St Paul’s Cathedral Choir and the USA: 1953-2015

St Paul’s Cathedral Choir has long been part of the ‘special relationship’. It was in 1953, shortly after the Coronation, that the choir undertook a gargantuan 2-month, 40-concert tour, travelling aboard The Queen Elizabeth as a symbol of friendship between our two nations.


The choir’s 1953 tour was related to Winston Churchill and President Eisenhower’s creation of the American Memorial Chapel, which commemorates 28,000 names of US servicemen who lost their lives in Europe during the Second World War. Following a dedication service at St Paul’s, Canon John Collins wrote: “No one who was present at that service could doubt that it manifestly symbolised the best which binds our two nations in friendship which can never be broken so long as we share those common aims for which the sacrifice commemorated was made.”

The choir tour which followed the chapel’s dedication, and which received Royal blessing, was remarkable in many ways. The tour required travelling some 8,500 miles by bus and train, staying in numerous hotels for short periods with the associated logistical problems for dealing with laundry and moving music and equipment. These challenges were overcome and the tour proved a resounding success.

The programme for the concert in Carnegie Hall

Canon Collins wrote: “Everywhere the Choir was received most enthusiastically. The Choir went to America with its gift of goodwill, it returned to Britain the bearer of this same gift enriched a thousand-fold from the American people.”

In 1953, one rehearsal had to be conducted in a train carriage which Sir John Dykes Bower (seen below) had commandeered for the choir’s use, en route to the White House. Our 2015 rehearsals will not need to take place on the move, and transportation has greatly improved since that time. However, in many ways, little has changed since 1953, as we carry with us the same sense of pride and a spirit of friendship as we prepare to meet audiences across the USA.

Since 1953, the choir has regularly toured the USA, including a 1953 anniversary tour in 1993, and again in 2003. We travel to the States next week with an overwhelming sense of history, support, and friendship, not least because of the warm encouragement we have already received from friends diplomatic and otherwise. Follow our progress on Facebook and Twitter.

The Choir rehearses ahead of the epic tour

Credits: Peter Chapman, Chorister on the 1953 Choir Tour and St Paul’s Cathedral’s first Lay Canon.


USA 2015 Music

We are delighted to announce our music programmes for the USA Tour, as introduced in a video by Andrew Carwood, Director of Music. This varied and exciting programme showcases the breadth of choral music to have been performed in St Paul’s in recent years, exploring fully the richness of the English Cathedral repertoire. Below are three halves, offered in different combinations in each venue, with a note to say where you will be able to hear each section.

The Cathedral Choir in concert (2)

Will be performed in Boston, Macon, Shreveport, Houston, Washington D.C, St Paul, Valparaiso University
The Diamond Jubilee of HM The Queen  
Te Deum in G Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
The Call of Wisdom Will Todd (b.1970)
The Funeral of Baroness Thatcher
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in G Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)
Orb and Sceptre William Walton

arr. William McKie



The 10th Anniversary of 9/11
Greater Love John Ireland (1879-1962)
Grief is the price we pay for love Nico Muhly (b.1981)
The Golden Jubilee of HM The Queen  
I was glad C. Hubert H. Parry (1848-1918)

A programme which provides a survey of music performed in St Paul’s Cathedral on state occasions of celebration or national mourning. Each of these services was broadcast live throughout the world. The repertoire ranges from traditional works by Stanford and Parry to modern day commissions, including the beautiful Call of Wisdom by Will Todd and Nico Muhly’s setting of words spoken by HM The Queen in response to the 9/11 tragedy.

