A sense of disbelief that it could be possible was the reaction of many when national news at lunchtime on Friday 21st October reported that an MP in the Southend area had been stabbed. Then immense sorrow as it was revealed that the MP was our President Sir David Amess and that Sir David had died as a result of the stab wounds inflicted on him.
The decision was taken that our regular Friday evening rehearsal would go ahead and as we do on sad occasions such as the loss of one of our own, we sang Gwahoddiad.
A suggestion that we would be very willing to sing at Sir David’s funeral at Westminster Cathedral was gratefully accepted by the authorities there and various visits and a tranche of emails eventually led to a group of 40 of us meeting on Tuesday, 23rd November at Kirby’s Coach Depot to leave at 5.40 am to travel to central London. Such was the sensitivity around security that we’d all needed to be checked by the National Security Service and there were conditions about what we could take (e.g. only plastic water bottles and no sandwiches wrapped in aluminium foil!).
Our coach driver thought we’d arrive in plenty of time (and we needed to allow sufficient time to navigate local road closures related to the Funeral). In fact, due to heavy traffic into London, we arrived at the ‘back door’ of Westminster Cathedral with only a few minutes to spare. Here’s the front and main entrance to the Cathedral
And here’s the very discrete entrance we used
First to the Crypt Chapel, our base for our time there, and a bit of a warm up.
Then, at 8.30 am, a rehearsal with the Cathedral’s Assistant organist in The Apse, a raised area behind the High Alter, designed so that choral music sung there would be projected out into all areas of the huge Cathedral. It soon became obvious what a responsibility we had taken on. Were some of us very nervous? Yes we were! But the rehearsal went fairly well, we were relieved that the Organist was understanding and accepting of Jan’s requests.
Some down time, then the moment had come. We mounted the steps to The Apse and took our seats. We were in the presence of the good and the great – the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Cabinet Members and other MPs, the Houses of Parliament Speakers, Archbishop Cardinal Vincent Nichols who would lead the ceremony, priests from the Roman Catholic diaspora and others, too many to mention. Immediately before the service there was singing by members of the local Music Man project. Then there was a hush and the service started. We’d rehearsed at our Friday rehearsals, we’d rehearsed at the Cathedral, but would 40 of us be able to rise to the occasion and ensure that our tribute to our late President was appreciated by the 2,000-strong congregation? The pressure was on. Nervous glances were exchanged.
Eventually our time came. The organ played and we put our hearts into the singing of ‘Gwahoddiad’. Later in the service into ‘Praise My Soul’. We also supported the congregational singing of ‘Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise’, ‘Sweet Sacrament Divine’ and ‘Hail, Queen of Heaven’.
It was a shame that the acoustics in the Cathedral were very good at projecting sound into the body of the Cathedral but not at receiving sound from the Cathedral. So much of the service was observed but not heard.
Skip to 1:11 to see a breid shot of us in action and our Media Team (mentioned below) being interviewed for ITV News.
Finally the service was over. For most of the choir time to go back to our base, collect belongings and return to the coach. For four members of our Media Team, time to talk with the Meeja. Thanks to their skilful contributions the Leigh Orpheus was on ITV National and local news and we were included in an article in The Independent.
Several members of the Leigh Orpheus noted that there was some irony that it was such a profoundly sad set of circumstances that had led to the Leigh Orpheus getting the best publicity that it was ever likely to receive.
The time at the Cathedral wasn’t quite over. The Cathedral’s principal organist came to tell us that he had been very impressed by our appropriate and skilled singing. Praise indeed! And someone who must have been very important judging by the opulence of his vestments, stopped one of us to explain how The Apse and the Leigh Orpheus together had this morning demonstrated what the Apse was originally designed for – to project the sound of men’s voices into all of the Cathedral. We’d cracked it!