Past Choristers

Peter Barley, Organist and Choir Director of St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick

I feel very fortunate to have begun my journey in church music as a choirboy at St Giles’. Fortunate in a number of respects – not least in having sung under Peter Ward Jones as choirmaster. His musicianship and dedication were obvious, even to a small boy (I was six and a half when I started out at St Giles). He gave us numerous good examples of patience, humility, loyal service, leading by good example and fine musicianship.

What lessons did I learn as a very young choirboy at St Giles?

Being part of a team, having fun, the importance of discipline. But also kindness and thinking of others, learning from others’ good example. Also the excitement and significance of the church’s seasons and ceremonies,  and last but by no means least much wonderful music of course.

I am lucky to have a pretty good memory, and so I have many happy memories of my time at St Giles

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Carol singing (house to house) – being one of the youngest, I seem to remember that I was delegated to carry the collecting tin! I also definitely remember being lifted up in order to reach one or two of the doorbells!

Playing in the graveyard during the break! (probably I’d discourage, or at the very least not be at all keen on that now that I am a choirmaster!)

Remembrance Day service – going outside to the War Memorial (do you still do that?)

I was very small when I started, so had to stand on a small wooden platform to see over the choir stalls!

Kindliness of several of the men – chocolate bar selection packs at Christmas; 50p Christmas gift – seemed a lot of money then! Also some fine solo singers, and pleasant younger men (some former choirboys I think)

Sense of community – shared lifts with other chorister families etc

Walking with the much older Warren brothers (they were in the back row, nice young men) up St Giles to Mary Mags, where their father and mine sang in the (all-adult) choir – to meet our parents after the service

Super voices of some of the older trebles – looking up to them, a sense of their leadership

Music – definitely remember being excited by Ireland’s Greater Love (both soloists good), Haydn’s Insanae et vanae curae, Dvorak Stabat Mater (in English I think!)

Peter Ward Jones’ organ playing – esp Bach, Mendelssohn  and Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

Peter Ward Jones giving a harpsichord recital featuring Bach’s Goldberg Variations

Peter used the RSCM Chorister Training Scheme (I still have the progress cards somewhere at home!) – gave a good grounding in all things to do with church and church musicianship

Singing in the choir at Peter and his late wife Shirley’s wedding

Being late twice – mortified – once on Sun am (maybe family overslept or misjudged the time or the car wouldn’t start, I don’t recall) – we crept into the vestry, I was very reluctant to go in as I was late. A second time for a carol rehearsal – I knew the correct time, but my father didn’t believe me/was convinced it was later than it was, so I was late!

Choir Trips – Bristol (travelling on one of the new Intercity 125s, c.1977), Portsmouth (visiting HMS Victory)

When the time came to leave St Giles, I was sorry to leave such a happy community, but I took with me many happy memories and a valuable training and enthusiasm for church (and keyboard) music that has stayed with me throughout my career. I am so grateful to Peter Ward Jones and St Giles for this.

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Matthew O Donovan, Head of Academic Music, Eton College | Founder member of Stile Antico

The thorough musical training I received during seven formative years as a chorister of St Giles’ set me in excellent stead for my subsequent musical activities… but, perhaps more importantly, it is the experience of teamwork, common purpose and shared endeavour amongst friends that has really stuck with me, leaving me with an enduring love of ensemble singing. For anyone who thinks they might enjoy singing, I encourage them to try it out.