Girls’ voices. Boys’ voices.

Seeing girls singing in St Georges’ Chapel choir during the broadcast of the King’s Christmas speech awakened long-forgotten longings…

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Screenshot from the BBC broadcast of the King’s Christmas message

Girls singing in the choir

It may have gone unnoticed by many, but what moved me most about the King Charles’ first Christmas address was the presence of girls in the choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, very close to where I went to school as a teenager. My Grandfather, Percy, who was organist and choirmaster at Lady St Mary’s Church, Wareham, was a staunch opponent of letting girls sing in the church choir. Those were other times, not that that excuses him. True, boy’s treble voices have a beautiful ring that differs substantially from those of young girls. Yet, seeing a few girls singing in St George’s Chapel choir touched me deeply. Not the anger or disgust or possible resignation my grandfather might have felt, but a bitter sweet delight at finally coming home. 

Wishful thinking

Whenever I was on holiday at my grandparents’ place, I would sing in the choir dressed in the traditional surplice, cassock and ruff. Not unlike the choristers of King’s College Cambridge or elsewhere, we processed down the aisle, our cassocks swaying around us, singing our hearts out. To see those couple of girls amongst the ranks of choristers, their voices mingling with those of the rest of the choir, I can’t help wishing I had been one of them.

Extract: Boy & Girl

(…) He got off his bike at the back door to the church just as the ringers reached the end of a series of changes and began ringing rounds. He was late, but there would be just enough time if he hurried. He shrugged off his jacket as he entered the vestry where the other boys were already lined up for the procession into the nave. Peter hastily donned his cassock, fixed the ruff around his neck and pulled his surplice over his head, straightening it till it was just right. Taking the medal of St. Nicholas, patron saint of choirboys, from his cassock pocket, he hung it around his neck and made his way to the head of the line of boys, nodding to the others as he did. Just then, the organ struck up the first notes of the introit, time to open the door and lead the choir into the sunlit nave.

It was one of his favourite moments. All heads turned in their direction as the congregation stood. He walked, his head held high, swinging his hips slightly in time with the music so his cassock swayed from side to side as he walked. He let himself be absorbed by the music till it buoyed him up. Behind him he could just make out the footfalls of the other choirboys when the organ played pianissimo. Above, light was streaming in through the stained glass windows, flooding the church with warmth and colour. 

His soul fluttered into wakefulness and flew up to join those of all the others flirting with the rays of light as they floated on the organ music. What better moment to burst into song as he sang solo the first verse of the opening hymn. The notes of the organ softened to give his voice the room to soar and join his soul. A solitary tear of relief and gratitude rolled down his cheek and it was time for the others to join him and his voice could once again take refuge in the body of the choir. (…)

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