A HISTORY OF HOLY TRINITY CHURCH CHOIR
by Tim Raistrick
Although they were part of a very different foundation from the modern-day choir, the first mention of choristers at the church is at the end of the fifteenth century when Ralph Collingwood, later Dean of Lichfield, provided endowment for four choristers to assist daily in Divine Service at Matins and Vespers. He was almost certainly fulfilling the unfinished intentions of his predecessor, Dean Thomas Balsall, who did much to improve Holy Trinity Church and its College. His is the magnificent table tomb under the Shakespeare memorial in the chancel he had caused to be rebuilt.
The rules governing these choristers were quite specific: on entering the church they had to genuflect in front of the cross and say an “Ave” and “Paternoster” before going in sitting quietly in the quire.
They were kept away from the temptations of the town and acted as servants at dinner and supper to their superiors. However, they were not permitted to go the buttery to draw beer even for others. They were, though, encouraged to read the bible and other suitable books. After dinner, they had to go to the singing school and learn to sing to the organ.
The choristers lived in the room above the charnel house ("bone house") where remains of corpses were put when graves were reused. The door to this building can be seen on the north side of the chancel although the building has long since been demolished.
Thus, the boys retired to bed at eight o’clock in winter and an hour later in summer. They were required to say “Deo profundis” and “God have mercy on the soul of Ralfe Colynwode, our founder, and Master Thomas Balshall, a special benefactor to the same” for their maintenance.
There were a pair of organs and, on the dissolution of the College in the mid-sixteenth century, a yearly stipend of £6 was granted to the organist or “pulsator organorum”, Richard Sharpe.
The choir and organs were to fall foul of the changes in liturgy only about 50 years later when they were dispensed with.
It was not until 1731 that a new organ in the church is noted in church records when Thomas Swarebrick was paid £50 to build it. As is seen in a contemporary painting, although it was in fundamentally the same position as the present organ, it hung down lower, helping to close off the view from the nave to the chancel. Then in 1815, the organ loft was enlarged to accommodate the choir which then comprised charity-school girls.
This choir was not destined to last long though for, as we will learn, a change was going to occur only 20 years later.
I have already briefly described the creation of the robed choir. It is perhaps hard to imagine the transformation of the music in the church from that provided by a few singers at the back of the church to a far more prominent and, one assumes capable, choir now sited in choir stalls at the east end of the nave and accompanied by an improved organ also newly sited there.
This was a central part of Holy Trinity’s response to the Oxford Movement, making divine worship a far more ceremonial experience. How readily this transformation in liturgy was welcomed by the congregation is not known but the “amazement” expressed when the cassocks and surplices were worn by the choir for the first time in 1854 almost certainly was not universal joy as there must have been many people who regretted this move to “high church” practices. Indeed, it is likely that it was viewed with some suspicion by those who had lived in Stratford all their lives and were seeing it gradually transformed from a simple market town to being far more gentrified and attracting new residents to live in the rapidly growing number of houses, as well as developing as a popular tourist attraction.
Increasingly Holy Trinity became the church for the middle and upper classes to attend and this was only to continue when George Arbuthnot, one of the church’s most outstanding Vicars was appointed in 1879, aged just 33. As Freda Kitcher rightly described him in her excellent book “A Parson and His Parish”, Arbuthnot had both “vision and zeal”. With the growing affluence of his congregation, he and the Church Council had increased funds to implement further improvements in the church and this certainly included the choir. Instead of singing just on Sundays, the choir was now to sing daily as Choral Evensong was introduced. To support this and overcome any difficulties in church commitments conflicting with the normal schooling of the boy choristers, within just three years of his arrival, Arbuthnot had founded a Choir School.
It started in Autumn 1881, initially in a classroom within the Vicarage and Arbuthnot advertised for boys “of good social standing” to come forward. His reasoning was to try to change the sound of the choir as clearly there were currently boys with rather a strong local accent “which sometimes marred the singing”.
