Music at the Abbey | Westminster Abbey Choir
The Westminster Abbey is a landmark of a destination existing in the City of Westminster, London, and has been resounding music within its walls for more than a thousand years. Since music has always been a very crucial part of Christianity, the walls of the Abbey have been blessed with a choir that sings every day for years.
Read on to know more about this world-famous choir.
Westminster Abbey Choir & Musicians
The Choir of Westminster Abbey has a reputation across the globe for being one of the finest choirs of its type in the present era. Ever since its foundation in the late 14th century, the Choir is known to sing for the daily services in the Abbey.
Comprising twelve professional singers, called Lay Vicars, along with thirty students from the Abbey’s Choir School, the Choir is known to perform a wide range of activities. Today, the Choir is also known to encompass concerts, recordings, and various broadcasts. It plays a significant role in plenty of royal events that take place in the abbey as well.
Choristers in the Choir of Westminster Abbey gain valuable skills in the musical, academic, and social fields that can last for a lifetime. The Westminster Abbey Choir School caters to providing an outstanding experience with specialist musical training and instrument lessons for students between the ages of 8 and 13, providing a strong foundation for their future.
The abbey’s music department is headed by James O’Donnell, the director of music and principal conductor of the Abbey Choir. He is known and has performed worldwide, including the United States, Australia, Europe, New Zealand, and many others.
Westminster Abbey Choir Recordings
The Choir of Westminster Abbey has had a partnership with the Hyperion label for years, which has a popular catalog consisting of great recordings from 20th-century classics, to a range of repertoire Renaissance music. It also consists of unique recordings of music that were used during the great feasts of the church year.
Amongst these are a couple of extremely popular pieces that can leave you awestruck.
A Christmas Carol: A delightful and unusual season offering with a great selection of Christmas music. It showcases an excellent selection of contemporary carols across various themes of the great festive celebration.
Mary and Elizabeth: This recording from the Abbey’s Choir lays light on a variety of sacred music that came into being during the reigns of Mary I and Elizabeth I. Few of England’s greatest music directors like Tallis, Sheppard, Mundy, Byrd, were involved in composing music for the Roman rite as well as the reformed Church of England.
Rejoice! The Lord is King: In this recording, the tunes from the 16th century are kept alive alongside fervent Methodist outpourings, the Victorian sentiment, the insights of Vaughan Williams, and inputs by the abbey’s musicians of today.
The Feast of the Ascension: This recording gives emphasis on the celebration during Easter time with tunes filled with pure joyful writing by the 16th-century composer, Peter Philips, and other contemporary composers.
Westminster Abbey Organs
The organs present at Westminster Abbey play a crucial role in the abbey’s life and worship. If the choir creates a delightful environment for its audiences, the organs are the soul of the choir that help raise the roof in hymn-singing.
The Harrison & Harrison Organ
The Harrison & Harrison Organ is a grand five-manual instrument that is often heard being played at the daily choral services, weekly Sunday organ recitals as well as during the annual Summer Organ Festivities.
Until 1982, no significant changes were made to this organ. In 1982, new stops were added and a second, unenclosed division was added in the north case. When refurbishment was completed in 1986, the organ had a more robust chorus, allowing it to create a greater presence to support major occasions. In 2006, it saw another overhaul with changes like new reversible thumb pistons and a fully adjustable music desk.
The Queen's Organ
Westminster Abbey is also home to the two-manual Queen’s Organ which was a result of a collaboration between the Lord Mayor of London, the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, and the City of London Corporation. Found in the Lady Chapel, this organ is used during small-scale services like weddings and memorials as a five-stop continuo organ by Kenneth Tickell and a practice organ by William Drake.
This organ was a gift to the Queen, commissioned by Alderman Roger Gifford, to honor the 60th anniversary of her coronation. By the demand of the Queen, the organ was housed at Westminster Abbey initially, which was later installed in the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Nov 2013.
Westminster Abbey Choral Services
The Westminster Abbey has been offering choral services nearly every day for thousands of years. These services are sung during term time by the well-known choir of Westminster Abbey as well as by visiting choirs when the abbey choir is on a break.
The Choral Services performed by the abbey has a richness and variety in the kind of music they play, ranging from Gregorian chant dating from the first millennium all the way to contemporary music.
A lot of tourists from across the world visit Westminster Abbey and join its services free of charge, every day. Although, on a few Sundays, the services may require a prior booking of the free tickets.
Westminster Abbey Concerts & Events
There is something at Westminster Abbey going on throughout the year. Right from special services to lectures and concerts to events for families. The concerts and events conducted at the abbey are often free and open to anybody who wishes to have an out-of-world experience.
The Westminster Abbey choir participates in these concerts and performs a wide range of unique musicals from century-old musicals to contemporary music. If you are interested in attending and indulging in a world of music, you can attend one of its free Sunday organ recitals which are held every week.
Westminster Abbey Choir School
The Westminster Abbey Choir School is a purpose-built school offering a preparatory school boarding education to exclusively educate choristers. The school offers a first-class education system in a supportive environment with an aim to tailor to the needs of choristers.
The Choir School provides a very unique experience for 30 young boys, between 8-13 years of age, to sing in the Choir of Westminster Abbey and allows them to be a part of various concert performances that are done internationally. The school consists of either full-time choir members or students studying to join the choir. As a part of their training, these boys are made to sing on state and national occasions and are made to sing evensongs on a regular basis, except for Wednesdays.
This school is the only one amongst the other three choir schools which look into educating males in the choirs.
Frequently Asked Questions About Westminster Abbey Choir
A. The Westminster Abbey choir has 42 people in total, including 12 Lay Vicars and 30 choristers from the Westminster Abbey Choir School.
A. Westminster Abbey's Director of Music is the principal conductor or the choir. Currently, the abbey's Director of Music is Organist and Master of Choristers, James O’Donnell.
A. The choir holds everyday services along with Sunday organ recitals and other special events like concerts and Summer Organ Festivals.
A. Yes, Westminster Abbey partners with Hyperion Label and has a few recordings of music.