such a well-prized thing alone.

 

If the BBC wants to maximise their CE audience, surely an extension to the Listen-Again facility would help. The question that bothers me is, are they moving it in order for it to gain a smaller audience and thus help justify shutting it down?  After all, this has been done before with other programmes!

 

It has also been done to Choral Evensong before - you may remember that it used to be broadcast twice each week, a 'live' service on Wednesdays, with a recorded transmission on Sundays. As it happened, the last broadcast of a Sunday Choral Evensong came from St. John's College Chapel, Cambridge - Andrew Nethsingha, as Organ Scholar, played the organ. His concluding voluntary was the Final from Vierne's Sixième Symphonie.

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I read this in the latest issue of Cathedral Music. The move will take place in February.

 

Being a cynical tyke, I had much the same thoughts as Paul, but on reflection am less sure. Apparently Choral Evensong is the most popular Radio 3 item on "listen again", along with Andy Kershaw's Sunday night programme, so the Beeb clearly recognises its popularity.

 

Producer Stephen Shipley (formerly an organ scholar at Durham and Precentor at Ely) claims that the move to 4 p.m. on a Sunday is to "a prime weekend slot and there will be a much larger audience". Unless any of us knows better I think we have to take his word on this. Nevertheless I am left wondering whether the timing is really that crucial when you can catch up with the programme any time on "listen again" (though admittedly the compressed sound of the latter does leave a lot to be desired).

 

However, I share Paul's unease about the logistical problems. Will it be possible to maintain standards? If not, there will certainly be trouble. Shipley again:

 

"Radio 3 gives us money to broadcast from the cathedrals and college chapels of the land with the proviso that the musical standard within the worship is kept as high as possible. After all, we may be following a recorded concert from the Proms, say, by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Simon Rattle. If the music in the service sounds untidy, under rehearsed or over ambitious, Radio 3 will quite rightly want to know the reason. That's why we have to keep an ear continually to what's going on in the country's choral establishments - and why we may need to steer clear of certain places until things improve..."

 

I would love to know whether the move was Shipley's idea or whether he had it foisted upon him. If the former, I think I would feel a lot more confortable about the motives for the move.

 

Either way, I will deeply mourn the fact that I will no longer be able hear the psalms of the day - such an important part of the Anglican cathedral tradition.

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Either way, I will deeply mourn the fact that I will no longer be able hear the psalms of the day - such an important part of the Anglican cathedral tradition.

 

Yes. The other thing it's going to do is to completely bugger up things like the Edington Festival and the Exon do's - they'll be left either having to risk doing a slot "cold" on the first day, or extend proceedings into times where many participants won't be available (and where all concerned will be completely knackered). Wednesday was ideal certainly for Edington because by then they would be well rehearsed and would have had an opportunity to run "risky" or newly commissioned items on earlier days. Now, I suspect they will either lose their slot altogether (and funding, and ergo cease to exist) or end up playing safe with standard fayre. Sad.

 

Seeing how long it took the Outside Broadcast Unit to set up at Romsey recently - i.e. all day - I wonder if there is enough time between the end of Eucharist and the start of broadcast to cover all the necessary proceedings. Also, it's the peak church visiting time of the week which will cause engineers even more disruption.

 

The last thing I want to do on a Sunday afternoon is hear more church music.

 

I wonder if it will affect Sunday evensong attendance, too - I would be willing to bet that most listeners to the broadcasts are either members of a congregation or active participants.

 

Seems highly ill thought out to me. As so often happens, nobody asked us about any of this.

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As so often happens, nobody asked us about any of this.

Which is what makes the cynical side of me wonder who instigated this. Was the move made with the interests of Choral Evensong at heart, or because the powers that be wanted the Wednesday slot for something else? Another cynical thought: Sunday afternoon may be a "prime weekend slot", but how does that compare with a "prime weekday slot" and, more particularly, the average audience for the current Wednesday Evensongs?
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Guest Barry Oakley
Seeing how long it took the Outside Broadcast Unit to set up at Romsey recently - i.e. all day - I wonder if there is enough time between the end of Eucharist and the start of broadcast to cover all the necessary proceedings.  Also, it's the peak church visiting time of the week which will cause engineers even more disruption.