So successful was the school that only a few months later the following report was made:
The Choir School,
Warden, the Vicar of Stratford-on-Avon,
Headmaster, Mr. J.A. Priest.
This school has now commenced its second term. It provides a sound Mercantile Education for boys destined for Commerce or Trade. It is conducted in temporary premises in Back Lane*, where a large football and cricket field has been obtained. There is a Boarding House in connection with it, at the “Chorister’s House”. Guild Street, where the Day Boys from the Country can dine if they like. The religious instruction is superintended by the Vicar, and an Examination is held annually by a qualified Examiner. Boys are received at any time. For Prospectus and full particulars apply to Mr J.A. Priest, Guild Street.
* Back Lane was what became Grove Road and ran at the rear of The Firs, which was then the Vicarage and is now the site of the police station.
Again, later that year:
“This school, which has been in existence a little more than a year, has so grown in numbers that it has been found necessary to engage the services of an Assistant Master. There are now forty boys, clearly showing that parents understand the benefits of a Commercial as distinguished from a Classical Education. Latin and French are taught as extras, but particular attention is directed to all that will be useful in a mercantile or business life”.
Arbuthnot was also quoted as saying;
“I do not wish this school to rival any older foundation in the town”, presumably in a reference to King Edward VI School but there must have been some conflict between the two establishments, especially when he announced the Choir School was “now taking a foremost place among the educational establishments of the neighbourhood”.
On entering the school, which was from age 8 if sufficiently able to read, boys were given a year’s free education, other than paying for books and contributing to a games fund. After that year, “if their voices and conduct are good they will be eligible for Choral Scholarships, which will provide them with free education until their voice breaks. Their parents will then be required to give an undertaking not to remove them until their voice breaks, and to allow them to sing whenever the Vicar requires them”.
However, it was not just the boys of the choir who were considered of importance as this notice in the parish magazine of 1890 shows.
One such outing was arranged to Oxford and Woodstock and the report shows some criticism of the latter:
“A start was made from the GWR Station at 7 and Oxford was reached in due course.
Here the morning was devoted to visiting the principal Colleges, while the streets were enlivened by the Annual Fair. Two members of a more enquiring turn than their companions made a special expeditlon to examine the Sewage Farm. Leaving Oxford at 12.15, Woodstock was reached at 1, and the dinner ordered at the King's Arms was partaken of. This was the least satisfactory part of the day's proceedings, and the next time Stratford Choir goes to Woodstock it will not dine at the King's Arms. After dinner Blenheim Palace and Gardens were visited. When the identity of the party was recognised they met with great civility, but many of the underlings at the Palace seemed to be of a somewhat grasping disposition, and to be engaged in the process known as "feathering their nest". Later a very enjoyable drive was taken round the Park, and at its conclusion a good tea was provided at the King's Arms. By this time the Landlord seems to have reflected that Cleanliness is next to Godliness, and that consequently clean plates and knives and forks should be provided for a Church Choir, so the tea was more appreciated than the dinner. On the homeward journey another two hours was spent in Oxford, and the party arrived tired but happy by the last train in Stratford.
Before separating the Members requested Mr. Aston (who had arranged the day) to convey to the subscribers their thanks for the pleasant outing, and this he begs to do through our pages.”
Church Choir c. 1899 (notice the brass cross still used for the Gospel procession)
I have so far described how the choir was transformed through the efforts of the Vicar, The Revd. George Arbuthnot, in the latter half of the nineteenth century. We know a lot about the choir at that time because of the very informative parish magazines that survive. As we approach Christmas, I thought you might like to read a rather unusual letter from the Vicar that appeared in the January 1892 edition of the magazine, explaining why the choristers’ annual carol concert had been suddenly cancelled.
