Handwashers’ Newsletter 17th January 2021


I cannot believe that we are half way through January already! No doubt many of you are well and truly ‘carolled out’, not necessarily by singing yourselves (sadly), but by watching the seemingly endless offerings of Christmas music online. That said, it was very kind of Tim to include in last week’s newsletter the online Carol Service from Tewkesbury Abbey, which we recorded in mid-December. Like so many other churches, the Abbey has now suspended public worship, so there is, once again, no choral singing in the building. At least we had Christmas!

If you are still in the mood for something of the flavour of carols but ‘without the tinsel’, I commend to you Benjamin Britten’s fabulous ‘Ceremony of Carols’. Scored for 3- part upper voice chorus, soloists and harp, this extended work was written in 1942 on a sea voyage from the United States to England. It consists of eleven movements, beginning and ending with the traditional plainsong, ‘Hodie Christus natus est’. Here, for your enjoyment, is a live-streamed performance by the Choir of the Temple Church, London.



I was interested to read Pippa Burgon’s account of the Investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969. May I fill in the gap where she was trying to recall the music written by Sir Arthur Bliss for the occasion? Here is a recording that starts with the piece in question, and the CD also contains other choral music by him: 


 As Master of the Queen’s Music Sir Arthur Bliss was always having to write fanfares for state occasions. Lady Bliss (who died in 2008 at the age of 104) once told me that he got very fed up with listening to his own fanfares when attending such occasions! When I was performing Bliss’s choral works Pastoral and later Morning Heroes she took a great interest in what we were doing.

Best wishes

John (Journal Editor, The Arthur Bliss Society – one of my other hats!)


On 11 November last year I watched the service from Westminster Abbey marking the centenary of the burial of the Unknown Soldier, and was delighted to hear the Abbey choir sing a fine anthem by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Lord, thou hast been our refuge. I recalled being impressed by this piece when I first heard it years ago; it is a setting of words from Psalm 90, with the hymn ‘O God our help in ages past’ (tune ‘St Anne’) woven through it, and a solo trumpet emerging towards the end:


For as long as I can remember I have loved the work of RVW. It must have begun at my primary school in the London suburbs — I remember lots of music there, and the school song was ‘Jerusalem ‘. We had outings to the Ernest Read concerts for children at the Royal Festival Hall, and it was at one of these that I caught a glimpse of RVW in person. We were in the choir seats, behind the orchestra and facing the main audience. RVW’s overture The Wasps was played,


and then the conductor turned round and declared in a very stagey way, ‘Dr Vaughan Williams!’ He wanted us to believe that he had no idea that the composer was sitting in the front row, but I’m sure he knew perfectly well. Anyway, RVW rose from his seat and took a bow.


He was an impressive old gentleman, near the end of his life as I now know; he died in 1958, and this occasion must have been a couple of years earlier. I treasure the memory. I have recently learnt that our dear late friend Jennette actually met RVW — I wish I had known, as I would have loved to have talked with her about our experiences.


It was interesting to read Carleton’s reminisces on Beethoven and in particular the Missa Solemnis. As you will know from our previous correspondence, we have sung the Missa Solemnis quite a few times, at least 5 times. It is certainly a demanding sing with some very high parts for the Sopranos and Tenors. Our highlight which I mentioned before was to sing the work 3 times over one weekend, twice on the Saturday and again on the Sunday morning in Barcelona.

It is in our view quite an emotional work.

It is Sue’s favourite and I arranged for her 50th birthday to have a cake decorated with music from the Missa Solemnis. It was taken directly from her own score which if you see it is covered in musical markings for the part I chose. At the party we held, I asked the hotel if we could play the whole piece. The cake was placed centre stage and during the playing of the music I asked Sue to come and have a look at her cake. Amazingly, the music playing was exactly at the point where the music was detailed on the cake. Her reaction was one of amazement and she said “They are playing my cake”. So, this musical work will always have a special place in our thoughts.

Here it is so find the tissues for Sue, Vic: