Music for the soul – Thomas Wilson
The music and choirs of St Mary’s Cathedral are recognised for both the high standards they achieve and sheer quantity of exceptional music produced each week.
Thomas Wilson, Director of Music at St Mary’s Cathedral, says it is his task to ensure that all the music heard inside the cathedral, especially the liturgical music during services and also music heard on other occasions, is as beautiful as possible to match the surroundings and the importance of the cathedral as a building.
“There is also a real sense of history as the St Mary’s Cathedral Choir will celebrate its bicentenary next year, so we continue to build on that great tradition.”
St Mary’s has the busiest church music schedule in the country with 11 choral services each week, in addition the music department provides music with a cantor or organist on other occasions.
According to Thomas who came to St Mary’s in 2010 from London’s Westminster Cathedral, the music schedule is very busy. “We have four organists on staff and we have the Cathedral Choir of boys who are on scholarships at our onsite Choir School, St Mary’s Cathedral College.
“They have rehearsals nearly every day and sing at a number of services during the week while the lower parts of the Cathedral Choir are made up of professional adult singers. These are mostly full-time musicians teaching and performing in different venues, some of them are in the opera chorus or in other musical institutions. Some have careers in other fields, but have amassed great experience and skill with their singing.”
Thomas runs through the schedule. “Sunday has the most important Masses of the week, actually beginning on Saturday evening, so there are four Masses over the weekend with music, and also three Offices: Vespers (Evening Prayer) on Saturday and Sunday evenings, and Lauds (Morning Prayer) on Sunday morning. So we have seven weekend services with music, then during the week the Choir provides music at Vespers and Mass every evening except Friday.”
In addition to the Cathedral Choir the Cathedral Scholars choir is made up of boys who have been choristers in the main choir and whose voices have changed. They follow a specialised program which allows them to continue to develop and hone their singing skills whilst remaining part of the liturgical life of the Cathedral. There is also the St Mary’s Singers, a large adult choir of volunteers and this is an opportunity for anyone who wants to sing in a choir in the cathedral and they rehearse once a week and sing one Mass a month.
“It is a great privilege to be able to manage the music in such a wonderful building and that takes up most of my role. Specifically making sure that all the music heard in the Cathedral is appropriate and well thought out, rehearsed and executed so that it fits in with the aesthetic of the surroundings and the dignity of the Church’s liturgy.
“What attracted me to St Mary’s was the great commitment to having excellent liturgy and music in this cathedral. There is a real sense of wanting to give of our very best to God, and it is a great privilege for a musician to be able to work in this kind of environment,” he concludes.