The history of the Concert is briefly this. When I came to the Parish, I found that the Choristers of the parish Church were in the habit of singing Carols at Christmas, from door to door, receiving in return coppers and silver. I thought this not only bad for their voices, but rather derogatory to their position as Choristers of a great Church like ours. Consequently I forbade the practice, and allowed them instead to have a Christmas Carol Concert, and to bring the receipts to me to be divided among them, after payment of expenses, in such proportion as I thought fair. Last year owing to the change in the Organist, the Concert was not feasible, and I sanctioned a book being taken round instead, and as the money to be divided was thus larger, no expenses having been incurred, instead of dividing it all at once, I retained a portion of it (about £4 10s) for subsequent division, giving boys, at the time, sums varying from 10s downwards, according to their position in the Choir. The rest has been given out monthly, and there is now only a few shillings of it left. This plan commended itself to me for this reason. The money is subscribed to the boys themselves, and not for their parents, who get the entire cost of their sons’ education in return for their services. It ought, therefore, to be spent on their own gratification, and not on things which their parents would otherwise have to pay for. It is a temptation to any boy to be entirely without money, as some might be. It is a pleasure to him to have a small sum at his disposal, and sixpence a month is better for him than 6s down, and nothing for a twelvemonth. On this principle I intended to give the boys about 10s or 5s, according to their seniority, and retain about a quarter of the money expected from the Concert. All was settled, the bills out, the rooms engaged, and Mr. Bloomer (the organist) had kindly taught them some songs, when a few of the elder boys told him that unless I promised to divide the whole of the money amongst them at once, they would not try to sing. Whatever I might have thought of a petition presented in proper terms, there could be but one answer to a threat, and that answer was the abandonment of the Concert. The boys were informed of this, and that Carolling from door to door would not be permitted.
About half of them acquiesced in my decision, but eight of them, unknown to me, and without any permission from anyone in authority, went round the town with a book, and received Christmas boxes amounting to about £6. In doing so, they led many people to think that they were the Parish Church Choir Boys, and their book stated the same fact. But when they came to divide the proceeds, they entirely forgot their brother Choristers, some of whom had not even been invited to go with them. This I consider unfair – I had almost said dishonest. The boys who went round were J.W. Brook, H. Large, H. Humphreys, T. Jellyman, A. Ball, W. Rickatson, D. Steele, W. Barnacle. The first-named had the book with the names of the donors, but when I desired him to bring it to me, he came back saying “it was torn up”, and I have therefore no means of knowing either the exact amount, or by whom it was given. I have, however, communicated with some of the donors, and learnt from them that their gift was intended for the whole Choir. The three last-named boys have admitted the justice of this, and given up their money for general division, but the first five decline to do so, and as they are supported by their parents, I have of course no means of compelling them. As nearly as I can make out they have £3 18s among the five. Of the remainder of the Choir: some did not go , because my leave had not been asked, one was ill, and some were not invited by the older boys to accompany them. If any Parishioners would like to give a donation for the benefit of these boys, they can send one to me, or Mr. Bloomer.
Lest any Parishioner should ask by what right I claim to have so much to say to the behaviour and proceedings of the boys outside Church, I may mention that I pay more than £40 a year for their education out of my own pocket. Their bills at the Grammar School for the past year have amounted to over £64, and I have received from the Churchwardens £20 only for the services of the boys. I do not wish to be hard – I organise summer Treats for them, they frequently come to my house, they have leave from their duties whenever reasonable cause is shown – but I do insist upon respect and obedience, and if the expulsion of a few boys now, gains these from the remainder, we shall be all the better for it, even though the singing may not be quite so strong as usual for a few months.
By all accounts, the action had the desired effect, as the following Christmas the carol concert went ahead without incident.
The fortunes of the choir have always depended on the skill and dedication of the Directors of Music and the people occupying the post have often been attracted from notable positions or went on to even greater things.
James Caseley, who was in place when The Revd George Arbuthnot became Vicar, had been Assistant Organist at Worcester Cathedral. In addition to his duties at the Church, he was also one of the many Directors of Music who was also the Conductor of the Stratford Choral Society. Among his compositions for the Choral Society was an operetta “The Legend of Clopton” dedicated to the Society’s then President, Sir Arthur Hodgson, who lived at Clopton House. The work was premiered in 1886 and considered worthy enough to be published by Novello.
