St Cecilia Service


In March 2020, when the catastrophic musical implications of Covid became suddenly clear, the organisation Help Musicians was the first emergency vehicle to arrive. With sympathy, advice and actual money quickly handed out to afflicted performers, they have continued to be an unfailing source of assistance during unprecedented times.


It was certainly a must to attend the charity's annual St Cecilia Service in St Paul's Cathedral this year: this was also the centenary of Help Musicians (during most of those hundred years known by the name Musicians Benevolent Fund.) I'd presumed that this was a professional aid society set up after WW1 to help those devastated in its wake. In fact we learned that it was founded in memory of the charitably minded tenor Gervase Elwes, who died in a railway accident in 1921. Since I've been involved recently with a couple of recent foundations commemorating talented people who died too soon, this rang a particular bell with me. Setting up a charity seems rather tentative when you start out. How proud Elwes' circle of friends (including MBF founder Victor Beigel, RVW and Elgar) would have been to see St Paul's packed with supporters of this now multi-million pound charity administered by an able professional staff.


A new anthem is commissioned yearly for the St Cecilia Service,and this year it was my turn to write it. I chose to set some lines from Christina Rossetti - One day to sing - which conjured up for me the many months that no-one was allowed to sing anywhere publicly at all, even in churches. Not that this was a problem this week, with three cathedral choirs (both Westminsters plus St Pauls) stuffed in the choir stalls, under the resolute direction of Andrew Carwood. By now Andrew must be used to the 15-second or so resonance of St Pauls, but I am not, and it took me a couple of days to get my head back together with my ears, after trying to hear new music in that swimmy circular way.


Pictured, Paternoster by Elizabeth Frink, St Pauls peeking out in the background.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer