Being a Resident Choir

Most Anglican choir directors at one time or another have thought about taking their choir on a performing tour to England. The image in one’s mind of directing the choir in some of the great churches and cathedrals in England is inevitably an appealing one. However, being the resident choir in one of England’s great cathedrals is an even more meaningful venture where the choir can experience the beauty of Anglican music in its original surroundings. The choir is likely to bond before the trip by being more diligent about attending rehearsals, during the trip and a positive effect can also be expected afterwards when reliving the shared memories and music.

However, fears of whether the choir will be good enough, of the cost and of the intricate organization of the trip are, more often than not, enough to prevent even taking the first steps to turning the dream into a reality. So what is the reality? Would it be madness or the experience of a lifetime? What are the steps that a choir director should take and the potential pitfalls that he or she should avoid?

All of England’s Church of England cathedral choirs have weeks when they are on vacation. During those weeks they invite guest choirs to sing services, normally for a week but occasionally for a part of a week. This usually includes Choral Evensong on weekdays and Sung Eucharist and Matins on Sunday. If a visiting choir is in residence for a whole week, there is normally a day off. Prospective choirs are usually asked to submit a recording to demonstrate their ability to sing the Anglican liturgy.

Richardson and Gray Ltd. is a UK-based tour operator specialising in organising residencies for visiting choirs, especially from the US. Each trip is designed for the group concerned and in the US these opportunities are most likely to be of interest to Episcopal church choirs, although choral groups from other denominations could certainly apply to be considered if they are prepared to familiarise themselves with the Anglican liturgy.

Typically the group stays in a three star hotel within easy walking distance of the cathedral (the Swan at Wells, Lamb Inn at Ely, the Chaucer at Canterbury or the Royal at Winchester) although some cathedrals have less expensive accommodation in their adjoining cathedral schools. We arrange a sightseeing programme for the mornings and day off and a tour director is with the group throughout to enable the choir director to concentrate on the music. By staying in one hotel for the whole trip the packing and unpacking which is a feature of some choir tours is avoided and people enjoy having more space and freedom from an over-regimented schedule – what we call “group claustrophobia”. Sometimes we joke that we organise group tours for people who do not do group tours.

We can arrange residencies at most of Britain's cathedrals. As you can imagine, the more prestigious ones are booked up well ahead but, particularly if the group is flexible with dates, openings arise even at cathedrals such as Wells and Salisbury.

A cathedral residency really bonds a group together. It is an opportunity for shared experiences, musical and spiritual growth, learning, exploring, fun and fellowship. The experience of a lifetime? – perhaps it would be madness not to.

Clive Richardson is director of Richardson and Gray and can be contacted via www.richardsonandgray.com or directly via clive@richardsonandgray.com