Choir & Organ is the leading independent magazine for all professionals and amateurs in the choral and organ worlds – whether you are an organist, choral director or singer, organ builder, keen listener, or work in publishing or the record industry, Choir & Organ is a must-read wherever you live and work.

Every two months our expert contributors bring you beautifully illustrated features on newly built and restored organs, insights into the lives and views of leading organists, choral directors and composers, profiles of pioneering and well-established choirs, and topical coverage of new research, festivals and exhibitions. In keeping with our commitment to music at the cutting edge, we commission a new work from a young composer in every issue, making the score freely available for download and performance.

Our international news and previews, with breaking stories, key awards and forthcoming premieres, combine with reviews of the latest CDs, DVDs and sheet music, and listings of recitals, festivals and courses, to keep you up to date with events and developments around the world.

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The Neoclassical Organ and the Great Aristide Cavaillé-Coll Organ of Saint-Sulpice, Paris

Latest News

£1.5m rescue bid for Chapel Royal Choir

12 December 2011

A new Choral Foundation has been set up to secure the musical future of the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace. The Choir to date has been largely self-funded through donations from the congregation but due to growing expenses, funding is now insufficient to sustain it. The Foundation’s launch event followed a special Evensong to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Authorised Version of the Bible, and was attended by over 200 supporters; guests included descendants of the composers John Blow and Henry Purcell, who were Children and Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal and both performed and composed as part of the musical establishment at Hampton Court Palace.

A spokeswoman told C&O: ‘The Choral Foundation will raise money to fund the musical training of the choir boys, to establish scholarships with local schools for boys who would otherwise not be able to enter the Choir and attend these schools, to undertake major repairs on the historic organ to bring it back to world class standard, and to fund professional Gentlemen singers so they can practise and perform regularly with the Chapel Royal Choir.’

The Chapel Royal has been called ‘the cradle of English church music’. From the 16th century, renowned composers and musicians performed for Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary I, Queen Elizabeth I, James I, Charles II, William III and Mary II, and Queen Anne. These composers included William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Morley, Henry Purcell, Pelham Humfrey and John Blow. The musicians and composers of the Chapel Royal inspired and were copied by cathedrals, churches and chapels throughout the country. The tradition of musical excellence continues today: the choir regularly performs works by living British composers such as Sir Nicolas Jackson, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, James McMillan and Jonathan Dove.

Canon Denis Mulliner, Chaplain of the Chapel Royal, said: ‘The Chapel Royal is a hidden treasure, a living, vibrant church with an outstanding choir at the centre of an historic royal palace. We would like to share this with as many visitors as possible.’ Worshippers do not pay the Palace entrance fee to attend services.

London gains another US organ

12 December 2011

The organ of St Bartholomew-the-Great Priory
The organ of St Bartholomew-the-Great Priory

St.Bartholomew-the-Great Priory in London’s West Smithfield – built in 1123 AD and the oldest parish church in the City – is to announce a multi-million pound fundraising initiative which will among other projects bring a second American-built organ to the capital. The Schoenstein Organ Company of Benicia, CA has been selected to provide an organ to replace the current instrument which was taken out of commission in 2010, due to its increasingly unreliability.

In 1886 the organ from St. Stephen Walbrook was transferred to St.Bartholomew and installed by William Hill. Further modifications were made in 1931 by Henry Speechly & Son, in 1957 by N.P. Mander and in 1982-83 by Peter Wells. Director of music Nigel Short told C&O: ‘We were advised that there was nothing in the pipework of the old organ worth saving: we’ve looked high and low and have homed in on US builders – with the American market fairly buoyant in recent years a huge amount has been spent on development, which we’re keen to capitalise on.’

Churchwarden and deputising organist Nicholas Riddle takes up the story:‘The idea was to do something more interesting and unusual than just putting in another English/Orgelbewegung hybrid organ, of which there are endless examples. Because I work extensively in the US, I have met the American symphonic tradition of organ and had much experience of it. The idea of looking at this option was therefore discussed in our organ committee. We discovered that there are really no full-scale examples of such an organ anywhere in Europe – at least, not that we could find. So, we decided it would definitely mean doing something less conventional, and something that really would add to the diversity of instruments available to organists in the UK if there were to be an outstanding example of such an instrument in London, to complement the quite different organ planned for St George’s, Hanover Square.

‘Schoenstein derive their inspiration very much from the English organ building tradition, but have taken it considerably further, both in terms of integrating additional tonal colour, and also in straightforward organ technology. They are, perhaps, most famous for their technique of double enclosure in Swell boxes, where a smaller swell box under independent control, containing usually the loudest and the softest ranks, is contained within a normal swell box. The result is that you can exert a very great deal of control over the sound of the division and play off the expression of the different parts against each other. This gives tremendous expressive possibilities, although you end up with a lot of swell pedals!’

The 1893 casework of Sir Aston Webb will be retained. ‘The current grey pipework will be replaced by reflective display pipes,’ Nigel Short added. ‘We will have a detached, moveable console on the floor of the church, and a positive organ will be added where the current console is situated on the organ screen.’ Jack Bethards, president and tonal director of Schoenstein & Co said, ‘We are honoured to have an opportunity to introduce our American Symphonic style to Great Britain in one of London’s most famous landmark churches. To have our instrument in the company of those by the distinguished English builders present and past will be a significant highlight in our firm’s 134 years of organ building.’ It is hoped that the new Schoenstein organ will be installed in 2014.