 

 

And I wonder, too, with the tight weekend schedule of Masses at the likes of Westminster Cathedral and Brompton Oratory, if we'll hear broadcasts from these places of Choral Vespers and Benediction after 21 February.

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Since the setting up of microphone equipment doubtless costs money, one wonders why Aunty Beeb doesn't kill a couple of birds with one stone. They could record choral evensnort and a couple of organ recitals whilst the mics and their engineers are still in place. That way we would enjoy a variety of fine cathedral (and other) organs, and hear what our Cathedral Organists (and others) can do!

 

It seems to me that the organists at Chester Cathedral are all pretty recital ready, and I'm sure the same is the case in most places where Choral Evensong is recorded.

 

Or is this too logical???

 

:)

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
Since the setting up of microphone equipment doubtless costs money, one wonders why Aunty Beeb doesn't kill a couple of birds with one stone. They could record choral evensnort and a couple of organ recitals whilst the mics and their engineers are still in place. That way we would enjoy a variety of fine cathedral (and other) organs, and hear what our Cathedral Organists (and others) can do!

 

It seems to me that the organists at Chester Cathedral are all pretty recital ready, and I'm sure the same is the case in most places where Choral Evensong is recorded.

 

Or is this too logical???

 

:)

 

I second this as both a sensible and logical idea.... however.........

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Guest Roffensis
Since the setting up of microphone equipment doubtless costs money, one wonders why Aunty Beeb doesn't kill a couple of birds with one stone. They could record choral evensnort and a couple of organ recitals whilst the mics and their engineers are still in place. That way we would enjoy a variety of fine cathedral (and other) organs, and hear what our Cathedral Organists (and others) can do!

 

It seems to me that the organists at Chester Cathedral are all pretty recital ready, and I'm sure the same is the case in most places where Choral Evensong is recorded.

 

Or is this too logical???

 

B)

 

 

Yes probably too logical!

 

I wonder how many of us remember the regular recitals on Radio 3? They were called "Music for Organ" and were on Mondays about 4 pm, Wednesdays at 11.15, and sometimes on Fridays! LUXURY!!! It was common policy, whenever an organ was restored or a new organ built, to cover this. Did we hear eg Arundel on it's reopening?..... NO :) . Can you think of many broadcasts of such events today? I doubt it. :)

Good old Auntie Beeb (Boob) seems nowadays to lump in Jazz with "classical" and Radio 3 has become so watered down that it doesn't bear listening to half the time :) . Their treatment of Choral Evensong is also lamentable, and will doubtless cause problems. Perhaps some people do not want to hear "church music" on the way home from work, preferring Jazz?. Bless. Seeing as we have Jazz FM, we should have "Organ FM", but that wont happen either. Apart from anything else, such a policy does nothing to educate younger people, some who may have never even heard an organ, to actually investigate and find a new interest and love of a superb instrument such as the organ. So much for th BBCs attitude to the public.

Nowadays, you get a slot late on a wednesday, when most of us are all tucked up in bed with Barbara Cartland, and what is worse the BBC simply do not seem to care. I also gather sales of recordings are falling, and recital attendances ditto. Qualify that with decline in church numbers, and it makes for a pretty sad future for all of us, not least those who devote so much time to producing, and those who work so hard in their profession. Just a bit of recognition would go a long way.

 

R

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I second this as both a sensible and logical idea.... however.........

So why doesn't someone suggest the idea to the controller of Radio 3 instead of pouring p**p on it?

 

If all we do is whinge and then negate any and all ideas then (as Private Frazer would say), "We're doomed...."

 

:)

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Guest Andrew Butler
Shipley again:

 

That's why we have to keep an ear continually to what's going on in the country's choral establishments - and why we may need to steer clear of certain places until things improve..."