The Queen

Will be performed in Boston, AtlantaMaconHouston, Valparaiso University
Viri Galilaei Patrick Gowers (1936-2014)
The Lamb John Tavener (1944-2013)
Jubilate Alec Roth (b.1948)
Rhapsody No 3 in C sharp minor Herbert Howells (1892-1983)
Bring us O Lord God William Harris (1883-1973)
Love bade me welcome John Tavener (1944-2013)
Magnificat (St Paul’s Service) Herbert Howells (1892-1983)

St Paul’s has an ever-growing repertoire which draws both on music of the past and music of the present. This half celebrates some iconic settings including the monumental St Paul’s Service by Herbert Howells and Sir William Harris’ exquisite setting of words by the former Dean of St Paul’s, John Donne. Also here is a tribute to the much-loved John Tavener and two St Paul’s commissions: one from Alec Roth for the St Cecilia’s Service in 2012 and the other from the famous film composer Patrick Gowers who sadly died at Christmas 2014.

John Tavener

 Will be performed in AtlantaShreveportWashington D.C, St Paul
Ecce tempus idoneum Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585)
Kyrie & Gloria (Mass for Four Voices) William Byrd (c.1540-1623)
Salvator mundi [I] Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585)
Credo (Mass for Four Voices) William Byrd (c.1540-1623)
A Fancie from My Ladye Nevells Booke William Byrd (c.1540-1623)
Sanctus & Benedictus (Mass for Four Voices) William Byrd (c.1540-1623)
O salutaris hostia Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585)
Agnus Dei (Mass for Four Voices) William Byrd (c.1540-1623)

In the sixteenth century, England was home to some of the finest musicians in the world and two of the foremost are also two of the most fascinating – Thomas Tallis and William Byrd. Teacher/pupil, business partners and friends, these two produced music during the difficult years of the English Reformation yet seemed to cling to their old Catholic faith throughout. Byrd’s darkly mystical Mass for four voices (published in the 1590s) is set alongside devotional motets by Tallis and two organ works.

Tallis and Byrd

For information on the music performed at St Paul’s on a day-to-day basis, see our service schedule. We’ll be bringing you further updates on each of the pieces appearing in the tour. Follow us on Twitter @StPaulsChoir or on Facebook.

The Age of Reform – Music of the Great Victorians at St Paul’s

Music at St Paul’s (as in every English Cathedral) has seen dramatic change through the centuries. The nineteenth century saw significant developments which continue to benefit the choir to this day, largely brought about by Sir John Stainer.

Victorian St Paul's

A day in the life of a chorister in 1836 looked like this: Up at 7.30am (8am in winter) and choir practice before breakfast (milk, bread, and butter). Mattins at 9.45am, and music and singing practice from 11am to 2pm. On one morning of the week, six boys were given an Italian lesson, paid for by Miss Maria Hackett. Dinner was at 3pm (meat, vegetables and half a pint of beer). Evensong was at 3.15, and after a break the boys had lessons from 5.30 to 8pm. Supper was bread, butter and beer and bedtime was 9pm – or as late as midnight if it was an oratorio evening.

St Pauls Roof

By 1845 the choir boys were being temporarily boarded in the Chapter House with a singing master, a grammar master and a matron. But in 1848 boarding arrangements had been abandoned, and by the next year the eight choristers and four probationers received annual allowances, attended day school, and on leaving school received £30 to provide training for future employment.

One of the boys to benefit from the more enlightened regime was John Stainer, who laid the foundations for the choir we enjoy today. His predecessor as Organist, John Goss, was responsible for the music at the funeral of the Duke of Wellington in 1852.


Stainer was appointed Organist in 1872 at the age of 33, and immediately enlarged the choir by increasing the number of choristers to thirty with ten probationers, and increasing the number of Vicars Choral also. This expansion in numbers was desperately needed after the removal of the choir screen (against Wren’s wishes) which had previously cut the ‘music’ area off from the rest of the Cathedral.

Choir Screen

The repertory of the choir was also enlarged and included Mendelssohn’s ‘St Paul’ and J.S. Bach’s ‘St Matthew Passion’ (performed this year on Thursday 26th March at 6.30pm). This was achieved in one year. Such was the driving leadership of Stainer that, by his retirement in 1888 (due to loss of sight), standards had been set which are still an inspiration today. Stainer wrote his best known work, ‘The Crucifixion’, a year before retirement.

Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee

The century closed with the famous Diamond Jubilee Service for Queen Victoria outside the Cathedral. The present Cathedral Choir had the great privilege of singing for the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2012, and continues to lead the nation in services of State significance in addition to its daily routine of music and prayer.

The Cathedral Choir in concert (2)

Based on ‘The Choir of St Paul’s: The first popular profile of a great Cathedral choir, its musicians, and its heritage’.

USA Choir Tour April 2015


  • World-renowned choir makes first visit since 2003
  • Performing in 8 cities in 14 days
  • Tour starts in Boston on April 16th

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St Paul’s Cathedral Choir will begin a major 8 venue tour of the USA on April 16th in Boston, MA as it makes its first visit to America in 12 years. The tour will renew a long-standing relationship that the Cathedral has with the USA and marks the first of 3 visits the choir will make over the next 6 years.

Andrew Carwood, Director of Music, said: “This is a very exciting tour for us. In 1953 St Paul’s was the first UK cathedral choir ever to tour the United States. Over six decades on we are thrilled such a strong connection remains and we look forward to sharing our musical heritage and the treasures of the unique English choral tradition with friends old and new.”


The Very Revd Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s, said: “We are delighted to welcome thousands of American visitors to St Paul’s every year. This tour is a way of giving something in return, and enabling a wider audience in the United States to experience for themselves the beauty and wonder of the music we are so lucky to hear regularly. I’m very much looking forward to being a part of this visit, and making new relationships with friends in America.”

The full list of venues and performances (including links to purchase tickets):

BOSTON, MA                             Trinity Church                   Thursday 16th April      7.00pm

ATLANTA, GA                            Cathedral of St Philip     Saturday 18th April          7.30pm

MACON, GA                               Vineville UMC                  Sunday 19th April            4.00pm

SHREVEPORT, LA                     First UMC                            Tuesday 21st April      7.30pm

HOUSTON, TX                           St Martin’s Episcopal     Friday 24th April                7.00pm

WASHINGTON, DC                  National Cathedral         Sunday 26th April             5.00pm

ST PAUL, MN                             Cathedral of St Paul        Tuesday 28th April           7.30pm

VALPARAISO, IN                       Valparaiso University    Wednesday 29th April    7.30pm

  • There has been a choir at St Paul’s Cathedral since 1127. 30 boy choristers and 12 vicars choral provide music for 8 sung services a week.
  • St Paul’s Cathedral is home to the American Memorial Chapel. The Cathedral hosts the annual Thanksgiving Service for the American Community in London and has held a close relationship with the USA over many years.

BBC Radio 3 Choral Evensong Broadcast

St Paul’s is delighted to have its service of Choral Evensong broadcast on BBC Radio 3 tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday, 4th February) at 3.30pm. It can also be heard on Sunday 8th February at 3pm.


Broadcasting Evensong has become a firm fixture in the life of Cathedrals and Chapels across the country, and it is always a highlight of the year for the Choristers and Vicars Choral of St Paul’s.

We’re particularly pleased because this broadcast can be downloaded on BBC iPlayer, allowing our friends across the world to experience for themselves the beauty of the Evensong liturgy. Why not let us know where you’re listening from?

Introit:  My lovely one (Finzi)

Responses:  Leighton

Psalm 88 (Flintoft)

First Lesson:  Isaiah 61 vv1-9

Magnificat:   Giles Swayne

Second Lesson:  Luke 7 vv18-30

Nunc Dimittis:  Holst

Anthem:  Benedictus (Elgar)

Hymn:  Hail to the Lord’s Anointed! (Crüger)

Organ Voluntary:  Offrande et Alléluia final from Livre du Saint Sacrement (Messiaen)

Andrew Carwood, Director of Music

Simon Johnson, Organist

The Weekly Workings of St Paul’s Cathedral Choir

We’re now back into the full swing of term, so would like to offer an insight into the weekly workings of St Paul’s Cathedral Choir and its musicians. There are lots of tasks which go on every day, behind the scenes, to ensure that the choir is able to lead worship and represent the ethos of the Cathedral to the best of its ability.