Caseley was followed by George Bloomer who has the distinction of being the longest serving Director of Music to date, with over 30 years service in the position. He was followed briefly by Dr Williamson Reynolds, a former organist of St Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham, and then William Hewitt who stayed from 1922 until 1933 before becoming organist of Toronto Cathedral. He was replaced by John Brough, whose musical career had started as a boy chorister at Lincoln Cathedral. He left Stratford in 1949, becoming Director of Music at St Edmund’s School in Canterbury.
John Cook, who took over from Brough, had won a scholarship to Christ College, Cambridge but the outbreak of World War II prevented him finishing his course. He was a conscientious objector and so his was years were spent first as an ambulance driver before becoming a pianist for ENSOR. This led him into the world of the theatre, so immediately post war he worked as assistant to the Head of Music at The Old Vic where his skills as an arranger, orchestrator, composer and conductor were honed. He also worked with Ralph Vaughan Williams on his film score for “Scott of the Antarctic” and with Benjamin Britten on “Albert Herring”.
It must have been a complete change for him to move to Stratford-upon-Avon and to the church job. He combined this with the conductorship of the Choral Society and private teaching which he largely did at his home, Regency Cottage in Maidenhead Road. From Stratford-upon-Avon, he went on academic positions in Ontario, Canada, and wrote the incidental music for a number of plays at The Festival Theater in Stratford there as well as writing numerous orchestral music, organ works and compositions for choirs. His anthem based on the Shakespearian words “Fear no More the Heat o the Sun” was written for our church choir and has been regularly sung since 1954, the year he left.
In concentrating on the Directors of Music over this period, not much has been said about the actual choir itself. The sad fact is that there seems to be little documentary evidence of its achievements during this time. One can only surmise that, in attracting such accomplished musicians, the choir was sufficiently good to interest them and that they achieved great things.
In 1954 John Strickson was appointed Organist and Master of Choristers. He later wrote that it was “the beginning of what I thought would be only the first step on the musical ladder. Little did I realise that the ladder was to have only that one rung, but it would lead me to levels undreamt of by one so inexperienced!”
In fact, the 23 year old had come from Peterborough where he has been Assistant Organist at the Cathedral. John Cook had been asked who should take over from him and replied: “Young Strickson, he is good – he should do well.” He was a lively character, full of energy who immersed himself in the musical life in the area, not only conducting the Choral Society and Warwickshire Symphony Orchestra, in addition to teaching music at both Grammar Schools.
It was during his time that the boys of the choir had the distinction of taking part in the first performance of Britten's War Requiem to open Coventry Cathedral which was conducted in the presence of the composer by Meredith Davies with the CBSO and soloists Heather Harper, Peter Pears and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. A recording of this was released in 2013. The church choir’s only other record was made later in the 1960s and included just two rather similar Dutch carols; “This Joyful Eastertide” and “King Jesus Hath a Garden”.
During John Strickson’s time, there were strong links between the choir and the RSC which regularly employed the choristers as boy actors in their plays and this mirrored the ancient practice of the theatre using singers in this way. One such production was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, directed by Peter Hall, which was subsequently filmed at Compton Verney. It boasted a remarkable cast: Judi Dench, Ian Richardson, Helen Mirren, Diana Rigg, Michael Jayston, Clive Swift, Ian Holm as well as some of the choristers as the fairies. They wore beautifully-crafted suede costumes but then were asked to cover themselves in mud and, it being a black and white film, were scarcely visible. A showing of the film was held at The Picture House in Greenhill Street in September 1969 in aid of the Church Restoration Fund.
There was to be a further link with great actors for the choir when it provided music for a Son et Lumiere held in the church, again to try to raise money for restoration in 1970. This featured the recorded voices of Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson amongst others.
