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Often described as the jewel in St Bride's crown, our choir plays a central part in the church's musical ministry. Established as a group of twelve adult professional singers (in time for the church's post- war re-dedication in 1957), it provides the music for the two fully choral services on a Sunday and other feast days throughout the year. Led by Director of Music, Robert Jones and accompanied by our Organist, Matthew Morley, the choir has gained a well-deserved reputation for the quality and versatility of its music-making.
In addition to the Sunday liturgy, it contributes greatly to the attraction and success of St Bride's as the venue of choice for the many wedding, memorial, City Livery Company and carol services held here each year (totalling almost one hundred in 2014).
Each member of the choir is a freelance musician, with their commitment to the choir forming (often a significant) part of their portfolio of work. Current members have careers that include or combine that of soloist, teacher, conductor, as well as singing with other elite groups such as the Monteverdi Choir, the BBC Singers, The Sixteen, Cantabile and the Choruses of English National Opera and the Royal Opera House. This work outside the church gains them expertise and experience of music-making in a number of specialist areas which further enhances their contribution to St Bride's.
But it's not all work; the choir feel themselves to be part of the St Bride's community and are often involved in its other activities. Some have taken part in recent campaigns to raise money for the Inspire! Appeal via the Talents Challenge, slept rough in the Churchyard, given free recitals in congregation members' front rooms, or simply thrashed the congregation in the Pancake Tossing competition! Others volunteer to staff the St Bride's shop, conduct tours of the church, and help keep the church open between services on a Sunday afternoon.
Balancing the economics and demands of a freelance career can sometimes mean that an individual chorister is unable to sing with the choir at all the services that take place at St Bride's. On such occasions, we choose their replacement from our list of deputies - known colloquially as the 'dep' list.
The choir's repertoire is hugely diverse - music from our Cathedral and European traditions is at the core of what we do in our Sunday Choral Eucharist and Evensong services, with new music written for us in recent years by composers including Bob Chilcott, Judith Bingham and Nicholas O'Neill. Twice a month we present our 'Sermon in Music' at Choral Evensong - an opportunity to hear one or more anthems reflecting the liturgical season and further explore the wonders of the choral repertoire.
Music for other services (such as memorials and weddings) is even more wide-ranging, including operatic arias, and our own bespoke arrangements of 'popular' music - the latter element being particularly appreciated by those wanting a more personalised piece of choral music for their service of thanksgiving or celebration.
A snapshot of our service music in just one February week includes Bach's motet 'Jesu, meine Freude', Stanford's Evening Service in B flat, a Jubilate by Gibbons, an excerpt of Haydn's 'Creation', the 'Brindisi' from Verdi's 'La Traviata', and songs by the Beatles and Van Morrison!
For over 25 years we have held a twice-weekly series of free lunchtime concerts and recitals. These offer a vital performing opportunity for students from the London conservatoires at the beginning of their careers, as well as more established musicians wishing to expand their repertoire and try out new programmes. And many of our local office-workers - usually 30 or so - relish the opportunity to escape the office for 30 minutes to attend these performances.
St Bride's also hosts concerts given by other organisations such as The City of London Festival and the John Armitage Memorial Trust. We have a long standing relationship with EC4 Music - an orchestra and choir made up of people working and living in the City area who give up their time to perform great music in aid of City charities. Members of the Choir of St Bride's are regularly invited to be the soloists in these concerts.
Following a suggestion from a keen amateur choral-singer in our congregation, we ran our first Come and Sing choral workshop in 2012, giving non-professional singers the opportunity to sing with ourprofessional choir. Come and Sing Advent was a great success, with many who had never been to St Bride's before joining us for an afternoon and evening of singing. Building on this, we have since hosted performances of Britten's St Nicolas Cantata and Handel's Messiah.
We have just started our first venture into the Office Choir phenomenon - ITN requested help in setting up their office choir, and weekly Thursday afternoon rehearsals have started with (our own Gareth Malone) Matthew Morley.
It is hoped that we can expand these areas of outreach work within our 'media' parish, as well as in the vicinity of Fleet Street itself.