 

Without wishing to provoke anything libel/slander - ous, are there such places? I can think of several cathedrals that never figure............ :)

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So why doesn't someone suggest the idea to the controller of Radio 3 instead of pouring p**p on it?

 

If all we do is whinge and then negate any and all ideas then (as Private Frazer would say), "We're doomed...."

 

:)

 

Whilst you make a valid point, some of us probably already have written to BBC R3 about this and other matters (such as the total lack of any broadcast organ recitals - remember Music for the Iron Voice ?) I did, some time ago. Perhaps un-surprisingly, I received what amounted to a polite but casual brush-off. I know of others who fared no better.*

 

I fear that the people who are in charge are not listening.

 

* I am not, of course, referring to the recent decision to change the day on which Choral Evensong is broadcast - I have not yet had time to write to anyone regarding this decision.

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Guest Lee Blick
Good old Auntie Beeb (Boob) seems nowadays to lump in Jazz with "classical"

 

I quite like the fact there is jazz on Radio 3 programming. I never used to listen to jazz before.

 

I have no problem with choral evensong moving to a Sunday. I often would never be able to hear it on Wednesday afternoons because I am working at that time. Once it settles down to the new slot there will probably be little difference in the standard. I am sure if these prestigious establishments want to be broadcast they will be able to adapt their schedules.

 

I would also be keen to hear parish church choral evensongs being broadcast too. Although they may not be at the loft heights of cathedral excellence, they too are important examples of corporate worship in this country too.

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I quite like the fact there is jazz on Radio 3 programming.  I never used to listen to jazz before.

 

I have no problem with choral evensong moving to a Sunday.  I often would never be able to hear it on Wednesday afternoons because I am working at that time.  Once it settles down to the new slot there will probably be little difference in the standard.  I am sure if these prestigious establishments want to be broadcast they will be able to adapt their schedules.

 

I would also be keen to hear parish church choral evensongs being broadcast too.  Although they may not be at the loft heights of cathedral excellent, they too are important examples of corporate worship in this country too.

 

I would also welcome a wider base of venues.

 

However, the point which you have not addressed is that, currently, Choral Evensong is generally a live broadcast.* As other contributors have pointed-out, it is unlikely that the BBC will be able to continue to transmit the programme live on a Sunday, since, for most establishments, there will simply not be sufficient time to set-up equipment, check balances, rehearse and carry-out the multifarious tasks necessary to ensure a trouble-free programme.

 

Whilst this is not a matter of absolutely crucial significance, nevertheless there is something to be said for the galvanising and focussing effect of the pressure of a live transmission.

 

* Contrary to what may be printed in TV and Radio listings magazines (or, for that matter, said by continuity announcers), the programme is not always live - as a previous edition from Jesus College, Cambridge bore witness. Despite being advertised as a live broadcast, it had, in fact, been recorded some days earlier.

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Guest Lee Blick

Does transmission have to be live? Personally it would not make that much difference to me. Considering a lot of people use the play-back facility at present anyway perhaps it doesn't really matter. I think moving the time to a Sunday is a much better slot and perhaps more people hearing a choral evensong on the radio might be inspired to go and see one live at their local cathedral or parish church.

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Does transmission have to be live?  Personally it would not make that much difference to me.  Considering a lot of people use the play-back facility at present anyway perhaps it doesn't really matter.  I think moving the time to a Sunday is a much better slot and perhaps more people hearing a choral evensong on the radio might be inspired to go and see one live at their local cathedral or parish church.

 

Yes, I think transmission needs to be live as much as possible. Only then is there assurance of quality and high standards, without people relying on patching bits in later - it's got to be RIGHT.

 

I refer back to my earlier post for a dozen good reasons why it should be left alone.

 

In essence - if it ain't bust, why fix it?

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* Contrary to what may be printed in TV and Radio listings magazines (or, for that matter, said by continuity announcers), the programme is not always live - as a previous edition from Jesus College, Cambridge bore witness. Despite being advertised as a live broadcast, it had, in fact, been recorded some days earlier.

