Christ Church Cathedral Choir of Gentlemen and Boys – 40th Reunion!
Special Evensong, August 3rd , 3pm at CCC.
On July 30th, 1968 a group of 50 people boarded a Wardair charter 707 at Vancouver International Airport for a direct flight to Gatwick Airport in England.
|The 1968 Christ Church Cathedral Boys and Gentlemen's choir leave Chester Cathedral in England after a performance during their tour. Members of the choir are holding a reunion on August 1 to 3|
38 of the 50 were the England Choir touring version of the Christ Church Cathedral Choir of Gentlemen and Boys. The other 11 consisted of: the Choir Master, the organist, the assistant organist, a librarian, an assistant librarian, wardrobe mistress, first aid and laundry supervisor, the mother of one of the tenors, the daughter of one of the basses, and two partners (each wedded to one of the basses) and one was a Cathedral parishioner.
The guiding force behind this ambitious trip was a 27 year old church musician from Texas named Beal Thomas. Beal had accepted the position of organist and Master of the Choristers at CCC, Vancouver in 1965 succeeding the Reverend Graeme Baker who was not only completing 7 years as CCC’s organist but also completing 7 years as CCC’s curate. In 1962 during Graeme Baker’s incumbency as organist and choirmaster, the Choir of Gentlemen and Boys was founded as an adjunct to the Cathedral Choir and quickly developed into a very fine choral ensemble.
By 1966 the choir had grown to 60 members and was a great source of pride and joy for the CCC parishioners of that era.
With Beal Thomas’ arrival the seeds planted by the Reverend Baker were nurtured and developed and the boys choir became an important part of the music ministry at Christ Church Cathedral.
Beal Thomas; energetic and focused, an exceptional organist, strived for excellence in his own playing and performance and expected the same from those in his choir, even if they were 4’8” tall with runny noses and filthy fingernails.
The choir became well known in the Vancouver performing arts community.
The boys of the CCC choir were often sought for children’s roles by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Opera Association and by professional theatre productions largely because of their excellent musical training and their work ethic.
The choir rehearsed twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-5:30pm and for an hour on Sunday mornings prior to worship.
Early in Beal Thomas’ tenure at CCC he had requested permission to plan a tour of England for the choir of Gentlemen and Boys and that permission was granted by clergy and lay leaders on the condition that the choir generate revenue to cover some of the costs. Over the next 18 months the choir sang special Evensong services and concerts.
One of the Evensong services was recorded and produced as an LP to sell as an additional funding source for the trip.
As Beal communicated with representatives of the Royal School of Church Music in Croydon England and began the long process of organizing the trip he realized that the 60 plus member choir would have to be streamlined and modified. Many of the older trebles who had superior sight reading skills and leadership qualities were succumbing to puberty. Three of these older boys were able to make the transition to singing Alto (Counter Tenor) and the Choir’s much loved Head Chorister Herbie Matthews was awarded the position of Choir Librarian for the months of fundraising and for the tour after his treble years ended. However, Beal realized in order to put the best group together he would need to audition the current membership and possibly go out into the Diocese and beyond to find choristers from other choirs of Boys and Men to augment the Cathedral’s core group and ensure that he was able to achieve the sound that he wanted.
Initially the England Choir roster comprised 22 boys and 12 men and that remained the magic number up until a few weeks before the tour when Beal realized he needed more strong treble voices and called upon his colleague Joyce Maguire who was able to supply him with a few voices to choose from.
By the time the England Choir roster was finalized there were 38 in total:
|Chorister Charles Laidlaw|
26 trebles (21 from CCC, 2 from Joyce Maguire’s choir at St. Helen’s Anglican church, 2 from St. John’s Shaughnessy and 1 from St. John’s in Victoria, Diocese of British Columbia), the Gentlemen consisted of: 4 altos, 4 tenors and 4 basses (the fourth bass was also the Choir Chaplain, the Reverend Ray Waller).
The fundraising Evensongs and concerts went well and the LP sales were respectable.
Each chorister would have to subsidize the cost of the trip by paying $150 and depositing a minimum of $75 into a fund for spending money which would be accounted for and dispensed to the chorister in a judicious manner (I think I overspent by about $30). This would cover a time period of almost 5 weeks. Times have certainly changed.
Vancouver was a very small city and the story of this local church choir singing in the great Cathedral’s of England was pretty big news in the summer of 1968.
Longtime and current Cathedral parishioner Jacqueline Hooper wrote bi-weekly reports about the tour that were published in the Vancouver Sun, including photographs of the choir performing in England. The local media was extremely supportive of the tour and were very cooperative in helping to promote the fundraising Evensongs and concerts with photographs and feature articles.
To describe the trip would take several Topic articles so suffice it to say that
the tour was a success and a very memorable experience.
The choir sang Sunday worships in the Parish church at Warwick near Stratford-on-Avon and at St. Asaph’s in Wales. For the middle three weeks of the tour the choir sang daily evensong and Sunday services in the Cathedrals of Chester, Norwich and Lincoln and wrapped up with 6 days in London to soak up the sights and sounds of that remarkable city.
Only 49 of the 50 returned home as Cantoris treble Peter Healey’s family had moved to Boston during the summer and on September 1st he flew to his new home in the USA.
The boys who were members of other choirs returned to their home parishes and many of the older CCC boys were on the verge of saying goodbye forever to their treble range.
The Cathedral’s Dean, the Very Reverend Northcotte Burke who was a major supporter of this particular facet of the music ministry had passed away in 1968. The new Dean of the Cathedral the Very Reverend Herbert O’Driscoll came to his incumbency in 1969 and was facing a church and a world going through a dramatic social change. The costs and the maintenance of a Boys and Men’s choir were large and the congregation was shrinking in numbers. It wasn’t long before only a handful of boys remained from the 1968 choir and 18 months after the tour Beal Thomas had also left CCC, Vancouver for the post of organist and Director of Music at CCC, Victoria.
All this was a very long time ago, in fact 40 years have passed and this August 1,2 and 3rd
Beal Thomas will return to Vancouver from his current home in Houston, Texas to help host a 40th anniversary reunion of the Christ Church Cathedral Choir of Gentlemen and Boys.
As of this writing all but two of the 38 choristers have been accounted for and the invitations to the four events over the three days have been distributed by email and mail.
The first choristers to respond and register were Charles “Chuck” Laidlaw (see photo) and tenor Myron Patterson .
In addition to the 50 who went on the trip numerous invites have been sent to CCC parishioners of that era, Diocesan clergy who supported the project and choristers who sang in the choir before and/or after but were not members of the 1968 touring choir.
Sunday August, 3rd at 3pm members of the CCC choir from the 1960s will lead the music in worship at a traditional celebration of Evensong under the direction of Beal Thomas. Following the worship those attending the reunion will meet with friends, relatives and partners for coffee, tea and nostalgia.
I can’t wait.
Randy Murray is the Communications and Development Associate at Christ Church Cathedral. He was a Decani Treble in the Choir of Gentlemen and Boys, 1967 to 1971. Can you find him in the group picture of the choir?