Notes from the (choir) loft – archive


Did you ever wonder what goes on up in the organ loft, in Bungay, every Sunday at 10.30 Mass?
If yes is the answer, read on.

Every Sunday the organist and a small band of willing singers climb the steep and creaky stairs
( the fourth from the top is the squeakiest) to the loft.
Is it lofty?
If by lofty you mean full of discarded rubbish , dust and spiders then yes.
If you mean a high towering balcony the answer is also yes. It is a beautiful view of the church from up in the loft and musically apt for singing.

If however, by lofty you might mean aloof, distant, remote, cold, high and mighty or imperious you couldn’t be further from the truth. Even though the organist and singers are vertically removed by a matter of 15 feet they are Parishioners doing their bit as best they can.
If anyone wants to come and sing, please approach the loft after Mass and come and talk to the organist.
If you just want to see the view from the loft just climb the creaky stairs and visit, before it’s locked again until next week!
I would say that everyone feels music, and it stirs emotions in all of us not just in church but in all life. Everyone has an opinion about what they like and dislike. Music makes up the sound track of our faith and life. Who would feel that Christmas had happened if they hadn’t sung or heard their favourite carols? Who would feel it wasn’t EASTER without singing Alleluias!

Who chooses what we sing in Mass?
Clare Seabrooke is the organist and chooses the music.

How does she choose it?
Clare uses a publication by Decani as a starter. This is a liturgical planner that links suggested hymns to the readings of the day. Alongside this she has a list compiled by Father Charles of top 20 favourites. Clare finds this method workable and includes traditional hymns, modern settings, Taizé chants and Latin plainchant. Although not everyone likes Latin plainchant, it is used at St Edmund’s Bungay during Advent and Lent in order to keep alive this Catholic Church tradition, and ensure the music and style remain a familiar part of our worship.

If a parishioner asks for a favourite hymn Clare will endeavour to include it, so please approach the loft with your request. Recently a Parishioner asked Clare if the Lord’s Prayer could be said and not sung on Christmas and Easter mornings so that infrequent attenders could join in. This is now a feature of those feast day Masses.

Clare liaises with a teacher in the parish school as part of preparation for Family Masses. The children can become familiar with the music before the Mass, and join in on the day if they attend with their families. She encourages any older children to help with the music for family Mass and prepare with them. She may not be aware of all the skills out there. Let her know!

What is the biggest discussion up in the loft now that the Christmas season is over?

We really do need a new curtain at the top of the stairs! The moth-eaten red velvet one in situ has large holes in it and is actually shedding red fluff!
Out with the old!

Curtains are not usually a vital piece of equipment for a singer you might think, but you would be wrong. A cold chorister is not a happy one and the curtain is a necessary draught excluder. The steep stairwell is an effective wind tunnel causing choir members to lose all feeling in their feet during the winter months.

I wanted to find out how old the existing curtain could possibly be.

One parish member remembers being told that Father Chatterton (Parish Priest in the 1950s) rigged up a weight on a pulley which would close the curtain automatically. The weight had been made using a Bournville cocoa tin lid filled with molten lead. That contraption ceased working years ago and Father Charles uses the weight for something else these days. Did Father Chatterton put up the curtain at the same time as the self-closing contraption? If he was frugal enough to make his own weight did he reuse an old curtain or buy a new one? Whatever the answers, the curtain which is falling apart is possibly 65 years+

Time for a new one.

Thank you Michael Tobin for the gifted curtain.
In place and ready to keep the choir draught free in 2015. I wonder if this one will last 65 years?

Next time in this column don’t miss how we have planned evacuation from the loft in case of fire!

Notes from the Loft
Sue Altarelli (Choir member for over 30 years)


Here we are in Lent and the cold Sunday mornings during the winter months may be behind us soon.
During the last month there have been two Requiem Masses in Bungay, one of which was for my mother-in-law, Lucia. The process of planning music for a good “send off” is easy if the deceased had known favourites that meant something to them and their close family. If not, do you choose hymns that everyone knows so that there is not an embarrassing lack of participation, or do you please yourself?
In the case of Lucia, who came from the medieval-style southern Italy of the 1920s, she didn’t like any singing in Church. She felt that Mass should be left to the priest, and she would always sit (with a black veil) reading her own prayer book in Italian and not looking at anyone else. So, what should we sing at her funeral? She would have hated anything, but the rest of the family all love music. She has a grandson who is a professional jazz trumpeter and living in Australia. He sent an MP3 version of “Santa Lucia” which he had composed. It was played after the eulogy and because of her great love for him, I think even she would have approved.
We ended up choosing music that we liked and made the occasion meaningful for us.
Her son chose “May the choirs of Angels come to greet you” (Psalm 26/7) arranged by Ernest Sands. He had heard it at Bishop Michael’s funeral and was moved by its combination of music and words.
Music is an important part of the Mass and I know music has the power to evoke a depth of feeling, along with words and pictures, so it should be considered carefully for momentous occasions.

I was asked to sing solo verses of the same Psalm “May the choirs of angels” for Jo Rouson’s Requiem Mass two weeks later, and I was moved afresh at the poignancy of the words. I think it will become a firm favourite “in the Loft”

I am writing this, having just returned from 10.30 Mass at which Bishop Alan presided. It was Family Mass and being the fourth Sunday in Lent a traditional time to sing the Creed, plain chant that is beautiful if not lengthy and somewhat tiring to sing, especially at the beginning of Mass when you know more is to come!
The Mass was a truly “Catholic” mix of musical styles. We sang Latin responses, the children sang amazing grace with guitar accompaniment, and the choir sang a Taizé chant. Some will have joined in the singing, others will say they can’t sing and leave it up to their neighbour, but all musical tastes were catered for. All had the opportunity to participate in some way. The organist, choir, Children’s Liturgy leaders, guitarists and schoolteachers all worked to choose, practise and make the music available for this to happen.