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The demands made on a chorister’s time in any Cathedral are heavy. This is certainly true of St Paul’s! But our choristers find excitement, stimulation and fulfilment in the task of singing daily and in preparing for national religious services.

Each day, the boys rehearse from 7.50 to 8.50 before a full day of school. They return to the practice room at 16.10 to prepare for Evensong, when they are joined by our Vicars Choral. After Evensong, choristers complete their prep (aka homework), practice their instruments, and enjoy supper. Boys can expect an early start every day of the week except a Thursday!

Probationers (our newest and youngest singers, who are in training) are eased into this routine and often return home on Friday. They also rehearse separately from the choristers while they are learning how to use their voices and read music. All of our choristers and probationers are privileged to receive tuition from a professional singing teacher. Needless to say, they also enjoy sports and lots of other extracurricular activities too!

Choristers of St Paul's

Vicars Choral

Our gentlemen singers sing in St Paul’s most days and complete the full choir. Outside of the Cathedral they enjoy independent professional careers. Many sing with world-famous consort groups, orchestras and opera companies, lead their own ensembles, make recordings, teach, and give recitals. As a men’s voice choir, they sing Choral Evensong on Thursday (and enjoy a day off on Monday!).

The Cathedral Choir sings Choral Evensong

Music Staff

Our team of musicians have the privilege of overseeing the music at St Paul’s. Aside from leading worship, doing organ practice and training choristers, the desk work involved in running a Cathedral music department is not to be underestimated! Much of the working week is spent on any number of the following: planning and preparing music; coordinating special events including: national services, orchestral masses, celebrity recitals, organ recitals, weddings and baptisms; maintaining the world-famous Cathedral organ and other instruments; planning tours, concerts and recordings; liaising with visiting choirs; managing the Cathedral Consort and Cathedral Chorus; commissioning new pieces of music; liaising with the Cathedral School; recruiting new choristers; booking deputy singers; and developing music outreach. Needless to say, we benefit from the talents of a hugely gifted Administrator, Angela!


A particular headline for us at the moment is our exciting major tour of the USA, taking place from 14-29th April 2015. We’re working hard to reach out to friends in the USA ahead of our visit. If there’s anything more you’d like to know, why not drop us a question in the comments? Don’t forget, you can follow us on Twitter @StPaulsChoir of on Facebook. You can also support us more directly by donating to music at St Paul’s.

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New Term at St Paul’s

The beginnings of a choir of men and boys at St Paul’s is recorded in 1127, when Bishop Richard de Belmeis founded what was the first choir school at St Paul’s and made provision for ‘almonry’ boys (literally poor children in need of alms) to serve the Cathedral. Since then, the choir has grown, been re-organised several times (including under Sir John Stainer), and now enjoys a world-famous reputation. And this is the choir’s inaugural blog!

We thought we’d kick off our new tradition of offering insights into the workings of a great Cathedral Choir by letting our friends know what awaits us this term. The choristers have now returned following a well-deserved Christmas break; the Vicars Choral (our professional gentlemen singers) are back in the stalls; and we’re ready to launch into some exciting ventures.

This term we have some great headlines. We’re celebrating Christian Unity Week with our Roman Catholic friends at Westminster Cathedral. St Paul’s will be singing evensong at Westminster on 20th January and they will sing Vespers at St Paul’s on the 23rd. We’re also looking forward to broadcasting evensong live on BBC Radio 3 on 4th February (3.30pm) to followers around the world. The service will feature music by Finzi, Holst, Elgar and Messiaen.

We’ve also got our Patronal Festival, a festal Evensong for old choristers, a whole day of music and prayer for Ash Wednesday, the annual United Guilds Service, and the St Matthew Passion on 26th March.

The biggest thing on our horizon is our major tour of the USA. We’re covering the East coast and central America, and are particularly looking forward to making new friends. This tour is the first of a trio – with repeat visits planned for 2018 and 2021. You’ll be hearing a lot about the tour from now until April, when we fly out. For now, why not connect with us on Twitter @StPauls Choir or Facebook?Color Guard 1