A Brief History of St Thomas' Choirs

A choir of Boys and Gentlemen existed at the church of St. Thomas-on-The Bourne from the early years of its foundation in the 1860s.  The separate Bourne parish was created in 1875 and musical fame was soon at hand in the shape of the Children's Hymn book.  Mary Sidebotham, sister of the first Vicar and organist at the church, became its musical editor. The first edition was published in 1881, and by 1898 one million copies had been sold.  An early copy is proudly displayed to this day in the choir vestry.

In 1911 the new parish church of St Thomas was built to accommodate the rapidly increasing population of The Bourne, and the choir was present at the laying of the foundation stone of the new church in January 1911 (see photo above).

A more formal choir photograph of 1912 shows 23 boys and 13 men - not very different from today's numbers.

The longest serving organist was Walter White who directed the music from 1911 to 1937 - a total of 26 years.  Recruitment of organists and choir men during the crisis-ridden and war-torn years of 1937 to 1947 proved difficult but, with the appointment of Leslie Cooke in 1952, musical standards at the church improved rapidly.  The arrival of Vincent James in 1959 proved to be significant: he was closely involved in the major organ rebuild of 1964 and in a considerable widening of the choir's horizons.

David Victor-Smith, directed the music from 1970 to 1984 with notable distinction, and subsequently directed the famous Farnham Youth Choir for many years, with considerable success both in national and international competitions.  He was succeeded by David Gabe, who held the post until 1991. Musical successes during David Gabe's directorship included one of the choirboys, Duncan Watts, winning the BET Choirboy of the Year competition and occasional radio broadcasts for the BBC.  David also supervised the 1990 organ rebuild, resulting in the fine instrument heard today.

Nicholas Woods took the reins for a year from 1991 to 1992 and then we returned "temporarily" to David Gabe for another 2 years.  David (Gabe) clocked up three retirements from the music of the church - twice as director and finally as organist in the summer of 2001.  On David's retirement as organist, one of our former choristers, Brian Cotterill, returned to play for us.

In 1994 a new director, David Swinson, was appointed.  David's time with the choir saw a number of exciting events, including the recording of three CDs, overseas and UK tours, and even the occasional performance on stage.  His (usually) relaxed style endeared him to the choir regulars and visitors alike.  

Kevin Jacot, formerly assistant director, ably took up the conductor's baton between 2002 and 2004.  Under Kevin's directorship the choir grew in number, had the chance to learn many new pieces (often penned by Kevin) and enjoyed singing at a number of "away events", most notably in Austria in 2002.

Jonathan Lane took up the reins between January 2004 and August 2008. Jonathan promoted a large number of initiatives to open choral singing up to a wider range of singers, notably founding the Girls’ Choir and the adult Chamber Choir, which sings several services during the year.

Philip Viveash was appointed in September 2008 and successfully developed the choirs during his tenure, notably the boys’ choir.  He established a high standard of singing and during his tenure oversaw choir tours to Christchurch (Dorset), Hereford and Belgium.  The trip to Belgium included a concert in Ghent cathedral, the Sunday morning service in Ypres cathedral, a concert in Poperinghe and singing at the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres.

Robert Lewis, took over as Director of Music in September 2011, and under his leadership the choirs continued to grow and increase their repertoire.  They took part in a performance of Karl Jenkins' Requiem, with the composer in the audience, and performed in a concert of the Monteverdi Vespers in Guildford Cathedral.  They recorded a 4th CD, 'On Christmas Night' and music for the soundtrack of Channel 4's drama 'New Worlds', composed by Harry Escott, as well as a Christmas charity single.  Under Rob’s direction, chorister Cai Thomas was a finalist in the BBC Chorister of the Year competition in 2019, and released a solo CD in 2020, which was a Classic FM Album of the Week. 

Our present Director of Music, Jordan Theis, was appointed in January 2022, and has continued to develop the choirs, with the introduction of new repertoire and the recruitment of new singers.

The tradition of choir tours has continued, and in recent years the choir has visited Normandy, Prague, Cologne, Belgium, Venice and Pembrokeshire, as well as singing services at Westminster Cathedral in London, Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, and St Paul's Cathedral in London.   

The excellent musical education that choristers receive at St Thomas’ is regularly validated by external achievement.  In recent years most choristers have passed the RSCM Bronze and Silver Awards, often with Commended or Highly Commended marks.  And in just the past few years choristers have gone on from St Thomas’ to pursue their musical careers at a high standard elsewhere, including in the choirs of Jesus College Cambridge, King’s College London, the University of London Chamber Choir and Trinity College Cambridge; as a lay clerk in Exeter Cathedral Choir; and to study music at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

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