The next few weeks will see the small band of choir members trying to coordinate a practice time for the coming Easter services which are quite taxing on the voice. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter morning Mass follow each other with hardly a breathing space. One big problem in the magical candlelit gloom of the Vigil is being able to see the words and music. Father Charles has come to the rescue, rigging up lamps on extension leads. Over the years a tot of cherry brandy has assisted too!
We have the format of the four services well planned and the music is familiar to the core choir members who have sung them over the last ten years. Father Edward Crouzet kept a close rein on the music at St Edmund’s in his time and had particular opinions about what was sung and when. The Easter folders (black) are a legacy from that time. We will be dusting them off and practising soon, around 25 March in the Presbytery, if we can all agree on a time.
The four services are a mini marathon in the choir world and when Easter is over the choir will be looking to have a supper together to celebrate , share a meal, regurgitate the Easter music menu and work out what would work better next year!

More “life in the loft” after Easter.
And a follow-up to my last post in January.

How do we evacuate in case of fire on the creaky stairs?
There is a small casement window at the top of the stairs that has a large tree/bush just outside. Simple route, leg up and out of the small window, shin down the tree/bush. Safe as houses?
Anyone got a better idea?

Sue Altarelli


Easter went well in the loft: everyone managed to stay free of coughs and colds and was in good voice. The procession from the hall to church on Palm Sunday was a wash out, but everything else went as planned. Unfortunately Sharon, one of our regulars, has been ill over a long period and we missed her, but Amelia a teenage parishioner ,was persuaded to sing solo for the first time during the Easter period. Brendan ( long-standing tenor) also sang a solo at the Good Friday service. This swells the rank to four willing and able to be cantors.

Anyone else out there up for it?

On Easter Sunday we heard bad and good news.

The bad first. Sargy Mann died, losing his battle with a serious illness. His widow Frances is a well-loved and long-standing parishioner at St Eds.

The good news was that our former organist Jane became Grandma for the third time. Her son and daughter-in-law Matthew and Halla have their first baby boy Ingo. At 11 days old baby Kinsella came to St Eds for Sargy’s funeral service. Frances and her family chose traditional hymns such as “The Lord is my Shepherd” and “Now thank we all our God” and the full church resounded with loud, beautiful singing. I was amazed to hear the volume, especially male voices. It prompted me to think why it was so unusual. It is something that rarely happens even at Easter and Christmas. The church was full of non-Catholic friends and family of Sargy’s. Was that what made the difference?

When I joined the Church more than 40 years ago, quiet congregational singing at Mass was a surprise to me, being a Methodist. Why was it that parishioners at St Eds didn’t sing up enthusiastically? I noticed the same trend at all Catholic Masses in other churches that I attended.

Why is it that Catholics don’t sing up?
Are they shy?
Do they think it is someone else’s job?
Maybe there just isn’t the same tradition for congregational singing?
Maybe the hymns aren’t sing-able?
Maybe they are taken aback by the wonderful sounds coming from the choir loft and they just want to sit back and listen!

Answering these questions made me look closer. The hymns are the same hymns I sang as a child, so that’s not the reason. In addition the Catholic hymn book includes ancient plain chants and modern Taizé-type chants. All perfectly sing-able.
Maybe non-involvement in Mass by lay people over centuries still haunts us? But Vatican 2 happened a generation ago, so that’s not a valid enough excuse.
Catholics can’t all be shy, I know they aren’t.

So I’m left with the question that maybe they think it’s someone else’s job? Does it work having a choir sitting together to lead the singing? Maybe those strong singers would be better sitting randomly spaced, singing in the body of the church to swell the volume? The organist has to play from the loft because that is where the organ console is sited. The choir needs to be near the organist and vice versa, and so at St Eds we are up in the loft, not in the main body of the church. This makes the communication between the choir and organist easier, but maybe more remote from the rest of the church. Choir stalls are traditionally at the front of the church to the right and left of the sanctuary and altar. You could argue that this makes a stage and therefore a “show” of the choir and organ, and Mass-goers might feel less inclined to be involved in the singing.

Is it better to lead the singing from behind or from the front?
Would it make a difference?
What do you think?

Sue Altarelli


Notes from the choir loft – 4

Sunshine, a full church, smartly dressed boys, girls in white frocks. It can only mean one thing: First Communion Sunday, which is traditionally arranged on Corpus Christi at St Eds, making it an extra Feast day, and a real celebration Mass. It was also a Family Mass.

What music did we have and why?

The music was more contemporary than usual with repetitive verses and simple word changes, suited to guitar accompaniment. This is an accessible format for children.

Children read the psalm instead of its being sung, which made another task for a younger family member to do. The menu was coordinated through Claire, the organist, the catechist who is a teacher in the school, and the children’s liturgy leaders. The result was a selection of music that was suited to the prayerful but joyous occasion.

From my vantage point in the loft I was struck by the colourful instruments being played by Amelia and Evie to accompany the hymns. Amelia’s guitar is blue and I asked her to pose for me with it. Being a typical teenager she didn’t want me to show her face but that is her hand!