Away from Stratford, the choir was invited to sing a concert to celebrate the restoration of the organ at St Mary’s Church in Streatley-on-Thames in 1974 and enjoyed a fun day out including swimming in the rain. Other fun times were had with the annual summer choir outings. Around this time, these were often to London and invariably involved lunch in a private dining room at the Victoria and Albert Museum, but on one occasion a picnic was enjoyed near to the Cutty Sark, eaten off the china crockery borrowed from the Parish Hall.
One of the most unusual things the choir used to do, was to help open the Steam Fair (similar to the Mop but with steam-driven rides) which in the 1970s was held on land where the Crowne Plaza Hotel now stands and then on the old station site at the end of New Street.
A service would be held with the choir and clergy standing on the steps of one of the rides and the hymns were accompanied by a steam organ. Afterwards, still wearing full robes, the choir and braver clergy got free rides - a remarkable sight!
The links with the RSC also afforded the junior choristers occasional opportunities to go swimming in its private pool up at The Hill on the Welcombe Hills, which Deputy Organist and tenor Stanley Dickinson used to chaperone.
It was during John Strickson’s time that the choir first appeared on Songs of Praise in an edition broadcast on New Year’s Eve in 1972. Three years later the RSC’s Centenary Service was broadcast live on ITV and this was given front page coverage in The Messenger, the newspaper of the Stratford Council of Churches which was distributed free to all houses in the town. Remarkably the last and possibly only time that the Radio 4 Sunday morning service was broadcast from the church was back in 1976.
Among John Strickson’s many accomplishments in his time in Stratford included performing a concert with Sir Peter Pears and actors Richard Pasco and Grace Kelly in the church. Grace Kelly had progressed from Hollywood star to become Princess Grace of Monaco and yet she attended Evensong before the concert wearing a headscarf to try to mask her glamorous identity which did not escape the knowing choristers.
In connection with his being Conductor of the Choral Society, John Strickson had purchased a harmonium which is an integral instrument in Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle which the Society was performing. This proved to be an invaluable, if a little unusual, substitute for the main organ which suddenly failed at the service held in the church to mark the Queen’s silver jubilee.
In 1978, John Strickson surprised the choir by announcing his departure to become Lord Weinstock’s butler – a move designed to give him a total break from his musical life which had become too overwhelming and was causing him increasingly regular migraines. His career later took him to the National Trust where he was manager of Attingham Park, Dunham Massey and finally The Treasurer’s House in York.
When Peter Summers arrived as Director of Music in 1979, despite the skill and efforts of his predecessor, the choir numbers particularly of Trebles had sunk to a perilously low number with often only 3 at most services.
Building up the number of choristers was a great priority and this would have been difficult for Peter Summers to achieve single-handedly as being Head of Music at a large Comprehensive in Birmingham prevented him from making the necessary visits into the local schools. It was thus fortunate that Jocelyn Einsiedler, the mother of two of the choristers, was in a position to do this. With Peter Summers’ youthful energy focused not only on the music but also on building up the social side of the choir, numbers quite rapidly rose until at one point there were 26 boys. These social activities included not only the annual outing and pantomime visits that had been in place for many years, but also rambles, skittle nights, chorister productions of “Toad of Toad Hall” and “Choir Babes in the Wood”, and a humiliating football match against the boys of St. Mary’s Church in Warwick.
Peter Summers developed the training of the choristers, using the Royal School of Church Music’s scheme. Equally the men of the choir were encouraged to broaden their activity and, following a day course on plainchant at the RSCM’s headquarters, Addington Palace, started to sing Compline every month in the chancel.
A new organisation was set up in 1983 to support the growing musical life of the Church. The brainchild of Richard Osborne, newly arrived as a Bass, but an experienced cathedral chorister, The Friends of the Music provided a way for the congregation to help the choir and other musical organisations at Holy Trinity in practical ways, such as by volunteers tidying away music after services and by supplying the special-designed choir medallions worn by the junior choristers.
In quite a short time, therefore, the fortunes of the choir had improved and a greater sense of confidence built up to tackle more adventurous music. The library of anthems was greatly increased and additional rehearsal desks installed to allow the choir to rehearse before services in the choir vestry without too much disturbance from or to the congregation.
The music of the church was given a great boost in 1991 with both the restoration of the organ and the appointment of Stephen Dodsworth as Deputy Director of Music. Although achieving some unwelcome and unhelpful criticism at the time which ultimately led to a consistory court hearing in church, the work on the organ was long overdue as no major work had been done to the instrument since the early 1960s and like any mechanical thing, parts were seriously failing. Much fundraising was achieved in the years before with a major organ appeal and this, in itself, added more concerts to the life of the church.
Stephen Dodsworth had newly been appointed Head of Music at King Edward VI School and, as an accomplished organist and choir trainer, provided a very useful opportunity to increase the musical staff. Previous to that the Organist and Choirmaster, as they had tended to be called, had only limited support from organists such as Stanley Dickinson who was also a Tenor in the choir for many years. Now Peter Summers could conduct the choir at all times, enabling still more challenging music to be performed.
The biggest change though came in 1993 when a sudden downturn in the number of boy choristers forced the overdue introduction of girls into the choir. Some support to the top line had been discreetly given for some time before by sopranos Sally Cohen and Peter’s wife Susan but not as robed members of the choir.
Beth Nicholson was thus the first girl treble to be recruited and with 3 more quickly joining her, they sang with the choir on Advent Sunday that year, breaking a century-and-a-half tradition of an all-male choir. This soon led to female altos being recruited.
Later, the presence of girls would require a female chaperone to be present for the Thursday treble-only practice. In thinking about this, it was concluded that if one of the female altos did this, maybe a couple of adults per part would be able to join the junior choristers and, instead of having a practice, could sing a midweek service of Choral Evensong. This proved remarkably popular for a number of years.
Indeed, the re-introduction of Choral Evensong in the 1980s had been welcomed by many of the congregation, but a similar attempt to bring back Matins, though tried for a number of years, did not enjoy the same popularity and was dropped again. It was around this time that the Family Communion was also introduced as the main morning service on the first Sunday, replacing a shorter and more informal non-Eucharistic service which had monthly preceded Parish Communion. The style of music used at the new Family Communion did not lend itself to the skills of the choir and so the Music Group was formed and became the main provider of music at that service, in the process giving the choir a welcome break once a month.
Similarly, as the choir was nevertheless increasingly required to be at more services and the repertoire demanded almost 100% attendance, it was decided to run it along school term times, thereby giving it official holidays rather than ending up with depleted numbers when many of the choir was off. This led to the creation of the Occasional Choir, members of the congregation who wanted to sing the evening service during the summer holiday and some other times during the year.
It was a far more informal group, as its name implied, but numbers were such that it was able to sing some simple anthems as well as the hymns and psalms.
During this period, the choir appeared more on TV and radio, including a run of the ITV morning act of worship where it recorded hymns for broadcast over a number of consecutive weeks.
Peter Summers’ departure in 2005 after 27 years in post remarkably beat his predecessor’s 24 years. Thus, only 2 men had covered over half a century between them.
Stephen Dodsworth became interim Director of Music until Andrew Jones was appointed on a permanent basis. Like his predecessor, his first priority was to build up the number of singers which had latterly dwindled. He was very successful in this and in getting a far more regular attendance, requiring the adult members to find deputies to stand in if they had to be absent. As he commented in the annual report for 2007:
“Attendance and dedication has improved considerably over the past year. As an example of this, this term every single chorister has had an attendance rate of more than 85% (that is rehearsals every Friday two services every Sunday, plus the special services like Ash Wednesday). Several of the choristers have 100% record this term. It is commitment like this that has enabled the choir to expand its repertoire, but more importantly the quality of singing reflects the work put in and this is something I believe has been spotted by everyone who hears the choir.
Although the choir stalls are now full to bursting point, it never pays to rest on your laurels and recruitment is an ongoing concern. I am always on the lookout for new members. Any members of the congregation, of any age, who are wondering about joining our thriving friendly group are encouraged to contact me.”
