The Lost Boys
One of my passions as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, is singing. I’ve been singing in a choir for two years now, which is a feat in itself, as after my voice broke at the age of fourteen I thought I’d never be able to sing again. In my boyhood I spent a lot of my school life immersed in music, and joined the school choir as a boy Soprano in Year 5 – not so much as a musical calling, but because I had no-one to play with at lunchtimes.
We sung many things – notably infamous Primary School cantata ‘Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo’ and ‘Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat’. It gave me an immense pleasure to be part of something as a team, and although I couldn’t read music, my rather large ears helped me pick up the tunes quickly. I then went off to Secondary School where music wasn’t a major facet of school life and none of my friends there were musical, so it petered out until that fateful morning in Melbourne in 2001 when I woke up with a deep, manly voice. I went to bed a child, and arose a man in Australia.
Fast forward a couple of years and I reacquainted myself with music in small steps, largely due to my friendship circle of the time. My oldest friend John invited me to a concert he was conducting in 2005 and on that night I met a plethora of musicians who to this day, motivated and inspired me to take up the mantle again. In 2011, after much cajoling, I joined a church choir my friend Daniel Beach had recently been appointed Choirmaster of as an additional male voice. Apparently my ear for pitch and tone was first rate so it made sense to him to get me on board. Now I can more or less sight read music and sing the bass line for most services, dabbling with the tenor line if I’m feeling cocky.
I’ve been in other choirs in tandem, recently singing the Verdi Requiem at Blackheath Halls and also at the prestigious St. Judes on the Hill in Hampstead Garden Suburb last Christmas after my friend Benedict Kearns posted an advert for more tenors and basses on Twitter. I’d never have imagined singing in such different places when I hesitantly said I’d chant Psalms every fifth Sunday of the month when I was a young man of twenty four: and to end up singing in such lovely buildings.
It was in one of these lovely buildings I found something quite remarkable, and it’s a real shame that it’s not more accessible for people to see.
My friend Ian until recently was Choirmaster and Organist of St. John the Evangelist in Sidcup. About a year ago he put a message out asking for help with a conducting exam he was to be assessed on, for the eventual aim of becoming a full member of the Church Guild of Musicians. Even by this stage I was a bit of a rookie, but said yes to it as it was all good experience and I’d sung one of the pieces before on a choir trip to Dublin the previous year (‘And I Saw A New Heaven’ by Edgar Bainton, a lovely anthem that warrants its own Cemetery Club post in the future).
St. John the Evangelist, with unfinished tower (from Geograph.org.uk)
Ian wanted to run through some music with me ahead of the scheduled rehearsal to make sure I was confident singing it. As we entered the wonderfully incomplete church designed by George Fellows-Prynne (money run out for the completion of the Tower), I fell in love with how in a cost saving measure, the Lady Chapel, Sanctuary and area where the Choir Stalls were are all that remains of the old Church before Prynne was commissioned to enlarge it to cater for a growing Sidcup in the late 1890’s.
Just before the rehearsal was about to start he wanted to take me to the Organ Loft. Entering a very narrow spiral passageway from the Vestry, we ascended to where the majority of the Organ was, and pointed to the brick wall. It was another relic of the previous church, and Ian instructed me to look at the pointing.
The whole wall was covered with the names and years of various boys, ranging from the 1890’s until 1925. What I was in fact looking at were the names of the Choirboys who were in charge of manually pumping the organ, etching their names into the pointing when their services weren’t required. Names such as Hendrie and Hawkins which seem and indeed do belong to a bygone age. Written in seconds and then forgotten about as quickly as they were written: their writers now long dead.
In a time when Church attendance is decreasing, these reminders of the value of faith and the role it played in these forgotten lives is here emblazoned on a hidden wall, only privy to a select few. Even the Vicar of the Church had no idea they were there after six years of ministry in the Church. The Eucharists, Weddings and Funerals the boys must’ve pumped the bellows for, all now gone.
As Ian was leaving the Church, I took some pictures of the wall for the intention of uploading the names here as an entry to immortalise their names and tell people that little nuggets like this are everywhere, not only in Churches, but public buildings too.
The enjoyment the boys must have got from singing at a young age I could only too readily identify with, being part of a choir and working together to create something unique. Even though I’m thirteen years too old to be a choir boy, I thought I’d add my own name to the catalogue, so if you get the chance, somewhere there, the most recent entry isn’t C. Mills 1925, it’s Sheldon Goodman, 2012.