On the weekend of the 11th and 12th February, we welcome the Heritage Singers to Bradford Cathedral as the first of our visiting choirs for 2023. They will be singing at Evensong on the Saturday and Sunday evenings, and at the 10:30am Eucharist on the Sunday.
We spoke to Musical Director Tim Knight who founded the Heritage Singers thirty years ago this year, to find out more about them.
“I was a chorister at York Minster and remember being disturbed about how church choirs were disappearing, and I thought that I’d like to give something back.
“For the last thirty years, the Heritage Singers have sung at around 1,500 services, from the tiniest churches to the largest cathedrals, as well as places abroad such as Norway, Hungary and America.
The Heritage Singers are made up, primarily, of members of choirs that no longer exist.
“This is where our members have always come from – singers who have been in choirs that no longer exist but who want to continue doing what they’ve always done in their churches.”
Recent members have also come from the Venerable Bede church in Leeds, which closes in February, and the Heritage Singers are singing at their final service.
“As singers they’re seeing the really sad demise of the church where they started to sing, yet the following week they’re at Bradford Cathedral which is alive with music.
“A lot of people express their faith by singing, and to them is vitally important. We show that there is still a place for a church choir.
“We did Seven Last Words in 2021 in a tiny village outside of York and for that performance the small church was packed with 250 people, because there are no choral services at that church, and only an organist once a month. So a choir coming out to a church – as Bradford Cathedral’s choir does with their Safari Evensongs – is absolutely crucial and vitally important. It’s so special for those people in the church: there has been no regular choral music in the church we were at since the 1960s.
“We are there to provide music for worship.”
Locally the Heritage Singers have sung at York Minster and Blackburn Cathedral, and in 2020 were the last visiting choir at Bradford Cathedral before restrictions came in.
“Bradford Cathedral was the last place we went before lockdown back in 2020! At the time – like many people – we had no idea that that would be the last set of singing choral services in a while.”
Things, though, have improved for both the Heritage Singers – and their sister concert choir – since then – “It was strange coming back: it was like we were re-starting the choir again” – but it was also an emotional return, after losing some singers during this time and the lack of closure for them because of the restrictions.
The Heritage Singers have also played at many smaller, local churches.
“Our ambition is to maintain the Anglican tradition, and also to restore it to the places that may have lost it – often on an ad-hoc basis, such as at a Cathedral Patronal Festival (a service dedicated to the named Saint of a church).”
The Heritage Singers will be leading the music at an Evensong at 5:30pm on Saturday 11th February, and at 3:30pm on the following day, as well as the 10:30am Eucharist on the Sunday morning. We asked Tim about what music those attending the services can expect.
“We are – in many respects – a strange visiting choir because we don’t sing any of the most regularly sung settings. Our repertoire has always been of music that’s not regularly performed, so congregations won’t hear what was sung in the previous week.
“I’m also a firm believer in simple repertoire done well, and leaving the more complex works to Cathedral Choirs who practice every day.
“We’ll be bringing music by Salieri, Healey Willan, and James Holt, who was our original organist and wrote a mass setting, which is what we’ll be using for the Sunday morning.
“These are coupled with Vaughan Williams and composers like that.
“Many say that visiting choirs should sing Stanford and make best use of the organ, but I think the opposite way around. Though in this instance our organist has played at Bradford Cathedral before, for many organists, they are suddenly faced with a bigger organ than they’d normally play, and the choir is in a strange building, and they have to get ready quickly, so sometimes the simpler pieces done really well are better.
“The music we provide is perfectly liturgical but is not what they’ve used to hear before.”
And we asked if this makes things more interesting for the congregation and the choir, thanks to the variety.
“It does. If we’re going to a Cathedral, I will generally have looked at their music list to make sure that nothing we’re doing has appeared in the last month, because variety is the spice of life, as the quote goes!
“That is why we do it – that the music is suitable, but it hasn’t had a recent hearing.”
As a Chorister, Tim was under the tutelage of Dr Francis Jackson CBE FRCO, who died this time last year. Last year the Heritage Singers marked his passing by performing some of his works.
“We took the G-minor canticles, which I feel are such a sublime set, out for the year. We have other pieces of his as well in our repertoire, because if it wasn’t for me being a Chorister of his back at the end of the sixties, there wouldn’t be this choir.”
The Heritage Singers are looking forward to singing at Bradford Cathedral in February.
“We will do our best to aid the Cathedral congregation’s worship, and to add to the meaning of the worship.”
For more information about these services please visit X and for more on the Heritage Singers please visit their website.