The success of this enabled the choir to start leading services in cathedrals when their choirs were on vacation, beginning with Lincoln in 2007. Then, in the summer of 2008, the choir undertook its first overseas tour to Tuscany which included the opportunity to lead worship in the Duomo in Florence.
Further tours to New York and other UK cathedrals followed and Andrew also built up relationships with both The Croft School and The Orchestra of the Swan in Stratford, resulting in concerts with each of them.
In 2011, Andrew decided to pursue a career with the Civil Service. He was briefly followed by Andrew Henderson but he found that the church duties were too much on top of those at King Edward VI School where he had recently been promoted to Director of Music.
As an interim measure, Clive Letchford, who had been singing in the choir, offered to take over until a permanent successor could be recruited.
The experience of Andrew Henderson’s time led the church to the realisation that the time commitment of the role, together with the need to have the right time to go into schools to try to encourage them to join the choir, could not easily be combined with another full-time job. It was thus decided to explore the possibility of making the job fulltime which was achieved with the kind co-operation of King Edward VI School which agreed to share the appointment so that future Directors of Music at Holy Trinity would also be a part time member of staff at the school to teach keyboard skills.
Benedict Wilson was the first to be appointed to this new position. His arrival did not coincide with a low point for the choir but, with characteristic energy, he was able to take it to even greater heights of musicality and commitment. A new arrangement with Holy Trinity’s primary school led to an annual intake of Willows Scholars (called after the name of the school at the time). He and Rebecca Mills also worked hard in other primary schools and this ultimately led to the number of trebles reaching 30. At the same time, the number of adults in the choir grew. With attendance at almost 100%, chairs had to be added to the end of the choirstalls to accommodate everyone.
The added bonus of full attendance was the ability for the choir to be thoroughly rehearsed and the standard rose to arguably the highest it had ever been. This was captured on two CDs that were recorded by Priory Records: “Choral Music from Shakespeare’s Church” and “Magnifical and Mighty”. The latter took its title from the words of Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb and the music formed the programme which the choir toured with in the Netherlands.
During Benedict Wilson’s time the choir had also toured to Canada at the invitation of the Music Festival in Stratford Ontario in 2016 to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and a tree was planted there to commemorate the occasion.
In the same year, the choir also had the honour of singing for HRH Prince Charles (later King Charles III) on his visit to Holy Trinity on April 23rd.
It was at this time that Trinity Voices, a choir for very young singers, was formed by Rebecca Mills and this became a route for children into the main choir.
In 2019, Stephen Dodsworth decided to retire as Deputy Director of Music after 28 years. Later in the year Benedict Wilson announced he was leaving to take a post at Shrewsbury School. Rebecca Mills was appointed as the interim Director of Music until Douglas Keilitz was appointed full time Director of Music with Rebecca as his Deputy.
In contrast to some of his predecessors who had moved to North America after their time in Stratford, Douglas Keilitz came from the US where he had been at Boise Cathedral. Unfortunately, he arrived in February 2020, just a few weeks before the UK was hit by covid and lockdown saw churches closed for over a year, gradually returning with initially only online services for which a limited number of singers could participate, socially distanced. By Christmas 2021, the choir was operating normally once more and able to undertake its occasional Christmas carol service in the Guild Chapel.
Assistant Directors of Music
1991 - 2019 Stephen Dodsworth
2019 - Rebecca Mills
1963 - 1991 Stanley Dickinson
2009 - 2013 Darren Oliver
Choirmasters/Directors of Music
1926 - 1933 William Hewitt
1933 - 1949 John Brough
1949 - 1954 John Cook
1954 - 1979 John Strickson
1979 - 2006 Peter Summers
2006 - 2011 Andrew Jones
2012 - 2012 Andrew Henderson
2012 - 2013 Clive Letchford
2013 - 2019 Benedict Wilson
2019 - 2020 Rebecca Mills
2020 - Douglas Keilitz
Details of ones prior to 1926 need verifying