Debut Christmas carol album hits all the right notes

RIPON Grammar School students with a growing reputation for stunning choral performances have released their debut album of Christmas carols, recorded in the magnificent setting of Ripon Cathedral.

Around 100 talented singers from Ripon Grammar School’s five choirs, which have grown in popularity in recent years, joined together to record the ‘O Holy Night’ CD, with all money raised going towards school funds.

The boom in choral music at RGS, which up until 2014 only had two choirs, reflects the national trend, with more students than ever flocking to join in as the passion for communal singing has spread throughout the school.

Players from the Under-13 rugby team even recently rushed back from a match to leap on stage, while still wearing their muddy kits, and take their places in the first form choir in order to perform at the school’s popular Autumn Concert.

The students, led by enthusiastic music staff, enjoy regularly performing to wide acclaim throughout the local community, in churches and village halls as well as at concerts in school and in the cathedral. They will also be touring Germany in July.

A number of choir members have gone on to take up choral scholarships at Durham, London and Oxford universities while one recent leaver made history when she became the first female choral scholar at Durham Cathedral.

One student singing the praises of the revitalised and flourishing Ripon Grammar School choirs is Harry Edwards, who hopes to study politics, philosophy and economics at university.

The 17-year-old upper sixth former says he was first introduced to choral chamber music three years ago by the school’s head of music Edward Seymour, a keen singer who has performed with professional choirs and as a soloist throughout Europe and the United States.

“Mr Seymour got me into it. We didn’t even have a senior boys’ choir before and now there are around 30 members. It’s crazy. It’s really clever how these composers are able to make this sound with four vocal parts in a really beautiful way. It’s nice to be a part of that and be a cog in the machine of a full choir.

“This is the first time I’ve been involved in a recording and it’s a great opportunity to showcase the school’s musical achievements and how hard everyone has worked to get all the choirs up to a great standard.”

He found the experience of singing in the cathedral amazing, he says: “The acoustics are fantastic and it adds a level of prestige to every song.”

Lower sixth form student Susie Morgan, who reached the national finals of the Rotary Young Musician of the Year in March and wants to be an art therapist, agrees: “It is so exciting for us all to be a part of this, the first time school has produced a choral music recording.”

The 16-year-old, who recently passed her Grade 7 singing exam and is a soloist on the newly-released CD, is one of many students to praise the benefits of singing, which has been proven to boost both mental and physical wellbeing: “I really love how it makes you feel,” she says.

Mr Seymour, who joined the school in 2014 and has performed in choirs since he was nine years old, said he hoped the CD, which has been funded by the Friends of Ripon Grammar School, would be a hit with parents and the wider community: “Everyone loves Christmas music and the CD is a great way of showing our choirs off at their very best.

“It is also about being part of a living tradition both for the school and the cathedral. Music has been sung there nearly every day for over 500 years and for us to play a part in that is a real privilege. The cathedral is an awesome building to sing in. The acoustics, the architecture and the sound of the organ make each occasion memorable.”

He is thrilled at the increasing number of students taking the opportunity to sing with the Chamber Choir, senior and junior boys’ Man Choirs, the Senior Girls’ Choir and Musicality choir: “Rehearsals are informal and fun and there are certainly more students singing, particularly boys.”

And students have much to gain, he says: “Singing great music in a group gives participants a great feeling. It released endorphins, relaxes you and strengthens the ability to work as a team, fostering a sense of commitment.”

Mr Seymour added that he was hugely grateful to his fellow music teachers and choirmasters Beth Morpeth and Ruth Sladden and to students for their hard work and commitment as members of the RGS choirs and ensembles.

*O Holy Night, which also includes renditions of Silent Night, A Babe is Born, A Christmas Blessing and Shepherd’s Cradle Song, costs £8, with reductions for multiple orders.  To order, see Letters Home, October 12.

Picture captions: Mr Seymour, top, pictured with members of the Chamber Choir in the music department. Above, Mr Seymour, left, and, right, music teacher Ruth Sladden with the Chamber Choir after Evensong in Ripon Cathedral