27 October 2011

Peter Maxwell Davies
Peter Maxwell Davies© John Batten

The Choirbook – seven years in the making – will launch at a special service in Southwark Cathedral on 22 November. The venture was born out of an inspirational idea by former BBC Proms director Robert Ponsonby and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the current Master of the Queen’s Music. Comprising 44 anthems, including 11 new commissions, the Choirbook is dedicated to the Queen. Eighty cathedral and choral foundation choirs will sing the anthems during the Jubilee Year in the context of services, many of them scheduled for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and on local radio.

The Choirbook is to be published by Canterbury Press. The project’s chief executive Carol Butler said, ‘I’ve been living with this project since Ian Ritchie, who now chairs the advisory and editorial group, asked me to begin working on it part-time when he became director of the City of London Festival. And we’ve enjoyed fantastic support from everyone involved: “Max” leads our communications with the Royal household – there are many details still to be finalised for next year, including the date for the offi cial presentation of the Choirbook. The editorial group decided early on that the selection of music should aim at the highest possible quality, while remaining approachable by good parish choirs; drawing on the combined experience of Stephen Cleobury, Christopher Robinson, Lucy Winkett, Tim Hone, Andrew Kurowski and Ian, the advisory group has done a wonderful job in selecting the anthems – we’ve also enjoyed good collaboration with the publishers.’

The roster of composers featured in the Choirbook is a roll-call of the finest talents working today, from Richard Allain to John Woolrich. The eleven commissioned pieces will be premiered live on BBC Radio 3’s Choral Evensong; producer Stephen Shipley told C&O, ‘Radio 3 Editor Edward Blakeman and I have been involved in dovetailing our planning with the Choirbook Trust for some time – it’s been quite an operation but it’s fitting together well.’

Although a few dates remain to be finalised, Shipley explained that Radio 3 schedules will include premieres by Judith Bingham (Manchester, 8 Feb 2012), Diana Burrell (Westminster Cathedral), Alexander Goehr (King’s, Cambridge, 29 Feb), Francis Grier (Christ Church, Oxford, 7 Mar), David Bedford (Bristol, 21 Mar), Julian Philips (Truro, 9 May), Michael Finnissy (Wells, 23 May), David Sawer (York, 13 Jun), Nigel Osborne (St Mary’s, Edinburgh, 15 Aug), Roxanna Panufnik (Liverpool Metropolitan), and Maxwell Davies (Westminster Abbey, 5 Dec). ‘Where possible, the premieres link composers, writers and places,’ said Butler. ‘Some composers have chosen classic texts but the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has provided the words for Max’s anthem, “Advent Calendar”; and Liverpool poet Roger McGough has written “Joy at the Sound” for Roxanna Panufnik.’

Peter Toyne, chairman of the Choirbook Trust, said the publication had been made possible by generous support from the Foyle Foundation. ‘Following concerns that some choirs would struggle to find the funds required to purchase multiple copies, we initiated a Diamond Subscriber scheme which has resulted in £55,000 being raised so that 80 designated choirs will have a full set to use next year and for the future.’

The Trust hopes that publication of the Choirbook in the context of the Jubilee will raise interest among choral foundations in the Commonwealth.


27 October 2011

Halifax Minster organ
Halifax Minster organ

Halifax Minster has started the north of England’s first organ academy to try to boost the declining number of organists playing in West Yorkshire’s churches. In some parishes, the organist shortage has meant resorting to ‘karaoke hymn singing’ using music played through an iPhone.

The Halifax Organ Academy aims to create a centre of excellence for the organ in the area by providing tuition and support for organists, as well as encouraging people – especially the young – to take up the organ. The Vicar of Halifax, the Reverend Canon Hilary Barber, said the academy would help make sure the organ survives. He told C&O, ‘In recent years there’s been a decline in the number of people taking up the organ. We still have lots of wonderful organs in many churches so there’s a real urgency, I think, for us to encourage particularly young people to learn keyboard skills and learn this king of instruments.’

Prof. David Baker, who is leading the project, added, ‘I estimate at least one in two churches may have an organ but they don't have an organist, which is why we set up the Halifax Academy.’

The Academy’s first event, led by Anne Marsden Thomas of the St Giles International Organ School, took place in September on the Minster’s 4-manual Harrison instrument and covered the practicalities of organ playing in church, with sessions on how to practise, the physical side of playing, and motivation.


30 September 2011

Alto Helen Vincent, 22, has been appointed to the choir of Lincoln Cathedral. Lincoln was one of the first cathedral foundations to introduce separate boys' and girls' choirs to sing the treble line, and has maintained these since 1995.

But Vincent's appointment represents the first time a female singer has been employed below the treble line - as part of the permanent choir singing the alto, tenor and bass lines when either the boys' or girls' choir is singing the service. Her appointment therefore means that an all-male choir will no longer be heard at Lincoln.

Director of music Aric Prentice is positive about the appointment: 'As an alto myself, I have sung in choirs where there's a mixture of men and women, and have always found it to give a greater flexibility of sound. The blends have provided an interesting sound that hasn't deviated far from what people's perception of what a cathedral choir sounds like.'

Peter Phillips, director of the Tallis Scholars, wrote in a recent Spectator article about the decision to appoint his wife, contralto Caroline Trevor, to the deputies list of the choir at St Paul's Cathedral. He described her voice as 'the perfect instrument for sacred singing'.

'For her, and for those who will surely come after her now the breach has been made, it is the realisation of a dream long deferred,' wrote Phillips.

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