 

Yes - and there's another point. Edington always used to have two - one live on the Weds, and one other (usually Tues I think) recorded for later broadcast. The revenue from that was essential for keeping the show on the road, I understand.

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Does transmission have to be live?  Personally it would not make that much difference to me.  Considering a lot of people use the play-back facility at present anyway perhaps it doesn't really matter.  I think moving the time to a Sunday is a much better slot and perhaps more people hearing a choral evensong on the radio might be inspired to go and see one live at their local cathedral or parish church.

 

 

"Previously on Mander Organs:"

 

Whilst this is not a matter of absolutely crucial significance, nevertheless there is something to be said for the galvanising and focussing effect of the pressure of a live transmission.

 

(As I wrote earlier today.)

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Guest Lee Blick
Yes, I think transmission needs to be live as much as possible. Only then is there assurance of quality and high standards, without people relying on patching bits in later - it's got to be RIGHT

 

Just because something is not transmitted live, it doesn't mean that anyone is going to 'patch things up' anymore than the thousands of concerts by professional musicians that are recorded live by the BBC every year in every venue imaginable. If you are a choir of any worth you should be able to perform at the highest level possible whether it is a live performance or not.

 

If any organisation is able to set up their equipment quickly and without fuss, it is likely to be the BBC outside broadcasting unit so I am sure they would have the professionalism and expertise to maintain the high standards we all want.

 

I still think moving it to a Sunday afternoon makes much more sense and could provide a means for an opportunity for Sunday evening worship on the radio which does not exist at present. After all, it is a corporate act of worship, NOT a choir concert.

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If you are a choir of any worth you should be able to perform at the highest level possible whether it is a live performance or not.

It's all very well to say that, Lee, and of course in an ideal world it would be true. But have you ever worked in a cathedral environment? Have you any experience of just how difficult it can be to maintain a full schedule of daily services to a competent standard when you may not even be able to attract a full complement of permanent lay clerks, let alone trebles?

 

In my youth I imagined - no doubt along with the majority of the great unwashed - that cathedrals were Utopian havens where perfection came ready-made on a plate with professional musicians on tap. But it ain't like that. Our most high-profile institutions may be able to pick and choose the best personnel and have talent to spare (though personally I would not relish coping with the deputy system at St Paul's), but many of our more provincial cathedrals struggle almost as much as a parish church choir.

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I would also be keen to hear parish church choral evensongs being broadcast too.  Although they may not be at the loft heights of cathedral excellence, they too are important examples of corporate worship in this country too.

Hmm. The prevalent complaint is that Choral Evensong - or Choral Anything for that matter - is the antithesis of corporate worship because it excludes congregational participation. I don't accept it myself, but I'm sure we've all heard it said. That said, it's true that a choir is a body of people, so I know what you mean.

 

But I am not sure that I would want to hear parish church evensongs being broadcast. Ever since I was a boy there has been a tradition of broadcasting a church service on a Sunday morning on Radio 4. Historically this was always from an ordinary parish church and it was always purgatory to listen to. That's not to say the worship was in any way bad or unworthy, but simply that, by its nature, it didn't make for good broadcasting. There is a wealth of difference between being an active participant in an act of worship and a passive, remote listener. Whichever you are, you need to be edified. If you are physically present that edification may come in various ways from all sorts of stimuli. If you are listening to a broadcast it can only come from what you hear. All your senses are focused on the sound. So sloppy, untidy, out of tune singing is more offensive on air than in the flesh. That's my view anyway. And clearly the BBC thought so too - eventually - since nowadays these Sunday morning programmes tend to come from cathedrals, or be sung by choirs who can turn in an acceptable standard of competence.

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Guest Lee Blick

I am sure there must be at least a few parish church choirs out there worthy of being heard. Any nominations?

 

As to parish choirs making mistakes and singing out of tune, I have heard quite a lot top notch choirs doing that on Wednesday afternoons at 4pm! But it doesn't detract from the overall aim of the worship.

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